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How We Test Home Security Cameras and Video Doorbells

From recreating porch piracy for objection detection to checking on two-way audio clarity, here's how our experts test the latest features of home security cameras.

Tyler Lacoma Editor / Home Security
For more than 10 years Tyler has used his experience in smart home tech to craft how-to guides, explainers, and recommendations for technology of all kinds. From using his home in beautiful Bend, OR as a testing zone for the latest security products to digging into the nuts and bolts of the best data privacy guidelines, Tyler has experience in all aspects of protecting your home and belongings. With a BA in Writing from George Fox and certification in Technical Writing from Oregon State University, he's ready to get you the details you need to make the best decisions for your home. On off hours, you can find Tyler exploring the Cascade trails, finding the latest brew in town with some friends, or trying a new recipe in the kitchen!
Expertise Smart home, smart security, home tech, energy savings, A/V
Macy Meyer Editor I
Macy Meyer is a N.C. native who graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 2021 with a B.A. in English and Journalism. She currently resides in Charlotte, N.C., where she has been working as an Editor I, covering a variety of topics across CNET's Home and Wellness teams, including home security, fitness and nutrition, smart home tech and more. Prior to her time at CNET, Macy was featured in The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer, INDY Week, and other state and national publications. In each article, Macy helps readers get the most out of their home and wellness. When Macy isn't writing, she's volunteering, exploring the town or watching sports.
Expertise Macy covers a variety of topics across CNET's Home and Wellness teams, including home security, smart home tech, fitness, nutrition, travel, lifestyle and more. Credentials
  • Macy has been working for CNET for coming on 2 years. Prior to CNET, Macy received a North Carolina College Media Association award in sports writing.
Tyler Lacoma
Macy Meyer
5 min read
The Blink Mini 2 sits at the edge of a counter.

Our tests found the Blink Mini 2 has surprisingly strong audio for its size.

Tyler Lacoma/CNET

Safety and security products are among the most important to test hands-on, but some are harder to evaluate than others. A leak detector either works or doesn't, but what about a home security camera? What about a video doorbell camera?

Some video devices are better than others, sure, but many cameras are just different from their competitors -- offering unique features, aesthetics and overall approaches to indoor or outdoor monitoring. And that's what you want: A pet camera should work differently from a nanny cama floodlight camera should have different features to a video doorbell.

But at the end of the day, we at CNET have to tell you our picks for the best cameras no matter the use case. Here's how we use hands-on testing in real-world scenarios at the CNET testing warehouse to determine which home security cameras and video doorbells are the best of the best for you.

How we test outdoor, indoor and video doorbell camera features

Each time CNET experts conduct tests on a home security camera or video doorbell, we set it up using the included directions and test all of the advertised features in a home setting for about a week -- all with the device's intended purpose in mind. 

For example, an outdoor camera should be weatherproof and have noise-dampening tech so you can hear the sounds you care about over rushing wind. That means we'll have to perform an outdoor sound check to see if we can hear talking and other sounds at different distances while watching the live feed.

Similarly, an indoor camera should include privacy features, such as a shutter. That means making sure that the features work as advertised and that the shutter, and whether it's open or closed, is appropriately easy to check. Finally, a video doorbell should have excellent two-way talk for chatting with visitors and delivery people. That means holding a conversation with another person on the porch, and listening for clarity and latency.

There are plenty of other unique features on different sorts of security cameras. Once the device is set up and the features are all laid out, it's time to make sure they work properly. Some cameras allow you to determine motion zones, where anything moving in a specific frame will result in a mobile alert sent directly to your phone. We'll move around the motion zone to see when we get an alert and when we don't. The aim is to discover how precise those zones really are.

Other such features include motion tracking for pan-tilt cameras (can the camera follow you passing by at walking speed?), two-way talk (can you hold a remote conversation that's clear?), live monitoring (how much latency does the feed have?) and event saving (are motion events saved save in storage and easy to share?). Plenty more features are out there, from object recognition to motion-triggered messages, and each requires its own individual test to make sure it works as advertised.

Finally, all this setup work and feature-testing mean we're spending a whole lot of time in the company's app, working through its settings and controls. This gives us the best opportunity to examine the user interface, how easy the app is to learn and how handy the controls are doing everyday security checkups or viewing alerts.

Getting down to business: Testing resolution, night vision and latency

After CNET experts test the unique features of the home security camera or video doorbell camera, the examination becomes a little more demanding -- particularly when it comes to a camera's resolution, night vision and latency.

Plenty of cameras advertise 1080p or 2K resolution, but in practice capture muddy or pixelated video. To figure out how consistent a camera's vision is, we do a vision test (the kind you might see in your optometrist's office) to see how clear the resolution really is at different distances. We'll stand a few feet from the camera, then step back once, then again to about 15 feet, then finally to a distance of 30 feet.

nest wireless doorbell

Video doorbells are a type of security camera with their own unique features -- and you pretty much only put them in one place.

Chris Monroe/CNET

To see how reliable the night vision is, we administer the test again in the dark. Then we'll compare the results to direct competitors on the market, and offer our recommendation based on the results.

Finally, we tackle latency, since many people hope to use home security cameras and video doorbells to deter porch pirates or other would-be neighborhood nuisances (like the raccoons that treat your garbage can like a weekly buffet). If someone walks onto your porch, grabs a delivery left there and walks away, do you have time to receive the alert, pull up the feed and intervene with two-way talk?

Typically a duo of CNET experts will enact a mock porch piracy, testing the latency of the camera or video doorbell. Most cameras at this point aren't fast enough to catch a fleet-footed porch pirate in the act. But some are faster than others -- and the best ones capture and record the full act so you can see exactly what happened.

Determining the value of a security product

Once our CNET experts finish all the technical tests, it's finally time to give the security camera or video doorbell a score and final recommendation. It's here that we factor in the features, the performance, the overall user experience (again, we usually use them in a home setting for about a week) and a product's value.

To determine value, we have to compare the price to those of similarly featured devices on the market. In this category, a simple but reliable $30 smart cam outperforms a more full-featured $100 camera -- or a $200 video doorbell that checks every box can beat a $60 competitor that doesn't quite wow us the same way.

Of course, no security camera or video doorbell will be perfect for everyone, so we also factor in a variety of use cases and budgets. No matter the use case or the price, you can be confident that any security device CNET recommends will offer a great value for what's on offer.

A quick recap of CNET's testing policy

Testing home security cameras and video doorbell cameras can be pretty involved, but it essentially breaks down into a few testing categories. Here's what we look at:

  • The features offered.
  • How the features perform.
  • Whole product performance over a testing period of a week.
  • Resolution, night vision and latency comparisons.
  • Overall value.

To see CNET's testing in action, check out our recommendations for the best video doorbells, the best home security cameras and the best outdoor security cameras. We also post plenty of screenshots and videos in our guides so you can get an up-close look at how live views function and controls work.

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