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Updated May 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for best security monitors

Protecting your property is important to guard against package theft, property damage, and home invasion. Security monitors that provide video surveillance of vulnerable areas around your home and yard are an essential part of a total security package.

Every home is different. The size of your house, its location, and the neighborhood you live in are all important factors in deciding on the ideal system for your situation. The specific security threats that you anticipate or are perhaps already dealing with can also play a role.

And while it seems like there are many types of security monitors on the market, most of them fit very specific purposes and can be quickly configured to meet your needs. A good buying guide and some top-rated recommendations can help you as you shop.

security monitor
Plan ahead for your security monitor. Draw a simple sketch of your home and yard and mark key entry points so you can plan your setup.

How to buy the best security monitor

Choosing a security monitor is serious business. But gone are the days when only professionals and security services could set one up. It’s now possible to create a real-time monitoring setup with the right combination of cameras.

Is buying a security monitor worth the money?

Security monitors are an investment, so it’s natural to question whether installing one is going to be a help or a hindrance.

Deterrence: Their biggest benefit is preventing a crime from happening in the first place. A survey of 422 imprisoned burglars noted that 60% said they always searched for and avoided properties with surveillance systems.

ID suspects: Security monitors can also help police to identify suspects after a crime occurs. A 2007 study in Orange County, New Jersey, found that crimes of all types dropped by 50% when surveillance cameras were installed throughout the city.

When deciding to add security monitors to your property, consider some important factors.

  • Cost of replacing stolen or broken items after a break-in
  • Cost of medical treatment if you or a family member got injured by an intruder
  • Personal cost if the unthinkable should happen as a result of a home invasion

A security monitor can greatly reduce the risk of incurring these costs. Also, installing a home security system can significantly reduce your home insurance bill by up to 15%.

Types of security monitors

Analog: Like old-fashioned closed-circuit television, an analog security monitor relies on a direct connection (usually by coaxial cable) to a video monitor and optionally a digital video recorder (DVR). The video feed is continuous and the camera has few or no extra features.

Internet protocol (IP): These monitors took a big leap forward with cameras that converted the signal from video to digital without having to go through a separate converter like a DVR. For home-based security setups on a budget, IP-ready monitors are a good choice. They connect to a home router through either a wired Ethernet or coaxial connection or over WiFi.

Smart: A security monitor that incorporates smart technology and Bluetooth connectivity offers many more features and options than either analog or IP monitors. Alerts can be customized through a smartphone app, as can the monitor’s behaviors like recording only when the motion sensor is activated.

Security monitors vs. security services

Purchasing a security monitor or security monitoring system isn’t necessarily the best option for homeowners or renters. A security monitoring service that provides 24/7 surveillance might be a better choice. Let’s look at the pros and cons.

Security monitor pros

No subscription fee: You won’t have to pay a monthly subscription to install your own equipment. Some brands offer subscription-based cloud storage, but it’s optional in most cases.

Customizable: These systems, especially those that are IP-based or smart, offer lots of ways to configure notifications, monitoring, and more. You can often add motion sensors and water intrusion sensors (which can alert you to a broken pipe, leak, or flood) to the system.

Ownership: The equipment is yours, and you decide when or how often to upgrade or replace a camera.

Security monitor cons

Higher initial cost: You pay for all the equipment up front. If you opt for a cloud DVR subscription, that’s an added expense. You’re also responsible for keeping the firmware updated and upgrading the hardware and software when necessary. If the system is hacked, you’ll usually have to deal with it on your own.

No live monitoring: One of the biggest benefits of a service is that someone is monitoring and responding to security alerts 24/7. You won’t have that with your own security monitor.

No police or fire department alerts: A service will contact the police or fire department when an alarm is triggered and not properly deactivated. With a security monitor, it’s up to you to contact emergency responders.

Where to install a security monitor

Entry points: Front and back doors are the most popular and intuitive spots to install these monitors, but don’t forget areas like the garage door and basement windows. If there’s a way for someone to access the upper floors of your home (for example, if you live in a multistory building with a shared fire escape), add a monitor near the door or window there.

Exterior: Have a view of the driveway, backyard, front yard, and maybe the sides of the home.

Interior: Aim a monitor at the front and back doors. Optional spots include the stairway (for example, if you’re worried about an older family member or toddler negotiating the stairs), the garage, or even the kitchen.

Don’t block the security monitor’s view. Keep nearby shrubs trimmed and set up the camera with the clearest view possible.

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Features to look for in security monitors

Hack-proof

A monitor should have measures in place to prevent it from being hacked. A built-in firewall is an excellent feature in both IP and smart security monitors.

Connectivity

A WiFi connection is much easier and more cost-effective to set up than a wired connection. Smart monitors have an optional Bluetooth connection.

Motion sensor

A security monitor can record video 24/7, but if you’d like to save storage space, opt for motion sensing capability. The camera only starts recording when the motion sensor is triggered and continues recording for several seconds after motion is no longer detected.

Audio response

Security monitors that have a small speaker built into the case can be set up to play a prerecorded message when the camera starts recording.

Real-time viewing

This option allows you to use a mobile phone app to see what’s going on through any of the security cameras in your system.

Power

Battery backup: An onboard battery keeps the monitor functioning even if there’s a power outage. Real-time viewing might not be possible during an outage, however.

Solar charging: A nice option for outdoor security monitors is a small solar panel that charges the onboard battery during the day.

security monitor
DID YOU KNOW?
A security monitor could earn you a break on your home insurance. Call your insurance company to see if it offers a discount.
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The best accessories for a security monitor

Dual-band wireless router

An up-to-date WiFi router that handles signals in two bands (2.4 and 5 gigahertz), is ideal for configuring a reliable connection to a security monitor.

Battery backup

This is ideal for battery-dependent wireless monitors, extending their power supply for up to six months, as well as wired CCTV security monitors. Choose a backup that is configured for the exact devices you plan to use.

How much does a security monitor cost?

Inexpensive

Single-camera setups are a good option for indoor-only monitoring and range from $21 to $67.

Mid-range

Multi-camera indoor monitors and rugged single-camera outdoor systems can be found at the $69 to $115 price point.

Expensive

Multi-camera outdoor monitoring systems with top features cost between $120 and $379.

Use a dual-band WiFi router and connect the wireless monitor to the router’s 2.4 GHz band and other devices to the 5 GHz band to ensure a consistent connection.

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Tips

  • Test your security monitor before installing it. Make sure it works as advertised and the location offers a clear, wide view.
  • Don’t position the camera to look through a window. Windows can be a problem. Not all security monitors can record images through windows, and a window can prevent motion sensors from working properly.
  • Be aware of privacy laws. Avoid aiming a camera at your neighbor’s property.
  • Set the motion sensor sensitivity. Wildlife in the backyard can trigger motion sensors and keep you up all night, but dialing down the sensitivity of the sensors can minimize this problem.
  • Set the camera to activate only when the motion sensor is triggered. You’ll save bandwidth and electricity.
security monitor
Keep the monitors clean. Dust indoor monitors occasionally, and make sure outdoor devices are free of mud, debris, and cobwebs.

FAQ

Q. What’s the best way to ensure full security coverage with a monitor?

A. While no security monitor provides perfect coverage, you can maximize the area that the camera captures (and ensure no privacy laws are broken) by planning the setup and layout ahead of time. Take pictures of your home’s entry points, yard, and specific areas you’d like to cover. Sketch the layout of your house and yard and mark those entry points and areas of surveillance. This will give you an idea of whether you need one monitor or several and where to place them for maximum effectiveness.

Q. Will a security monitor keep wildlife out of my yard?

A. If you have an IP-based system, it can alert you almost instantly to the presence of wildlife. And if you have an automatic message configured to play from the monitor’s speaker, it might scare away critters that you don’t want on your property, like raccoons aiming for your trash cans. However, as numerous online videos have shown, a motion-sensor or always-on monitor can help you detect wildlife when they creep into view. From that, you can figure out what times of day or night they’re most likely to explore your property, and you can take preventive measures that are more effective.

Q. Will a wireless monitor interfere with my home’s WiFi system?

A. A single wireless monitor won’t directly interfere with the WiFi system. However, if you need a more complex system that includes range extenders, then the multiple antennas can be an issue.

Q. Can a security monitor slow down WiFi speed?

A. Yes. A monitor connected to your WiFi router can increase the bandwidth being used, and that can lead to lower-quality signals. Brick or concrete walls or big trees between the wireless monitor and the WiFi router can also degrade or block signals. Plus, wireless monitors have a limited range (between 150 and 500 feet, depending on the model). A good option is to use a dual-band WiFi router, connect the security monitor to the 2.4 GHz band and connect more advanced devices like smartphones and streaming sticks to the 5 GHz band.

Q. Can I use a WiFi range extender to increase the distance I can place a security monitor from the router?

A. You can, but pay attention to the manufacturer’s recommendations about WiFi extenders or WiFi mesh devices. Some recommend no more than two extenders in a household if multiple security cameras are being used. This reduces the possibility of signal interference.

Q. Is a wired security monitor better than a wireless one?

A. That depends. A wired monitor is a good option if you can’t get reliable WiFi connectivity in certain areas (like the far end of a big yard). If you’re using a subscription security service, they might insist on wired monitors and a battery backup for better reliability. But wireless monitors are improving all the time thanks to their popularity, price, and increasing ease of use. In the end, it depends on your specific situation and desired configuration.

 

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