If you want to be the proud owner of a hi-tech 21st Century connected smart home, then a video doorbell is a must. Why is that? Connected security and direct communication. This simple but effective piece of kit can give you both enhanced home security and peace of mind.
Major benefits of video doorbells
No more missed parcel deliveries
You know how it goes you’ve waited in all day for a valuable delivery to arrive. Never letting your eyes stop watching the mailbox. Later, you find a note from the delivery person saying they called but non one was home.
You know that is impossible because you were in all day but how could you prove it or find out how you missed it?
Anyone approaching the door will trigger the sensor and set off an alert on your phone. Based on your model and configuration you may also be able to make video recordings. So, no more missed parcels and a deterrent to “porch pirates” and other criminals.
Know who is at your front door before you answer it
Most of us have had unexpected knocks on the door or loud angry banging at the front of the house – it can be unnerving. Or, even scary. In the past, you had two choices:-
- ignore it and hope it goes away or open the door
- take your chances nothing bad comes to youMost of the time it’s pretty innocent but in today’s world bad things can and do happen.
So, how can a video doorbell help?
Well, a smart doorbell opens the world of two-way communication. It gives you the ability to see and communicate with any caller at your door via the doorbell’s app. If you can see them, hear them, and talk to them and you still don’t like what you see, then you needn’t answer the door.
Answer your door from anywhere
Because some video doorbells connect are able to connect your home network via Wi-Fi. This means they are able to take advantage of your Internet connection.
Any time someone presses the bell or approaches your doorway an alert gets triggered. The alert then gets sent to your phone by the video doorbell’s companion app. As long as your phone has Internet connectivity.
Dependent on the type of doorbell the app should allow you to
- view live video from the doorbell’s camera
- communicate via two-way audio
- The two way communication is crucial in our modern world. Using the audio you can tell the delivery person exactly where to leave your package. A fantastic benefit if you are at work or need to do contactless deliveries.
- make recordings of the video feed when the doorbell is pressed
Acts as a deterrent
As with all home security devices a video doorbell is never going to stop your home getting targeted. But, it is a highly effective deterrent against burglary and intrusion.
Not only will you be able to spot anyone loitering or snooping outside your property. Smarter thieves will avoid targeting properties with smart technology protection. Knowing the smart doorbell is recording their movements will put them off.
So, all-in-all, video doorbells are great pieces of kit and start to earn their keep from the day they get installed.
Is a video doorbell the right choice for my property?
Taking the plunge and buying a video doorbell is the easy bit: anyone with money to spare can do that. But before you splash the cash, you need to ask yourself some important questions. Is a video doorbell the right option for you?
- Will it work in the ways you would like it too?
- Are you expecting too much, or are you assuming your doorbell can carry out the impossible?
To answer those questions it’s important to understand
- how video doorbells work. and
- issues and question that occur over time
- what sort of useful and practical functions they offer homeowners.
- Are all video doorbells created equal?
- If not, how much money do you need to spend to get the right piece of kit for your smart home?
We’ve compiled the following information to help you make the right choice.
How do video doorbells work
Video doorbells are smart devices which stream a live video feed to your phone or your home video device. They offer a variety of features, including:
- cloud video storage
- motion detection,
- inter-operability with smart locks, sirens, and other smart home devices.
Some video doorbells can integrate with other connected smart devices. Such as door locks, sirens and smart speakers like Alexa and Google Assistant. More complicated set-ups are also possible using SmartThings or IFTT.
A practical and well specified connected doorbell should have the following features:
- high resolution (1080p),
- a wide-angle lens (140 to 180 degrees),
- a night vision range up to 25 feet,
- affordable cloud storage for recorded video.
Wired vs Wireless
The two main types of video doorbell available on the market now, wired and wireless. Each has benefits and drawbacks
Wired video doorbells
Doorbells, such as the SkyBell HD, use your existing doorbell wiring, so they are easy to install.
Wired video doorbells have several advantages over wireless ones:-
Not worried about power
Under normal circumstances you don’t need to worry about losing the power feed to the device. Unless your house power should fail for some reason or other reason.
Easy to install
Most homes already have exiting doorbell wiring.
Installation is as easy as:
- removing your old doorbell
- disconnecting the two wires
- connecting your new doorbell to the wires,
- attaching it to the outside of your house.
In most cases you can even connect the doorbell to an existing chime box as well.
How do wired doorbells work?
Two wires connect to a transformer that steps down your household power to between 16 to 24 volts. The wired doorbell then draws power from these two wires.
If your home already has doorbell wiring you can wire it yourself by using a plug-in transformer. Or have an electrician do the work for you.
Either way, it may be necessary to do some drilling to run wires from the inside of your home to an exterior location. But. the installation work needn’t be messy or particularly arduous.
Wireless video doorbells
If you’re not comfortable with electrical wiring, there are battery-powered models available. Some like the Ring Video Doorbell 3, you can get up and running in minutes.
Battery-powered models are great; yet, they do have certain disadvantages.
As with all batteries, the more you use them the faster they deplete. The battery life on such models can vary anywhere between two to six months.
Look to recharge or replace your batteries every couple of months in colder climates. Otherwise you run the risk of your doorbell failing when you might need it most.
Doorbell design and features
Video doorbells are no different than other home security appliances or tech gadget. By and large you get what you pay for.
Cheaper models tend to be bulkier with a smaller range of colors to choose from. Pay more and your options expand. More expensive models give you a wider range of colors and finishes.
Battery-powered models, by their very nature, are generally bulkier. The size of your budget and how you feel about the look and feel will result in the ultimate choice of design for you.
What features should be looking for in a video doorbell?
Any good smart doorbell worthy of the name should have at the very least
- a video camera that sends an alert to your phone
- a live video stream when the doorbell button is pressed.
- a companion mobile app to view the video, configure wireless settings and set up alerts
Video doorbells that come comprehensively equipped with features like 1080p video, motion detection, two-way audio that lets you speak with whoever is outside your property and on-demand video streaming are obviously going to be more expensive.
If you want to avoid unnecessarily disturbing your neighbours with false alerts from passing cars, high winds, and family pets, then look for a video doorbell that offers customisable motion zones.
Other features to look for, depending on your budget, are:
Technology that identifies visitors by their visual features
Motion sensing technology that knows the difference between people, cars, and animals
Color night vision
Color night vision video (most doorbell cameras use infrared LEDs to provide up to 30 feet of black-and-white video)
A choice of chimes that will help you differentiate between a doorbell press and a motion trigger.
for this feature the doorbell camera captures images all the time but does not record them. It uses something know as a buffer. The buffer is usually big enough to hold a few seconds (1 -4) of video. This few seconds of video is then always available for the doorbell to add to recordings.
The buffer gets recorded when someone rings the bell or enters the motion detection zone. Meaning that you have more context to any event. This type of functionality works best on wired doorbells like the Ring Pro 3 and the Eufy
Interoperability with smart home technology
Many home security systems offer video doorbells as add-on components to larger systems. These systems comprise of things like smart door locks, sirens and smart lighting. These devices do not work on their own and must connect to a system hub. The hub is then used to control the devices and their interactions.
If you want a standalone smart doorbell that will work with other smart devices in your home, you’ll need to source one that supports the IFTT (If This Then That) internet service.
IFTT allows you to create mini programs, called applets, that let IFTT-enabled devices interact with each other. For example, you can create an applet that tells a Wemo Smart Switch to turn on when some presses your Ring Doorbell. or have a D-Link siren sound when an August Doorbell Cam senses motion.
Alexa voice command let you view your doorbell’s live stream on an Amazon enabled display. Once you’ve enabled the skill, say “Alexa, show the front door” to launch a live stream on your Echo Show or Fire TV-enabled TV or monitor. Similar voice commands are also available using Google Assistant.
Smart lock integration
Smart doorbells with integrated locking capabilities let you answer calls and screen callers at your home as well as allowing you to let visitors in when they arrive.
This capability is only available when the doorbell works is compatible with your door and its lock.
Only a few video doorbells currently work with smart locks, though this will no doubt change as the technology develops.
August is currently the only video doorbell on the market that works in tandem with the lock. Other video doorbells like Ring do have an integration with Kwikset locks, which means that users can quick switch between the two apps to lock/unlock the door.
That technology, whilst a little clunky and nowhere near as seamless as August’s, is still a step-up form managing the whole process yourself and getting up to lock or unlock the door.
Video doorbells from Ring and Google and a few others need a subscription if you want to store video.
For instant access to video and Ring footage expect it work out around $30 per year. It is an extra cost to your budget but sometimes it’s worth considering for the added peace of mind.
What if I don’t want to pay the subscription?
If you would rather avoid the fees you can take a look at the best video doorbells without subscriptions.
Video doorbells or smart home security cameras: which is best for your home?
Video doorbells and home security cameras offer many of the same benefits. Both show you what is going on outside of your home, both offer motion detection and motion-triggered recording, and in most cases, both will let you speak to whoever is outside.
Yet, security cameras do not have a doorbell component. If you’re downstairs doing something and your phone is upstairs, a security camera won’t tell you that someone is at the door, but the doorbell, when pressed, will.
Unless they are battery operated, outdoor security cameras need a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet for power, which may limit potential mounting locations. Wired smart doorbells use existing low-voltage wiring and are relatively easy to install.
Frequently asked questions
Do video doorbells record all the time, and, if so, won’t this make them burn through batteries at a pace?
Most video doorbells will not record all the time. It takes a trigger such as the camera detecting motion to cause it to record a clip for a few seconds. By only recording when something interesting is happening battery drain is low. It also saves on storage space which over time equates to a considerable number of Gigabytes. If you want 24/7 coverage of your home, then these should not be your gadgets of choice.
Some doorbell cameras do have the ability to record all the time, but there are few models available. The only ones available at the time of writing this article are the Nest Hello video doorbell and the HIPCAM. Both will record continuously should you choose, but they are more expensive to buy upfront and both need subscriptions.
How far away can a video doorbell see and detect motion?
There is no hard or fast answer as it depends on the specification of the video doorbell purchased. Most will detect motion up to around 30 feet away.
Most video doorbells, like Ring, can detect motion up to around 30 feet from the camera. If you need motion detection over a greater difference, then it may be necessary to check the manufacturers instructions before purchasing a doorbell.
As far as the distance the camera can see, well, that also depends on the spec of the product. Any good video doorbell should enable you to see roughly 50 feet. For most people that will cover the ground between their property and the main road.
Do temperature variations interfere with operation of a modern video doorbell?
As most video doorbells get installed outside a property you would expect them to be at least weather-resistant. But, resistance does not mean the device is weatherproof and able to function in extreme heat and cold – a fact that should resonate in a world thrown upside down by climate change.
To check a doorbell’s suitability for your site and its durability, you need to check the video doorbell’s IP rating and temperature range.The IP, or Ingress Protection rating, is a two-digit number between 00 and 68 which tells you how robust the device is and how it will withstand ingress from various solids and liquids.
As an example, a device with an IP of 23 will be protected from fingers and objects larger than 12.5 mm as well as spraying water up to 60 feet above head, while a device with an IP rating of 68 is dust-tight and can even be completely submerged in water continuously.
You should choose a device with an IP rating of up to 65, as you will then be reassured that it will be able to handle any objects besides to low-pressure water jets.