The great thing about home security cameras is that they allow you to be in more than one place at the same time. Moreover, security cameras allow you to go back in time to see who (or what) visited your property and when. Given security cameras' focus on monitoring a set location in real-time and recording that information for review later on, we structured our testing around the cameras' ability to easily satisfy the user's expectations in this regard. Specifically, we compared each model's video quality, including night vision and field of view. We also looked at their monitoring performance, such as live video latency, sound quality, and alarm volume. Finally, we looked at the cameras' ease of use in regards to set-up, app navigation, and data storage. Each metric in this evaluation is weighted by its impact on overall performance so that a perfect score in each analysis would add up to 100 points.
Recorded Video Quality
Recorded video quality accounts for 35% of the cameras' overall score. To test each camera's recorded video quality, we subdivided the metric into video quality, night vision, field of view, and motion. For each of these submetrics, we made a side-by-side comparison of each product in the review. Video is arguably the most important submetric, so we will start with it.
All the cameras were mounted to a wall and oriented to capture the same general area in the room. We then recorded a person walking through the cameras' field of view. These recordings were then compared for image stutter and buffering. We also looked for clarity, color fidelity, and the ability to discern facial features. This process was repeated in the night vision analysis. However, given the limitations of night vision, we focused our attention on the ability to make out identifying facial features and the ability to read text such as a license plate. Clarity of the background was also taken into consideration.
Finally, we looked at the cameras' field of view. Field of view is simply the horizontal angle of view that the camera can capture. This submetric becomes more important the further the subject of interest is from the camera. We made a comparative analysis of this in both day and night time recordings.
While recorded video quality is a critical component of our assessment, real-time video quality is just as important. As such, we weight this metric to account for 35% of the total score. This metric covers video quality in real-time — the difference between video quality and monitoring performance is that latency isn't an issue when watching a recording. What is latency? It is the lag between real-time events and their depiction on a monitoring device such as a phone or tablet. This metric also assesses sound quality and alarm volume.
To test the cameras' real-time video quality, we have someone walk through the field of view of each camera and time the lag from when they enter the field of view and when their image shows up on our screen. We use a stopwatch for this test, and we record our measurements in tenths of a second. Those with the least latency are rated higher. Additionally, image quality is evaluated to see if live video degrades color and clarity — facial features are of particular interest here.
Sound quality is evaluated by recording a verbal audio clip with each camera. We then play each camera's recording and rate it on clarity, including the lack of echo and feedback. We also consider recording fidelity or similarity to the original speaker's voice. Finally, we measure the volume of the notification alarm produced by the cameras from 10 feet away using a sound pressure level (SPL) meter — measurements are recorded in decibels (dB).
Ease of Use
The ease of use evaluation focuses on how the user interacts with the product from set-up to everyday use. This analysis accounts for the remaining 30% of the overall score. The most involved portion of the testing for this metric centers on app navigation. Specifically, we evaluate how long it takes to learn the program. We question whether camera settings such as "alerts" and "history" are readily accessible. Are there any unique features to note, such as "home/away" security settings? Also, what types of notifications can the user turn on and off?
Another aspect of ease of use that could be overlooked but is quite important is data storage. Video files take up a lot of space, and the management of that data can be frustrating. As such, we look at both local and cloud storage options and the associated subscription cost of the latter.Finally, we look at the mounting options for each camera. This portion of the assessment focuses specifically on what mounting hardware comes with the camera. All told, the ease of use metric correlates strongly with how satisfied a user will be with the product because security cameras are purchased to solve problems, not create them.