DIY security gives you greater flexibility over your connected home, allowing you to set up each gadget as you see fit and avoid subscription-based services that lock you into a contract. Still, the install-yourself systems vary widely. The all-in-one units typically come with a built-in camera while the accessory-based kits tend to offer cameras a la carte, as an optional add-on after your initial purchase. The related apps differ too.
Some have live streaming, while others record a clip only when they detect motion. Some have local storage options, while others save footage to a cloud server. And some offer free cloud storage, while others charge a fee. Scroll through our list of security cameras to learn more about the variety of DIY options available.
Archos Smart Home Starter Pack
Archos' $250 (£200 in the UK, Australian availability not yet announced) Smart Home Starter Pack has an Android tablet-hub, various motion and temperature sensors and two small, battery-powered cameras. The cameras were pretty disappointing. I like that you can easily angle the cameras on their magnetic bases, but they don't offer live streaming. Instead, they record when motion is detected or if you expressly ask them to record.
This $150 security camera stands out from others thanks to its facial-recognition capabilities. It can't distinguish between faces, but it can recognize the generic structure of a face and, theoretically, alert you that a human has triggered its motion sensor, as opposed to a passing truck. This would be useful, if only its notification system were more reliable.
Belkin NetCam HD+ Wi-Fi Camera
Belkin's $130 (£130 in the UK, and AU$170 in Australia) NetCam HD+ Wi-Fi Camera is a solid DIY camera. You have to pay $10 a month to store clips and, annoyingly, to receive push notifications. It also doesn't deliver Dropcam Pro-level optics or have the Samsung SmartCam HD Pro's local storage option. Still, you can control it from the WeMo app alongside Belkin's other home automation products.
BOT Home Automation Doorbot
The $200 (available internationally for about £120, AU$215) DoorBot is a smart doorbell that captures live video footage whenever someone buzzes your front door. Get a push notification when someone's at your door and access the app to see who's there. You can also use the two-way talk feature to chat with them without having to open your door. Unfortunately, the video quality wasn't great, yielding consistently streaky, pixelated images.
BOT Home Automation Ring
When Doorbot went kaput, BOT Home Automation introduced a successor model called Ring (available in Australia for AU$244 and the UK for £127). This smart doorbell looks a bit different, bumps up the resolution to 720p and tacks on features like cloud storage. The team also plans to add in motion-sensing capabilities as well as a quasi-weather station complete with humidity, barometric pressure and temperature sensors in the future.
Canary got its start on Indiegogo back in 2013, raising nearly $2 million with an original funding goal of $100,000. Considering this impressive crowd-funding feat, we expected to hear from Canary sooner. After finally getting our hands on this Piper-style all-in-one security system, we were a little disappointed by its overly sensitive motion sensor and overall lack of dependability.
D-Link Pan & Tilt Day/Night Network Camera
D-Link aims for the budget-minded with this $120 model, but unfortunately that shows in the product quality. (The same model sells in the UK for about £80, and in Australia for AU$200.) Low 640x480-pixel resolution, unreliable motion and sound detection and a broken notification system make this camera a nonstarter.
The $200 (£200 in the UK, not yet available in Australia) Dropcam Pro's crisp 1080p videos and sturdy build make it a leader among DIY security cameras. Receive sound and motion alerts on the related app and access the live feed 24-7. There's no local storage option and its Cloud Video Recording (CVR) fees start at $10 per month or $99 per year for seven days of saved footage. Nest recently bought Dropcam and Dropcam recently announced an API Beta Program, so expect a lot more from this successful startup-turned-Nest-property.
Flir FX is a $200 camera with a 720p streaming resolution, optional battery backup and accessories (available separately) designed to convert this otherwise indoor model into an outdoor security camera, an action camera or even a dashboard-mounted car camera.
Unfortunately, the Flir FX has some performance and app usability issues. In our testing it regularly sent phantom alerts in 2-to-3-second intervals and there were sometimes significant delays between receiving a motion or sound alert and being able to review the saved clip in the app. We also consistently received error messages when adjusting alert settings.
Foscam Plug and Play Wireless IP Camera FI9826P
Foscam is one of the more popular brands of connected cameras, and overall we were impressed with its hardware. Remote control panning and tilting, 3X optical zoom and a local SD card storage option are all appealing features. For $220, though, we would expect more up-to-date mobile software and an easier setup process. A new app is in the works that could make this one more competitive. We will report back and update our coverage once we test it out.
The Guardzilla costs just $100. That's pretty low considering that models like the Nest Cam, Netatmo Welcome and Flir FX retail for twice as much.
It has a low-res 640x480-pixel VGA resolution and sends photos of security events rather than saving video clips. These features aren't exactly deal breakers, but its alerts were sporadic, which seriously limited its usefulness as a security camera.
The $150 Homeboy security camera features a rechargeable battery and a magnetic backing so it can travel far and wide across your house (it's indoor-only) for optimal placement and angling. (It's supposed to become internationally available in 2015, but there's no pricing information just yet; direct conversions of the US price would be about £95 or AU$170.) This palm-size cam may not offer live streaming or HD resolution, but it does feature a siren, arm and disarm settings and an IFTTT channel. No, it won't work as a webcam, but it will alert you to potential security concerns as well as tie into third-party services and products.
Icontrol Networks Piper
The Piper is a $200 (also available in Europe for €150) security module with a camera, a siren and a whole bunch of sensors that detect everything from ambient light to motion. Track what's going on via live streaming and receive alerts when something's amiss. The Piper stores up to 1,000 video clips on its cloud server for free -- there's no local storage option, but there's also no monthly fee.
Icontrol Networks Piper NV
The NV distinguishes itself from its similar-looking, $199 Piper predecessor in a couple of key ways. With night vision and a 3.4-megapixel camera sensor, the NV is a clear upgrade from the 2-megapixel sans-night-vision original. It does retain a lot of the features that made the first iteration so great -- a 180-degree fish-eye lens, a 105-decibel siren, a microphone and a speaker, free cloud storage and multiple sensors -- but the new add-ons take the NV to a whole new level.
Ion Cameras Ion the Home Wi-Fi Video Camera
This action cam maker has thrown its hat into the security camera ring with this Ion the Home unit. At $130 it boasts a competitive price, and we also really like its 24-hour rolling cloud storage option. That's a pretty generous plan for hanging on to clips. Sadly, performance and in-app glitchiness keep this Ion from greatness.
iSmartAlarm's $200 base system has sensors, sirens, keychain tags and a hub. (Currently available only in the US and Canada, but the company has said it has plans to branch out. The US price converts to about £120, or AU$215.) Add on $150 and you get its camera too. Fortunately, there's no additional monthly fee attached to this camera. Unfortunately, we found the camera was very finicky. Up to 15 percent of routers don't work well with it and even if you do get it set up, it doesn't have a built-in motion sensor -- a definite oversight when you consider the competition.
iSmartAlarm iCamera Keep
This $150 connected camera has a 720p resolution and live-streaming capabilities and is a definite improvement over the original iSmartAlarm iCamera. The first-generation iCamera will still be available, but we'd suggest skipping the hassle and taking a look at the Keep instead. The Keep does have some major limitations; it doesn't currently support automatic or manual recording or offer any sort of cloud storage for viewing saved clips (a software update should add these features in Feburary, though).
Manything, iOS app
Manything is a free iOS app that turns your old iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch into an instant security camera. It definitely isn't as complete a solution as a regular DIY camera, but it still has a ton of handy features. You can use it for live monitoring and to receive alerts when motion is detected. It even has an option for customizing "motion zones" so you can pick and choose the parts of your home that you want to watch more closely. And, it will employ your phone's flashlight to "see" in the dark.
The Nest Cam is Nest's Dropcam Pro successor. It boasts a full 1080p streaming resolution, motion and sound alerts and optional cloud storage (for an extra monthly or yearly fee). The Nest Cam also has an updated stand, which is stronger and more maneuverable than the Pro's -- and it features a magnetic base for quick installations. Its one-alert-per-30-minutes rule is pretty limiting, but you can't beat Nest Cam in terms of optics.
The $200 Netatmo Welcome is the second security camera we've reviewed with facial-recognition technology. Where the ArcSoft Simplicam regularly misidentified faces, the Welcome had 100 percent detection accuracy. That's pretty impressive, but it did take a while to learn a face. It also had a laggy video feed and alerts, so the Welcome isn't the best at delivering information in real time.
The Arlo is a new $350 Netgear security system that comes with a hub and two battery-powered 720p cameras rated for both indoor and outdoor use (additional cameras are available for $160 each). You can use these handy cameras to set schedules, make motion-related rules for one or both and review alerts whenever a security even occurs. The app lets you see multiple cameras at one time and has a solid night vision mode.
Oco may have used the same third-party manufacturer that ArcSoft did for its Simplicam, but these identical-looking cameras are pretty different. Oco's cloud service starts at $3.99 a month (less than Simplicam's $4.99) and it has an adaptable video stream feature that auto-adjusts the live feed based on bandwidth. In our testing it also went offline randomly, suffered from sluggish two-way talk and often switched to night vision mode for no reason.
Oplink Security TripleShield
Oplink's $350 TripleShield package (available only in North America) includes all of the usual security kit features, plus a couple of night-vision-capable cameras. If the alarm is triggered, the system will automatically record video and send it to your phone. The related app is well-designed, too, allowing you to view live footage on a split screen or one camera at a time. We weren't thrilled with the fees, though. The compulsory $20 monthly fee increases by $5 every time you add an additional camera to your setup.
Presence, iOS app
Presence is a free iOS app that lets you turn an old iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch into a security camera for free (assuming you already have an old device lying around at home). Much like Manything, Presence will permit remote live streaming on a secondary device. This sort of free setup makes a lot of sense for someone looking to experiment with security cameras before plunging into a purchase. Presence doesn't offer an IFTTT channel, though, so you won't have as many options for third-party integration as with Manything.
Salient Eye, Android app
Salient Eye is an excellent Android security app. Unlike its iOS counterparts, Salient Eye doesn't have live-streaming capabilities. Instead, it focuses on sensor-based triggers that activate a siren when the app is armed. You can opt in to text and email alerts to get real-time notifications of any security events and a link to tons of photos of the action.
Samsung SmartCam HD Pro
Samsung's $190 (available in the UK for £160; not yet available in Australia, but converts to about AU$200) SmartCam HD Pro has a full list of features, ranging from motion and sound detection and alerts to optional SD card video storage. If local storage is at the top of your must-have list, this is a solid indoor security camera. If not, I'd stick with the slightly more expensive Dropcam Pro: the Dropcam Pro's superior video quality and build make it tough to beat at this price level.
The SkyBell 2.0 is a second-generation $200 video doorbell. Unlike a DoorBot or Ring, this model must be hard-wired to work. It offers on-demand live streaming and will send you a push alert whenever someone rings the bell or stands in front of the motion sensor for 10 seconds. It doesn't currently support cloud storage or saved clips, but that is supposedly in the works. While the SkyBell 2.0 didn't fail outright in our testing like the Doorbot, it only performed marginally better than the Ring.
Viper's $230 Starter Kit (not available in the UK; available in Australia, converts to about AU$245) comes with a hub, a motion detector, and a door and window sensor. The Viper Android or iOS app alerts you to what's going on at home and lets you loop in the brand's car-related products. Spend an additional $150 and you can tack on a camera and motion detector accessory. The battery-powered camera delivers decent video quality and has an adhesive backing that's easy to install, but you have to pay a $10 monthly fee for live streaming.
The Withings Home is a security camera with interesting extras, like a volatile organic compound sensor, a built-in color-changing night light, a lullaby setting and a unique design (compared with the dull black-and-white finish of most models). But its core features, like live streaming and alerts, did not impress. Specifically, the resolution seemed much grainier than its supposed 1080p and its motion sensor often issued alerts when no apparent activity had taken place.