Smarthome cameras: What you need to know about smart video surveillance

A good video surveillance system with several smart home cameras ensures more security for your property. Be it the garden gate, the front door or the interior, smart cameras allow you to keep a close eye on your apartment or house via your smartphone, even when you're out and about. If there is no time for this, the smart cameras save the video recordings, which are then available on memory card, cloud or mobile phone when needed. A large selection of smart home cameras is available from various manufacturers. For this reason, it is important to know what to look for in a smart home camera and what it is intended for.

Hamburg - Smarthome cameras: What you need to know about smart video surveillance

What models of smart home cameras are available?

First of all, there are different types of smart home cameras depending on where they are to be used. All cameras can generally be used indoors. For covered outside areas, a smart home camera with IP65 protection is sufficient, as it is then at least protected against dripping water. If, on the other hand, the outdoor camera is hanging outside unprotected, it is advisable to buy cameras with IP67 or IP68 protection, as these are far more weatherproof.

It is not only the weather resistance that determines suitability, but also whether a power connection is available for the smart home camera at the place of use. Battery-powered cameras work everywhere and are quick to install. But this also requires the battery to be checked and regularly recharged. A practical alternative are smart home cameras with a solar panel, which must be kept clear of snow in winter. Wired smart surveillance cameras are somewhat more difficult to install, but are largely maintenance-free. Only during power failures do these video cameras stop working. Of course, there are also cameras that use both batteries and solar panels, for example.

Swivel-mounted WiFi cameras can even be controlled via mobile phone. This allows property owners to keep an eye on the entrance to their house or apartment while on holiday and to change the angle of the camera as desired. There are also smart cameras with internal or external memory and other functions, such as in combination with a smart doorbell, beautiful lighting or an alarm system. 

What is a WiFi surveillance camera?

WiFi surveillance cameras are among the most popular smart home cameras. They connect to the home WiFi via a defined IP and thus also to the internet, if necessary. For security reasons, the cameras do not upload the footage directly to the internet, but to a cloud. Property owners have access to the footage in real time with their smartphone and can thus monitor what is happening in front of their house or apartment, even when they are not at home. Alternatively, IP cameras can be connected directly to the router via a network cable. However, most users buy a WiFi surveillance camera to take advantage of the features of a wireless camera. By the way, WiFi cameras are the successors of the early RF video cameras.

When does it make sense to use a smart home camera?

If the property is large or if there are plants obstructing the view, surveillance cameras make it possible to see into these areas and thus provide more security. Smart cameras monitor front doors, windows, garages and garden gates at all times. Using intelligent motion sensors, many cameras reliably distinguish whether an animal, a vehicle or a person is approaching. In the latter case, smart home systems with corresponding WiFi cameras report the visitor on the smartphone. Smartphone cameras are also useful for properties that are temporarily unoccupied or remote. At the same time, the smart video cameras with microphone can be used as a substitute for a baby monitor. Smart cameras with bidirectional communication options, which enable a sensor-controlled connection between relatives living at a distance and seniors in need of care, enable age-appropriate and independent living.

What functions can smart home cameras perform?

A smart home surveillance camera can serve several purposes at the same time. On the one hand, it serves as a deterrent and shows potential burglars that the property is secured. In the case of WiFi cameras, the house can also be monitored while you are away. In combination with a smart hands-free system or integrated two-way communication, visitors do not even notice that no one is at home when they ring the doorbell and residents communicate via the smartphone instead of the door intercom. In combination with a smart lock, smart home cameras offer additional security and the possibility, for example, to open the door for the domestic worker remotely from the workplace. The camera also keeps an eye on playing children or pets in the remote part of the garden and transmits the images to the mobile phone in the kitchen. Furthermore, in the worst-case scenario, smart home cameras serve to record burglaries or attempted burglaries and make it easier to apprehend the perpetrator and prove the crime.

How does a smart home camera work?

A smart home camera always monitors what is going on at the house or apartment door. Many of the smart cameras are able to detect and even distinguish movements. They recognise the difference between pets, vehicles and people. Accordingly, the smart cameras only send pictures or a notification when a person approaches, for example, and not an animal. This way, property owners always know when someone is at the property in their absence. Swivelling cameras with sensors also follow the person while they are within range.

Depending on the model, smart home cameras store the images on an SD card that is inserted directly into the camera. WiFi cameras usually send the video footage directly to a cloud. Other IP cameras transmit the footage to the smartphone or tablet and use this device as storage. If you need to record for longer periods of time, use external network storage devices that can guarantee uninterrupted recording for weeks.

What resolution is recommended for a smart home camera?

How detailed a camera image needs to be depends on the desired use. If you want to monitor the garden or entrance, it does not make sense to use a security camera with too low a resolution, in which only individual pixels can be seen, but no people. In the case of outdoor cameras covering a large area with low illumination, it is advisable to have not only a high resolution but also an adequate integrated infrared illumination for night-time use. The resolution that is standard and sufficient for almost all purposes is Full HD with two megapixels, which requires considerably less storage space than a 4K resolution. A lower image resolution is usually sufficient for monitoring indoor areas or pets. WiFi cameras often still compress their images to speed up transmission

But it is not only the resolution that impacts the video, but also the frame rate. The more frames per second the camera records, the smoother the video. Manufacturers provide information on the frame rate in fps, the abbreviation for "frames per second". Three to five frames are sufficient for private homes, at 15 fps or more a video runs smoothly. 

What does a smart home camera cost?

The cost of a smartphone camera varies considerably. You can already buy smart indoor cameras for as little as 30 euros that are sufficient for simply monitoring a room. Adaptive cameras with artificial intelligence, infrared and an alarm system cost at least 120 euros. For a high-quality outdoor camera with night vision, you can usually expect to pay twice as much. Many providers market their smartphone cameras in bundles together with a hub or a smart doorbell. These bundles usually cost between 200 and 600 euros and include 2 to 4 cameras. If you want to equip your entire house and garden with several cameras, a combined alarm system and surveillance monitor to view all angles simultaneously, you can quickly spend several thousand euros. The cost of smartphone cameras thus depends primarily on individual needs. In addition, there are sometimes monthly fees for the use of an app or a cloud, for which some providers usually charge between five and 15 euros per month.

What are the best smart home cameras?

Many smart home camera tests have been carried out, and accordingly there are also many test winners. However, the features, areas of application and prices vary so dramatically that there is simply no such thing as the best camera. Eufy and TP-Link already offer smart indoor cameras with 2K or even 3K resolution for under 50 euros with features that should certainly be sufficient for most property owners. One example is the Eufy 2K Solo indoor security camera with pan-tilt function, which integrates with all smart home systems from Google, Amazon or Apple. If the child or dog does something wrong, they can be admonished immediately by means of bidirectional communication.  

The weather-resistant Reolink Go with 4G, rechargeable battery and optionally available solar panel does not require any electricity or WiFi. Featuring its own SIM card and integrated memory chip, the smart home outdoor camera is particularly well-suited for remote areas. The PIR sensor detects movement and activates the camera with two-way audio and infrared LEDs that have a range of up to ten metres at night. The Reolink Go with solar panel is available for around 250 euros.

The Netatmo Presence Full HD camera is particularly inconspicuous, hiding in an elegant lamp housing. This not only protects the outdoor camera with infrared, a 100-degree wide angle as well as an above-average range of 20 metres from manipulation. The integrated motion detector activates the floodlight and thus drives burglars away. The Apple HomeKit-compatible outdoor camera costs around 250 euros, while the stylish indoor camera is available for around 180 euros.

What are the advantages of WiFi surveillance cameras?

Smart home cameras with WiFi connection are particularly impressive because they are spatially independent. Thanks to the internet, the property can be monitored on a smartphone while you are on holiday or at work. Cameras that can be panned or zoomed are controlled via an app that can be used to zoom in on a person or object on the property or in the house in more detail. In addition, the footage can be transmitted wirelessly via WiFi to the mobile phone, the PC or another device in the network. WiFi surveillance cameras are not only practical for the home, but also for holiday properties that are vacant for a large part of the year. Moreover, the wireless IP cameras can be quickly and easily moved to another location if necessary.

What are the disadvantages of WiFi surveillance cameras?

If the internet fails, the WiFi surveillance cameras cannot transmit any images. Furthermore, wireless IP cameras often only have a range of between 10 and 30 metres. High-performance cameras are now capable of operating at a distance of up to 50 metres from the router in buildings and 100 metres in open areas without obstacles, which is almost always sufficient. However, the image resolution of smart WiFi cameras is significantly lower than that of LAN cameras, as the recording has to be compressed for image transmission. The wireless cameras usually use a memory card inserted in the unit instead of a recorder and thus have a shorter recording time than wired camera systems with a network recorder.

How do I install a smart home camera?

Smart home cameras can be mounted on walls, roofs or posts using a bracket that is either included in the delivery or optional. Cameras that need be connected to the power supply also require a cable to be laid up to the junction box or socket. When installing the camera, it is important to ensure that it is protected from theft and vandalism as far as possible. The same applies to the power supply, which is best run under plaster or in the ground. The setting of the viewing angle, the resolution and further setup of the smart home camera is usually done via a manufacturer's app, on the smart home's display or on the PC.

Which manufacturers offer smart home cameras?

Almost all providers of smart home systems have cameras on offer and there are also many compatible cameras. This includes the major manufacturers and their smart home technology such as Amazon Alexa or Echo, Google Assistant, Bosch Smart Home or Apple HomeKit. Compatible smart home cameras are available from manufacturers such as Netatmo, Abus, Ring, TP-Link, Arlo, Ezviz, Panasonic, Eufy and many more.

What legal requirements apply for surveillance cameras?

In Germany, smart home cameras are only permissible for monitoring one's own property. What is prohibited, however, is the surveillance of public roads and pavements. The same applies to adjacent neighbouring properties. If, for example, the entrance door of a condominium is to be monitored with a smart camera, the camera may only record the front door, but not the staircase. The camera may not invade the privacy of others and record their movements as they pass by the apartment. Anyone filming their interiors or property and employing a cleaner or gardener needs their express consent to do so, and preferably in writing.

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