How to choose a security camera system for your home


If you’re thinking about installing a home security system utilising security camera, should you choose wired or wireless security cameras? How many cameras will you need, and where should you position them for best effect? There are no simple answers to all those questions: all that can be said is it all depends on your needs and security requirements.

When it comes to choosing which type of security camera to install – wired or wireless – the choices will ultimately be determined by your individual requirements, your budget, the layout and location of your home and what you want to achieve with the home security system. What can be said is that as a general rule is that hard-wired security camera systems have the edge in terms of reliability; whereas, wireless security camera systems are cheaper to install, are more streamlined and can be used in more inaccessible places than hard-wired systems.

So, if there are no simple answers, how can anyone make a reasoned decision about which type of security camera to buy? How can you determine which type of security camera will be best suited to you and your circumstances? Well, what you need to do for starters is to try to learn about camera basics, gain some understanding about how these devices work and learn as much as possible about the relative strengths and weaknesses of each type of security camera before making your final choice. Hopefully the following information will provide a little guidance and help set you on the right path.

What’s the difference between wired and wireless home security cameras and how do they work?

How do wireless home security cameras work?

Wireless security cameras transmit video signals and, depending on the specification of the camera, audio signals too over the internet or other wireless networks to a receiver that connects to your viewing or recording device. A wireless security camera relies on communication between video transmitters and receivers. Most new digital-video cameras come with a built-in wireless feature that allows the cameras to connect to a computer or the device being used to receive the signal. The receiver must also maintain a wireless connection to a monitor or time-lapse recorder for the wireless security camera to capture the feed going into the receiver.

Wireless security camera frequencies

The communication between camera and receiver takes place at a frequency specific to both devices. Most wireless devices, cameras in this case, allow you to select from only four frequencies. Frequency limitations usually limit you to four cameras per location at a given frequency

How are wireless security cameras powered?

Although the video signal that transfers the signal from the camera to the receiver and monitor might be wireless, sadly a totally wireless security camera set up is still not yet available. Therefore, each of the devices – the camera, receiver and monitor- still need a power source. So, security cameras need to be set up near electrical outlets.

How do wired home security cameras work?

Wired security cameras, such as PoE (Power over Ethernet) IP cameras and hard-wired analogue cameras, need wires to provide power and relay video transmission.  Traditional hard-wired analogue security cameras need 2 cables to function properly: one for power and one coaxial cable connecting to the DVR for data transmission. Wired PoE IP security cameras, on the other hand, typically use Cat 5 or Cat 6 Ethernet wires to communicate with the home network router or NVR, so just a single Ethernet cable connected to the router or NVR can provide both data and power transmission. Wired PoE security cameras can also work as standalone devices, unlike analogue surveillance cameras which need to connect to a DVR. The other advantage of a PoE camera over a traditional analogue security camera, is the quality of image: wired PoE security cameras deliver a much cleaner and clearer image.

Wired security cameras incur lower installation costs, but it is offset by a lack of flexibility

Wired security cameras cost less to install than their wireless counterparts, but the installation process can be more elaborate and complex. As wired cameras need to be powered by an electricity supply, cables need to be run to the device to get it to work. That can be messy as an electrician will have to run the cables to the device, and it also means that once the camera has been installed moving it to another location is not really an option.

How are wired security cameras powered?

Wiring and cable might not be the sexiest aspect of a home security system, but it is, never the less, a critical part of the overall/total solution. There are a number of things you need to consider when selecting and installing wire and cable to ensure that your new security system works optimally. At a minimum, wire will be used to provide power to your camera installation and most of the time, wire is also used to transmit the video camera signal back to the DVR.

To determine the appropriate cable for your security camera installation you must first know whether your camera system is an analogue or digital one. Next, you need to know if your camera is going to be powered locally (connecting to its power source within a few feet) or remotely. If you are connecting the camera to a remote power source, you should consider running your video and power cables together. Video security cables are available with the power and video cables running side-by-side (known as Siamese Cables) or all under one jacket. These dual cables will make installation much easier than trying to pull two separate wires. 

Before installing your cameras, you should ideally test the security camera cable by connecting a camera to the power supply and to the DVR. Test each pre-made cable at the DVR location, or make a short test cable when using bulk wire. This extra step can help prevent future problems by ensuring that your pre-made security camera cables are fully functional before installing.

If your home security set-up requires multiple security cameras, then these can be powered in one of two ways: you can power each security camera with its own plug-in power supply, or you can wire multiple security cameras back to a multi-camera power source. Both options plug into a regular 110V electrical outlet and then step the power down to 12V DC or 24V AC to feed to the camera. Make sure you match the cameras voltage to the camera power supply. In other words, power a 12V DC camera with a 12V DC power supply and power a 24V AC camera with a 24V AC power supply. Failure to do so can result in damaged equipment, and that could prove very costly.

What key features should you look for in a security camera?

If you’re still unsure which type of security camera to opt for, it’s worth remembering that there is a home security camera available for everyone – wired or wireless – depending on your needs and budget. Never the less, as both devices offer their own distinctive advantages, and both have a certain number of inherent drawbacks, it’s still often difficult for first-time purchasers to get their heads around which device will serve their needs best and offer the most comprehensive and affordable home security protection.

If you don’t have a basic level of technical knowledge it can be difficult to make direct comparisons between the devices. So, on what sort of basis and criteria should you be making a judgement? Well, if you’re technically minded it’s an easy decision: you can thoroughly research every product, decide which has the qualities and capabilities you’re looking for and then make your choice. However, for the rest of us who don’t have the requisite technical expertise, the decision about whether to choose a wired or wireless home security camera is slightly more complicated. So, rather than getting bogged down in technical jargon, the simplest way to reach a decision is probably to focus purely on certain key aspects or qualities – if you prefer, think of it as a checklist – and to base your judgement on how each device measures up to scrutiny.

Home security camera checklist

What key aspects should you be looking at? Well, that all depends on your needs. However, a good place to start would be with these four principal issues:

  • Ease of installation and flexibility
  • The stability and reliability of the network signal
  • Aesthetics – does the look of the camera matter to you?
  • Power and internet availability

Ease of installation and flexibility

If your principal considerations are simply how easy will it be to install the home security camera, and will I be able to carry out the installation without professional help, then in many ways the choice between a wired and wireless security camera is a pretty simple one.

Wireless cameras

Wireless home security cameras are much simpler to install: installation is quick, and there’s less drilling involved. If wiring is an issue that really does concern you, then your best bet by far is to choose a battery-powered wire-free security camera. With these there’s no wiring and minimal drilling involved: all you need to do is fix it in position, and then it’s up and ready to go. The added advantage of a wireless security camera is flexibility. Should you change your mind, or decide that the camera would offer greater levels of security and peace of mind if placed in a different location, then all you need to do is move it to its new location and you’re good to go. 

Wired security cameras

Traditional wired security cameras need cables to function, and this usually means they need to be installed by a professional. However, once installed their functionality and performance is every bit as good and reliable as their wireless alternatives. Where they struggle is in terms of flexibility. Once a wired camera is set up and connected, it’s a complicated procedure to move it to another location.

The good news is that things are changing as technology evolves. Many security companies have now adopted PoE technology and are manufacturing PoE-enabled wired security cameras. What this means is that these wired cameras are much easier to install than older analogue cameras, and it also means that moving them shouldn’t be as complicated or convoluted should you later change your mind about the camera’s positioning. If you would prefer to choose a wired security camera, are considering self-installation and are concerned about flexibility, then the right choice for you would be a DIY PoE IP security camera

The stability and reliability of the network signal

If you’re thinking about buying a security camera, how much consideration should you give to the stability and reliability of the network signal? Surprisingly, for many would-be purchasers the answer seems to be not a great deal. However, signal stability and reliability are very important considerations when you’re thinking on investing in security camera, particularly a wireless one.

Wireless security cameras depend on a Wi-Fi signal to work. If this signal is weak or adversely influenced by structural or environmental factors like bad weather or thick masonry walls, then the functionality of the camera can be badly affected.  Such issues do not affect wired security cameras as they are connected directly to your home router, so will not suffer from signal loss or interference.

If you’re preferred choice would be to opt for a wireless security camera, but you’re concerned about signal reliability and stability, the best recommendation would be to purchase a wired PoE IP security camera. These particular cameras only need a Cat 5/6 cable to provide and deliver power and data transmission, and that should ensure a strong and stable network signal. What’s more, as mentioned above, wired PoE IP security cameras are relatively easy to install and set up, so moving them shouldn’t be too much of an issue should you later change your mind about camera positioning.

Aesthetics – does the look of the camera matter to you?

If aesthetics and looks are one of your top priorities, then a wired security camera might not necessarily be the right choice for you. Wired security cameras need hard wiring, and in order to fix them in place some drilling will be involved.  If exposed wires don’t worry you, then this will not be an issue. If they do, and you feel they would not be in keeping with the overall look and feel of your home, then you’re better off choosing a wireless camera.

Wireless home security cameras are far less intrusive. They can be positioned anywhere in the home, and can even be disguised with skin suits should they offend your sensibilities. Wire-free security cameras can function quite happily in the background without drawing too much attention to themselves, so any guests you have visiting won’t feel like they’re be watched or judged. There’s no drilling involved in installation, and they can be placed anywhere and removed without damaging your property.

Power and internet availability

If you have a garage or an outhouse on your land which has neither power of internet access, how can you protect it and its contents from burglars and intruders? Well, you certainly won’t be able to do so with a wired security camera unless you are prepared to run cables and power to the building, and that could be very expensive indeed. Failing that, the only option open to you is wireless video surveillance security.

A battery- powered wireless security camera will let you gather motion videos when motion triggers the camera. When you have this footage, you can play it back and view who or what triggered the alarm. If it was a thief or an intruder, you should be able to use the footage and share it with the police should a future prosecution be brought. 

What about video storage? How do you store the footage on a battery-powered wireless security camera? Well, the easiest way is to use local memory card storage. This is cheap and convenient, and it also means you’ll be spared the expense of paying additional monthly fees for cloud storage. How much memory card storage can you get? Well, that depends on the specification of the security camera. Some high-quality battery-powered Wi-Fi security cameras can support up to 64GB SD card storage, which enables you to store several hundred motion videos, and that should be more than enough for most households.

The benefits and disadvantages of wired and wireless security cameras

Quick Reference Sheet

Security Camera Types Wired Security Cameras Wireless Security Cameras
Pros No interference from nearby devices More stable data transmission Ideal for several zones of protection, good for large homes Easy and quick to install. More flexible More portable
Cons More challenging to install Drilling needed to run wires throughout your home Less portable Possible Wi-Fi interference from nearby devices Risks of being hacked More expensive
Installation Can be more challenging Generally, quite easy
Price Less expensive More expensive
Network Signal More stable Possible signal interference

What benefits can you expect from wireless security cameras?

Easy to install

Wireless security cameras are much easier to install than their wired alternative. The latter needs to connect to a home’s electrical system. If you would prefer a wired home security system, then you’ll probably have to hire a professional to install it.  Wireless cameras, however, rely on Wi-Fi or other networks so they’re much easier to install. If you follow the installation instructions carefully, there’s no reason why you can’t set up and connect most cameras in under 30 minutes.

Portability and flexibility

Wireless security cameras are flexible pieces of kit and can by and large be placed almost anywhere. They’re also portable and transportable: all you need to do is unplug them, and you’re ready to go. That makes them ideal for people who are either renting or always on the move, or those who are novices and new to the home security scene.

24/7 coverage

Wireless security cameras are a great addition to your home security system, as they offer you 24/7 remote viewing access to your home, no matter where in the world you are.

Are there any limitations to a wireless security camera’s capability?

A wireless camera must maintain a signal and connection to a network to record and capture footage. If the connection is disrupted at any time, the wireless security camera won’t be able to send the feed to the chosen viewing device. What’s more, if the camera is completely wireless, it will need to be powered by a battery. In this case, it’s is vitally important that battery life is monitored regularly and that batteries are replaced regularly.

Another limitation with wireless security cameras is that they need to be located reasonably near to the main hub. If there is a direct line of sight between the camera and the hub, then a wireless camera’s range can reach as far as 500 feet or more. However, within properties the range is inevitably going to be much lower: some argue the range could be as low as 150 feet, but that isn’t always the case. 

The signal range depends on a number of factors: the building materials from which the home is constructed, other wireless devices in the area, and any walls or objects through which the signal has to pass. Standard drywall and glass windows may not impact the strength of the camera’s wireless signal, but brick and concrete certainly will. If there are brick walls, concrete floors, or large trees in between the camera and the receiver, your signal strength will inevitably weaken.

Will one wireless security camera be sufficient to secure your home?

The answer to that question depends on the size and layout of the home. If your home has large grounds or exterior spaces, or has many rooms which will need to be monitored, then you’ll probably need more than 1 camera to do the job effectively. The camera will need to monitor or ‘see’ the key spaces in the property: areas like doorways, windows, roofs and any area where an uninvited person could gain entry to a property.

The general rule of thumb which most security experts subscribe to is that for many homes and small businesses a set-up of up to 4 cameras will probably be the most effective solution. The good news is most video surveillance systems come in kit-form and include cameras, a digital recorder and hard drive for storing and transmitting images, a video monitor, and enough video cabling for most installations. As your requirements expand, you can always add more cameras if needed. 

What are the pros and cons of wired security cameras?

BenefitsDisadvantages
Little or no signal interferenceMore difficult to install. Can be messy
Difficult to jamRequires professional installation
Cannot be hacked remotelyFixed in place after installation. Difficult and expensive to move
Protection via a battery backup in a power outageHarder to conceal cameras
Better choice for a large homeInstallation

A wired system must be hardwired throughout the house with each camera connected to the central monitoring or recording unit. This hardwiring means drilling through walls and ceilings, disturbing insulation and threading wires down walls. It is a job best left to professional installers and electricians. As a result, installation costs for hardwired security cameras can be quite pricey, and this can more than offset any savings made.

Costs

The materials cost of a wireless system is usually higher than the cost of a wired system, but the cost of professional installation makes the overall cost of a wired system greater. One way to reduce the cost of a camera system may be to sign a contract with a security monitoring service. This can save hundreds in installation cost. If not free, the cost for installation with a contract may be $100 or less, regardless of the type of camera you choose.

A professionally-installed, closed-circuit system can cost between $1,000 to $8,000, with the average cost being $4,000. This is an all-inclusive price for a four-camera system, central monitoring and recording station, and all necessary wiring. Doing the work yourself would probably cost approximately $500 to $2,000 in basic materials, and the installation cost will be twice to four times the cost of equipment.

Electricity and wires

Wired systems rely on a battery backup system during a power outage. Wireless cameras connected to the home’s electrical wiring should also have a battery backup for use during an outage. This can be a battery in the unit, preferably a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack that will be long-lasting and eco-friendly.

The hardwired system used with wired cameras sends power to each camera either through electrical wiring or power over Ethernet 1 wiring (PoE). Therefore, these cameras do not need to be placed near electrical outlets.

Concealing connections of a wired system in the walls of the building is obviously more aesthetically pleasing, but this can be an uphill task in a retrofit installation. In this case, a wireless system can be less intrusive and will probably look better. The cameras in a wired system tend to be more difficult to conceal because of the wired connections to the home.

Home suitability

A wired security camera system has the capability to monitor several protection zones, so this is the better choice for larger homes. Wireless cameras, on the other hand, trade portability for a limited range. They can be installed in a variety of locations but must be placed within the home’s Wi-Fi range. By using repeater units, the range of installation can be extended further, but they are still generally better suited for smaller homes and apartments.

Ease of use

A wireless camera system is more user-friendly because its ability to link to the internet and all its associated benefits.  If the system is connected to the Internet, the feed from the camera can be linked to phone apps or outside computer programmes via a simple interface for remote monitoring, allowing the home’s residents to see what is happening when they are away. Higher-end cameras also allow the viewer to control the camera from another location, such as pan, tilt, or zoom. Having Internet access also allows the camera system to be integrated into wireless home security and home automation systems.

Audio and video quality

At one time, wireless cameras were superior to wired cameras in terms of both video and audio quality, but with advancements in technology the resolution of wired cameras can be equal to, or better than, a wireless camera, obviously depending on the features of the individual device.

Signal interference and hacking

A wired system will not be affected by signal interference from nearby wireless devices: however, but a wireless system can be. The only interruption possible with the circuit of a wired system is if the connecting wires are cut. Doing this triggers an alarm signalling that the circuit has been broken.

If a wireless system is connected to the Internet to take advantage of remote and integrated features, hacking is always a possibility. However, if a wired system is closed and does not have access to the Internet, remote hacking is simply not possible, so the property is more secure.

Battery life – running costs

Batteries in wireless camera devices will need replacing roughly every 2 years, and the main control panel requires a back-up battery change approximately once every 3-5 years. Although the additional costs may well be minimal in the grander scheme of things, it’s worth remembering that this additional cost will not be incurred with a wired security camera system. 

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