There are so many options to choose from when it comes to home security cameras. Most, however, fall into one of two categories: easy-to-set-up Wi-Fi cameras (like the Nest Cam) and wired surveillance systems that come with a DVR-like box and a handful of cameras.
Both categories have their own benefits and downsides, but one might be more suited for your needs than the other. Let’s look at some of the standout pros and cons of each, and when one might be more appropriate than the other for you.
Wi-Fi Cams Are Way Easier to Install
With most Wi-Fi cameras (like the Nest Cam, Canary, and countless others), the installation and setup process is about as easy as it gets. All you have to do is to set the camera somewhere, plug it in, connect it to your Wi-Fi, and you’re off to the races.
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Wired camera systems aren’t even close to being this easy to install. First, you have to mount them to a surface using screws, and then fish wires through walls and attics so that they can connect to the DVR box, which holds all of the recordings.
With that in mind, you might wonder why anyone would opt for a wired system—but there are some definite advantages.
Wired Cameras Are More Reliable
The biggest benefit of having a hard-wired camera system is that it’s usually much more reliable than using Wi-Fi cams.
Wi-Fi cams rely on a wireless connection, which can be reliable, but more often than not, the video will glitch, lag, or freeze at certain times. Plus, the farther you have your Wi-Fi cam placed away from your router, the more problems arise.
With a wired camera setup, there’s rarely a moment when the video feed decreases in quality, glitches, or lags. Instead, you get a constant video feed that maintains its same high quality 24/7.
You Usually Have to Pay More for Full Wi-Fi Cam Features
Some Wi-Fi cams offer a completely subscription-free experience, but a large handful of them require you to pay a monthly or yearly fee in order to get access to all of the features, including the ability to save video recordings to view later on.
Nest Cam users, for example, can subscribe to Nest Aware, which enables the camera to save video recordings whenever motion is detected and have them stored for up to a whole month. Without it, you would only be able to see snapshots of motion, and those are only saved for three hours.
Canary’s Wi-Fi cam is a bit better, saving actual video recordings for up to 24 hours without a subscription.
With a wired camera system, there’s no need to pay for a monthly or yearly subscription at all. You’ll still get 24/7 recording with the ability to view past recordings whenever you want, because it’s all stored on a box at your house.
However, you will be limited by the drive on which you’re storing those videos. Most wired camera setups will store video for around 7-14 days. This is plenty of time to look back on an event and save it permanently if you need to, but it doesn’t match Nest’s 30-day time period.
Wi-Fi Cams Offer an Easy-to-Use Interface
This sort of relates to the first point we covered, but Wi-Fi cams usually feature a simple interface that makes it easy set up and navigate through menus. After all, most Wi-Fi cams are targeted toward the average consumer.
The interface on most wired camera systems is usually not quite so friendly. They’re not terribly hard to figure out, but they sometimes come with a handful of advanced features that many novice users may know nothing about. Overall, the user interface is a bit more complicated than what you’d find with a Wi-Fi cam.
However, these advanced settings do allow you to do a lot of things you wouldn’t be able to do with a Wi-Fi cam, like change the brightness, contrast, saturation, and more of your video.
Wired Cameras Can Be Used Completely Offline
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If you’re gung-ho about privacy and security, you’re not alone. When it comes installing security cameras around your house, there’s a very real concern about Wi-Fi cams. You have to connect them to the internet to use them—there’s no way around that.
With wired camera systems, though, you don’t need to connect them to the internet. They can operate independently from your network and without any access to the outside world, which is great if you want your camera system to be as unhackable as possible.
Of course, not having your security system hooked up to the internet does mean you won’t be able to see the camera video feed while away from home. You’ll just have to weigh which is more important to you—access or privacy.
Wi-Fi Cams Use Up Your Bandwidth
Since they rely on your network and internet connection to record video and offer remote viewing when you’re away from home, Wi-Fi cams do have some impact on your network’s bandwidth and your internet data use.
The Nest Cam is capable of using up a whopping 380GB of data per month, which could easily exceed your monthly bandwidth cap if your internet service provider enforces one.
With a wired system, all video recordings would simply get sent to the DVR, and your bandwidth would only get used if you were to pull up the live video feed remotely.
Wired Camera Systems Can Be Less Expensive
Wi-Fi cams are decently priced, but not compared to wired systems that usually come bundled with a handful of cameras. If you need multiple cameras, the cost per camera is usually cheaper with wired camera systems.
You can get a multi-camera setup for pretty cheap (EZVIZ sells them for as low as $200) and then add on cameras in the future for as low as $100 each.
Of course, if you’re looking for top quality, you’ll be paying at least $500-$600 for a multi-camera wired surveillance system. But even if you bought a handful of Wi-Fi cams to scatter around the house, the cost would even out, especially considering that four Nest Cams would cost you $800—maybe $600 if you bought them at a good sale price. And that’s without the $100/year Nest Aware subscription fee.
What’s Best for You?
When it comes down to it, the big reason to go the Wi-Fi cam route is for easy installation and a simple user interface. If you’re a novice when it comes to technology, Wi-Fi cams offer a simple way to get an extra set of eyes on your house. The other big reason to opt for Wi-Fi is if you rent a home where running cables all over the place for a wired camera system just isn’t in the cards.
Otherwise, wired camera systems are far more reliable and don’t have to be connected to your network at all. Yes, they take some time to install and set up, but it’s one of those instances where that extra effort is 100% worth it. You’ll get better reliability and you won’t have to sacrifice internet bandwidth for saving video.
You can get security cameras that run on Wi-Fi (like this Foscam camera) that don’t have to be connected to the internet (unlike other Wi-Fi cams like the Nest Cam), but these usually require third-party software to manage them (like Blue Iris or Sighthound), so it can be a bit more daunting to set up if you’re a novice. Plus, they still won’t be as reliable as a wired setup. But if you’re looking for something a bit more in-between, that’s an option as well.