Best Home Surveillance Systems of 2018

John Carlsen ·
Smart Home & HVAC Editor
Updated
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We spent over 100 hours testing and reviewing 10 surveillance systems. We looked for systems that have excellent video performance and were easy to use. We chose Foscam as the best overall because it scored the highest with regards to video performance in our tests. The system tied for first in our daytime video tests and had the second-highest score in our nighttime tests. The nighttime video from this system is sharp and richly detailed with little to no noise. 

Best Overall
Foscam
Foscam has the best overall video quality among the surveillance systems we tested, making it ideal for recording day and night.
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Best Value
Swann
Swann is a good starter home video surveillance system for monitoring the exterior of your home day and night. It is a top performer in nighttime video quality.
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Best Daytime Video Quality
Lorex
Lorex tied with Foscam for best daytime video quality, though it wasn't as strong in the nighttime tests. The system is easy to use and offers strong customer support with a two-year warranty.
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Product
Price
OVERALL RATING
Video Performance
Setup & Operation
Warranty & Support
Video Quality – Day
Video Quality – Night
Adjustable Resolution
Motion Detection
Continuous & Scheduled Recording
Maximum Resolution
Night Vision Range
Field of View
Outdoor Capable
Ease of Use
Setup Type
Number of Cameras Included
Maximum Number of Cameras
Setup Difficulty
Internet Connection Type(s)
Audio
Storage Type
Storage Included
Monthly Pricing
Warranty
Customer Support Options
$249.99 Amazon Marketplace
4.7 3.7 5
96
91
720p
65 ft
75º
X
89
Wired
4
8
Intermediate
Ethernet
N/A
NVR
1TB
N/A
2 Years
Email; Phone; Chat
$0.96 Wal-Mart
4.5 3.9 5
96
80
720p
90 ft
55º
X
86
Wired
4
4
Intermediate
Ethernet
$
NVR
1TB
N/A
2 Years
Email; Phone; Chat
$0.96 Wal-Mart
4.6 3.9 4
87
92
720p
100 ft
62º
X
88
Wired
2
4
Intermediate
Ethernet
$
NVR
500GB
N/A
1 Year
Email; Phone
$259.95 Amazon Marketplace
4.5 3.9 4.3
95
79
720p
65 ft
59º
X
87
Wired
4
4
Intermediate
Ethernet
$
NVR
1TB
N/A
1 Year
Email; Phone; Chat
$244 Ravage Deals
4.3 3.9 5
84
80
720p
100 ft
70º
X
86
Wired
4
4
Intermediate
Ethernet
$
NVR
1TB
N/A
2 Years
Email; Phone; Chat
$280 Amazon Marketplace
4.3 3.8 4.3
80
87
1080p
65 ft
107.5º
X
85
Wired
6
8
Intermediate
Ethernet
$
NVR
2TB
N/A
1 Year
Email; Phone; Chat
$199.95 Amazon
4.1 4.3 4
80
81
720p
25 ft
110º
X
90
Wireless
2
15
Beginner
Wi-Fi + Ethernet
Pro Version Only
Cloud
1GB
$0.00*
1 Year
Email; Phone
$206.99 Tiger Direct
4.5 3.4 4
84
90
720p
82 ft
100º
X
74
Wired
4
4
Advanced
Ethernet
$
NVR
1TB
N/A
1 Year
Email; Phone
$217.24 Wal-Mart
3.2 4.9 3.7
80
73
720p
*
110º
Indoor Only
97
Wireless
3
10
Beginner
Wi-Fi
X
Cloud
1GB
$0.00
1 Year
Email
Best Overall
Foscam home surveillance systems are the best of any we tested. Only one other system matched Foscam's daytime video quality, and Foscam came in a close second in our nighttime testing.
This system scored a remarkable 96 percent in daytime video tests, including excellent contrast at every distance we tested. At night, Foscam was the only system we tested without a noticeable graininess in its recordings, though its overall nighttime quality lags slightly behind that of Swann. Its chief weaknesses at night are a noticeable blurring when capturing movement and a tendency to wash out details on objects close to the camera with its powerful infrared lights. Foscam’s two-year warranty is the longest among the systems we reviewed, with most competitors only offering one year of coverage. Foscam is the only system in our comparison that uses Ethernet cables to power and get video from its cameras, which makes it easier to set up than most wired systems, which use separate power sources for the NVR and cameras. However, the wired cameras in this system can be more difficult to install than wireless cameras. Foscam also lacks any sort of audio recording capabilities, unlike every other system we tested. The system we tested comes with four cameras and a 1TB hard drive in its NVR.
Pros
  • Best overall video quality in our tests
  • Second-best nighttime video quality
  • Two-year warranty
Cons
  • Doesn’t record audio
  • Moving objects can get distorted in nighttime video
  • Intermediate setup difficulty
-
Read the full review
Best Value
Swann has the best nighttime video quality among the products we tested. Its video had less noise than the majority of systems at night, though it really stood out by accurately capturing motion and clearly showing facial features at each of the distances we tested.
The system also has decent daytime video quality, with excellent clarity close to the camera. At distances, however, the system doesn’t match the performance of Foscam, Lorex and Amcrest. This is mostly due to some problems with daytime contrast, which blended details together. At the time of this writing, you can get this system from around $115, which makes it more affordable than other surveillance systems we tested. Because of the wired nature of the cameras, this system can be difficult and time-consuming to install, but doesn’t require any special programming to link it with the mobile app. The company's support options, particularly the one-year warranty, are average for the manufacturers in our comparison. While the system only comes with two cameras, you can connect up to four total.
Pros
  • Best nighttime video quality
  • Excellent daytime video close to camera
  • Most affordable system we tested
Cons
  • One-year warranty
  • Intermediate setup difficulty
  • Daytime video underperforms at a distance
-
Read the full review
Best Daytime Video Quality
Lorex is an excellent choice for home video surveillance in most homes, though it's most suited to daytime surveillance as its daytime video quality is the best in our comparison, especially for distant objects.
At night Lorex produced good video close to the camera, but has more noise than many of the cameras we reviewed, which made it more difficult to identify distant objects and people. While the video in this system is quite good overall, it has a limited field of view of 55 degrees, which means it sees less of a room than other surveillance systems we tested. Because of this, you need to install the cameras where they can observe critical details more easily. The system is easy to use with an excellent mobile app and a variety of recording options, but takes a little patience to set up due to the wired cameras. Lorex’s two-year warranty is quite excellent since most surveillance systems only have one-year warranty coverage.
Pros
  • Best daytime video quality
  • Two-year warranty
  • Good nighttime video quality near camera
Cons
  • Poor nighttime video quality at a distance
  • Limited field of view
  • Intermediate setup difficulty
-
Read the full review
Best Outdoor Cameras
The Arlo home surveillance system is a good option for its easy installation and decent video. However, it doesn’t hold up to wired systems, which typically have better video quality and features.
Arlo’s battery-powered cameras are weatherproof, which means you can install them anywhere outside your home. They use a unique magnetic mount that requires minimal installation. Unlike many of the systems we reviewed, Arlo uses cloud storage for videos. It offers a basic seven-day storage plan for free, but you can get more storage if you sign up for a paid subscription. The company also recently introduced Arlo Smart, which offers better notifications, motion zones and person detection. Arlo requires a paid subscription if you want customer support after the first three months, which places unnecessary limits on people that only want to use the free video storage plan. The one-year warranty on Arlo products is average for surveillance systems, but shorter than the two-coverage you get from Foscam, Lorex and Q-See.
Pros
  • Easy to install anywhere, particularly outdoors
Cons
  • Customer support requires a paid subscription for long-term use
-
Read the full review
Easiest to Use
From a usability standpoint, Blink is one of the best home surveillance systems. However, its daytime video is only average and its nighttime video feels underpowered when compared with other home surveillance cameras.
Blink is the only surveillance system in our comparison that can connect directly to your home network via Wi-Fi. This makes it easier to install than other systems because it doesn’t need an Ethernet cable. Likewise, the mobile app allows you to adjust basic settings and access Blink’s free cloud video storage, though it lacks a continuous recording function. Regarding video quality, Blink had the lowest overall video quality in our tests. At night, the camera didn’t capture good details because it lacks infrared LEDs found in other systems, instead opting for a visible white LED that underperformed at a distance. The warranty on this system only lasts one year, which is typical of home surveillance systems. Blink was acquired by Amazon in December 2017, so naturally its cameras work with Amazon Alexa voice commands.
Pros
  • Easier to use than competition
Cons
  • Poor nighttime video quality
-
Read the full review

Why Trust Us

Top Ten Reviews has reviewed surveillance systems since 2012; we conducted our first round of in-depth testing in 2016. We use representative products in our tests and evaluate manufacturers rather than specific models to give you a general impression of the company's offerings. This allows you to look at our experiences with a company and choose a system with the storage options, resolution and number of cameras that fit your needs and budget.

Most of the systems we reviewed come in both wired and wireless versions that you can find online and at retail stores. If you only need one camera, we suggest looking at our security camera review.

During our research, we contacted ONVIF, an industry association that promotes interoperability standards for security cameras. Stuart Rawling, of the ONVIF Steering Committee, answered our questions on how people can get the most out of surveillance cameras in their homes, you’ll find some of his answers throughout this article.

How Much do Home Surveillance Systems Cost?

You can expect to pay between $100 and $500 for most home surveillance systems. The costs usually increase alongside the video storage capacity and number of cameras. If you choose a wireless system, this will also increase your costs. Systems with eight or more cameras typically cost over $500. Add-on cameras for most surveillance systems usually cost between $50 and $100.

For our comparison, we chose systems with similar pricing between $100 and $400. This is the low end for HD digital surveillance systems and a good starting point for a small home.

How We Tested

To test the differences between camera systems, we limited our tests to systems with 720p resolution. This means that every system we tested records digital HD video rather than older, less precise analog video. One exception, EZVIZ, didn't have any 720p systems available at the time of testing, so we tested one of its 1080p systems using its 720p setting.

Aside from video resolution, all of the systems in our comparison have the following in common:

  • Multiple cameras
  • A mobile app
  • DIY installation
  • Night vision
  • No-cost video storage included

These systems require at least one cable for power, video and internet connectivity. All wireless communication is done via each system's mobile app.

Video Performance

We developed a test chart to evaluate many factors that can make or break video quality. This allowed us to examine overall clarity, color accuracy, picture contrast, text readability, and whether a human face was recognizable with enough detail to make a positive identification. For each system's test, we placed the chart at distances of 10, 20 and 30 feet.

In addition to the test chart, we looked at each home surveillance system's ability to capture moving objects. If there was any lag or distortion, we took points away from the system. With regards to motion, all of the cameras produced excellent results in our daytime tests, but two failed our nighttime motion tests.

Day
For our daytime video tests, we used the systems in a bright room with all of the lights on. We did not perform low-light testing with the lights off and ambient light from a nearby window. Foscam and Lorex tied for first in daytime video quality, and Amcrest came in a close second.

Night
During our nighttime video tests, we stayed after hours to test the effectiveness of the cameras in near darkness. We used the same test chart as during the day, though clarity wasn't nearly as important as noise and brightness.

Noise that distorted the image and made it difficult to identify key details lowered the score more than anything else. Additionally, if a video was too dim or too bright at various distances, we deducted points. Our top performers at night were Swann, Foscam and Samsung Techwin.

Ease of Use

Although video quality is a major factor in a home surveillance system, it's a passive trait that works in the background. When you're controlling the system, ease of use is the most important factor. Systems with complicated installations or cluttered controls don't hold up as well as those that provide clear directions and simple options.

The biggest part of our ease of use score is each system's interface and how it performs in terms of menu navigation, playback controls and notification options. Although the mobile app was our primary interface, we also looked at how each system's web apps or onscreen controls differed.

An important thing to remember about installation is that it's meant to be a one-time event. This is why it makes up a smaller part of our overall ease of use score. To evaluate installation, we looked at how long it took and how difficult it was to set up each system. In this category, our top performers were Blink, Arlo, Foscam and Swann.

Interface
During this evaluation, we looked at the ways that you can control each home surveillance system. Since all of these systems have a mobile app, we used that first. A good mobile app is easy to navigate and learn. Additionally, it shows active cameras on the main screen when you open the app and keeps advanced controls hidden away to reduce confusion among novice users.

One of the benchmarks we looked for in the interface was whether a home video surveillance system sent out activity notifications when it detected motion or started recording. We also evaluated how easy it was to export video to a computer or smartphone.

Aside from the mobile app, most systems have web apps, onscreen controls built into the system's DVR, or a combination of the two. With the exception of Blink, which connects over Wi-Fi, every system in our comparison requires you to connect an Ethernet cable to your router to add internet.

For systems with onscreen controls, you can connect them to TVs and computer monitors over HMDI or VGA. This is useful if you don't need internet in favor of a traditional closed-circuit television system. Systems with this option often include a USB mouse that allows you to navigate the menu.

Installation
For the most part, the type of installation you choose depends on your budget and patience. Here's a brief rundown of what you should expect while installing wired and wireless systems.

Wireless home surveillance systems have a simple setup, and placement is much easier, but you can run into problems if the camera requires a power cable. The trade-off for completely wireless systems is limited battery power and higher system purchase costs, especially if you plan to record continuously.

In general, wired systems don't require any special instructions to install each camera, run cable and connect it to the DVR. Despite the straightforward installation process, it takes longer to set up wired systems. The cost of installation can also increase if you require longer cables or hire an electrician.

Additionally, it's possible you'll spend extra time plotting cable routes and tidying or hiding cables. This is especially true if you run cable through walls between multiple rooms or to the exterior of your home. In cases like these, it's best to consult an electrician so you're less likely to damage existing wiring or violate local building codes.

Other Things to Consider When Buying a Home Surveillance System

The best home surveillance systems offer features that combine high performance and usability. In particular, it's a good idea to focus on recording modes, video storage, camera quantity, audio and customer support. Here are a few things we learned during testing.

Camera Placement
Regarding placement of outdoor cameras, Rawling said “the most important spot for cameras is at each entrance point. The camera should be facing the entry point so anyone who enters your property is visible.” He also suggested consulting your neighbors if you plan to point a camera toward their property as this can be considered an invasion of privacy.

Indoors, Rawling suggests pointing cameras at the valuable items you want to protect with an important consideration: “Some people aren’t comfortable with cameras inside the home, so it is wise to be mindful of the objective for indoor security when determining if it is necessary."

If you find it necessary to use cameras in your home, don’t put them anywhere in your home where family members or guests have a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as bedrooms and bathrooms.

Depending on regulations where you live, you might need to get consent from people you're recording. This is usually as simple as using a sign that says there are security cameras present. “A sign is a good way to indicate that anyone entering your property is being recorded, and therefore by entering your property, they are consenting to such. Postings are legally required in some places, so it’s smart to have one.” Rawling said.

Video Storage
Each system in our comparison saves video recordings to either a network video recorder, also known as an NVR, or a cloud video server. Although both options have pros and cons, this doesn't factor into our rankings, since the final decision comes down to personal preference. If you choose an NVR, we recommend a capacity of at least 500GB for a four-camera setup. Here are some features that can help you use video storage more efficiently on NVRs:

  • Adjustable resolution or video quality
  • Adjustable frame rate
  • Multiple recording modes

For cloud storage, it's less about overall storage than it is about the number of clips you can store. Two systems in our comparison use cloud storage exclusively: Arlo and Blink. Both have free storage options, though Arlo also had a paid subscription with better storage options and features.

Recording Modes
When a system has a variety of recording modes, you gain more control of video storage and increase efficiency. Here are a few common modes worth considering in your home surveillance system:

  • Continuous – The system is always on, which is good for full coverage, but uses storage quickly, and older footage can be lost to free up space. Also, reviewing hours of video can be tiresome.
  • Scheduled – The system only records during certain hours of the day, which is especially useful in off-hours. Anything outside the schedule is not recorded, for good or ill.
  • Motion – Recording only happens for a brief period when movement happens in front a camera. This is a very efficient use of video storage, but it isn't always available on a system.

Number of Cameras Included
Not all homes and businesses are equal. Naturally, larger homes or more sensitive locations require more cameras, while small homes and apartments can get away with fewer. We didn't factor this into our scoring. It's up to you to decide how many cameras you need for your home surveillance system.

Maximum Number of Cameras
Sometimes you might need to buy additional cameras. For example, it's also possible to buy an NVR that supports up to four cameras but only comes with two. In these instances, you can usually order extra cameras from the manufacturer.

If you're adding wired cameras, it's important to make sure you also get the appropriate cables and to allot some time for installation. Also remember that your video storage might get used up faster, or, in the case of cloud storage, you might have to pay a subscription fee.

Audio
If you want a camera that can record audio in addition to video, you should not expect this feature to come built in. With most NVR-based systems, a microphone is a separate purchase that only works indoors. The sound quality will be similar to a typical phone call. As for the legality of recording audio, check your local or state laws before doing so.

Warranty & Support
For warranty coverage, it's a good idea to purchase systems with warranties of two years or longer, though most warranties only last one year. This can help you replace cameras that fail over time. If you have an issue, you should be able to contact the manufacturer directly.

Although we score each contact method the same, our experience has been most effective with live chat support, which typically gets fast or instant responses. With email support, you might wait a few days before getting a reply. Telephone support is the least effective because it often requires more of your time than other methods.