4K security cameras provide clear video imaging at an approachable price. With a built-in hard drive, it is possible to store weeks of video footage on the device, rather than having a cloud storage subscription with an expensive monthly fee. And with local storage, you also reduce your system’s dependence on WiFi.
While we love simple 1080p security cameras like Wyze and Ring, a dedicated 4K security camera system will enhance your home’s security in ways a simple camera never could. These systems can be as elaborate as you wish. So if you want a 16 camera system that surveils every inch of your house, there really is nothing stopping you (except for your budget, perhaps).
Brief Overview – What matters?
4K security cameras are considered UHD (Ultra High Definition), and have roughly four times the pixel count of 1080p. For indoor cameras, simple 1080p cameras like the Blink, Wyze, or Eufy provide sufficient video quality. But for outdoor applications, the additional video clarity does a lot to enhance your home’s security. With 4K cameras, you may be able to read a license plate number or identify a logo on clothing, which may allow for identification of a burglar.
With 4K security camera systems, the number of options and customization are nearly unlimited. So it is important to do your research and pick a system that works for you. Due to the high video quality, more storage space is needed. So, we recommend a system that has a pre-installed hard drive, along with H.265+ video compression to save storage space.
Be sure to choose a system that has an adequate (but not excessive) number of cameras. Even if budget isn’t a concern, system needs will be higher for a 32 camera setup (yes, that really exists…) than a 4 camera setup.
Obviously, you will want a quality security camera from a reputable manufacturer. Be sure to choose a product with not only high video and audio quality, but also a warranty, long-term app support, and simple installation.
Although indoor cameras and nanny cams advertise hidden, subtle device designs, most of us prefer an outdoor camera that is easily seen. Having an obvious security camera pointed toward your yard, driveway, or front door can act as an effective deterrent for crime. Adding a battery backup system will further enhance your security setup. This will ensure that, even if the neighborhood loses power, your system will remain online.
Another important thing to note: in order to view 4K footage, you will need a 4K monitor or display. Spending money on a UHD security system doesn’t make sense if you are viewing the video in standard definition.
Final features to consider: night vision & motion detection alerts. On an exterior camera, night vision is essential. Most of the benefit of a security camera comes when it is dark outside. Many 4K security cameras have night vision using a high intensity infrared that provides 100+ feet of range. Some cameras even offer night vision with color, rather than black-and-white. And be sure to choose a system with user-friendly motion detection alerts. When you vacation, you want to know if someone enters your house, but you don’t want to spend your time off constantly staring at your security camera footage.
This Lorex system comes with 4 weatherproof (IP67 rated) bullet cameras and a built-in 1 TB hard drive. The DVR supports up to 8 cameras in total, so you have the ability to purchase add-ons to strengthen the system. Video quality is excellent, scoring high marks for clarity. It also includes 120 feet of night vision range, with color. And the cameras have an 87 degree field of view.
The app is solid, with no monthly fee. The system also integrates with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Alerts have person and vehicle detection, but the motion detection system is still prone to false alarms.
Some users have reported issues with customer support, but the Lorex brand generally does a better job of support than most competitors. Also be aware that although the system is “compatible” with audio, the cameras themselves do not have audio included.
This Reolink system comes with 4 weatherproof (IP66) cameras and a built-in 2 TB hard drive. We like that this system comes with a 2 year warranty, which is better than most competitors. Like the Lorex mentioned above, the system is compatible with add-ons, and up to 8 cameras will be supported. The 87 degree field of view provides a wide angle video.
Reolink is quick and easy to install. The app works well, also. Video quality is sharp, and the cameras also record audio with impressive clarity. The smart motion alert zones are adjustable, and include person and vehicle detection. Like all devices on the market, the system is not perfect.
This Swann system comes with 4 weatherproof (IP66) cameras and a built-in 2 TB hard drive.
The app is decent, but probably a notch below the Lorex and Reolink apps. Video quality is good, but seems slightly less than competitors. As with other products, the motion detection system is not perfect. But Swann includes a “true detect” system that detects not only motion, but heat as well. In theory, this means improved accuracy and fewer false alerts. But, your results may vary.
The night vision range extends to 130 feet, and includes color up to 32 feet. We also like that the system includes warning lights and a siren, which can be activated by motion (automatically) or via the app (remotely). The system also integrates with Alexa and Google Assistant.
Detailed Overview: Features That Matter
4K is the same thing as 8 megapixel, and is also called UHD. Basically, it has a resolution of 3840×2160, or 2160p. This means that the number of pixels is roughly 4 times the number of pixels in a 1080p recording. Having a greater pixel count means greater video and picture clarity, particularly when zooming in on an image. With a simple security camera in your living room, any resolution 1080p or better should be good enough. In fact, 4K security cameras may be a bit overkill in an indoor setting. But for an outdoor security camera, 4K video is tremendously important.
4K and UHD are both buzzwords in the tech world, and many users won’t be able to determine the difference between 1080p and 4K. For this reason, it is important to be sure that your device is actually a 4K device, rather than a 1080p or standard definition product being marketed and sold as 4K. There are two easy ways to be certain that you are actually getting a 4K product when you pay for one. First, you can verify the resolution on the device itself. Different devices will have different menus and layouts, but every device should display the resolution somewhere. This number should be 3840×2160 or greater. Second, and more easily, just be sure that you are buying from a reputable company. The products listed above are legitimate projects from top brands, and you can trust that you are getting a legitimate product when buying from any of these companies.
And, as mentioned above, be sure that you have a high-quality monitor or display to view your security camera footage. If you view 4K video on a standard definition monitor, a significant amount of detail is lost. The best option here is to use a 4K monitor to maintain the highest clarity possible.
High resolution videos require more storage. Because 4K has four times the pixels of 1080p, it demands more storage, as well. To solve this problem, most 4K systems feature “high efficiency video coding,” or H.265 video compression. According to Lorex (a top 4K camera manufacturer), this functions to “keep file sizes low without losing the 4K video quality.”
Despite the video compression, there is still a lot of data being stored. For this reason, we recommend purchasing a system that has a built-in hard drive pre-installed. At a bare minimum, this hard drive should be 1 TB. Ideally, the system will have a built-in hard drive of 2 TB or 3 TB. Many systems also allow you to add an additional, external hard drive for more storage. For a system with only 2 or 4 cameras, you probably won’t need this much storage, particularly if you are willing to store your footage for only a few days or weeks. For a system featuring 8, 16, or 32 cameras, the additional storage will be needed. And for systems that require footage to be stored for many weeks or months, the additional storage becomes essential.
Number of cameras needed
For some people, having a camera at each entrance door is sufficient. And for others, we want an 8 or 16 camera setup that captures not only the entire perimeter of the house, but the yard as well. Needless to say, adding more cameras to the system comes at an increased expense. However, due to the “plug and play” nature of modern security camera systems, even a 16 camera system can be installed as a DIY job.
Hidden or visible cameras
If you are looking for a hidden camera that won’t be seen by visitors, these 4K security cameras are not a great option. All of the camera options discussed in this article are large and very noticeable, as a result of their powerful lenses. Personally, I love the visible security cameras because they serve as a deterrent for crime.
Ease of installation
Most 4K, direct-to-consumer security cameras are designed to be “plug and play” and friendly for a DIY install. Gone are the days of needing a professional installer even for simple security systems. All of the products discussed above should be possible for DIY installation. Most 4K security cameras are “PoE (Power over Ethernet),” meaning they can be installed with only one cable.
The importance of crisp images is obvious, but needs to be mentioned nonetheless. As discussed above, 4K cameras provide much better video quality than standard definition or high definition (1080p) cameras. The improved video quality is particularly noticeable with magnified images. On a 1080p camera, zooming in will result in a grainy or distorted image. On 4K, you should be able to use digital zoom without loss of image clarity.
One downside of the high-powered cameras is that they tend to have a narrower field of view. Although some of these 4K cameras feature an 80+ degree field of view, they generally are narrower lenses than many of the 1080p cameras available on the market.
Because much of the value of a security camera comes during the night, having clear night vision is tremendously important. Many 4K security cameras are capable of a night vision range of 100 – 130 feet, and sometimes even more. This is achieved via high intensity IR (infrared). One thing to be aware of is that even the best camera will not have great color clarity when using night vision.
Motion detection & app alerts
Motion detection and app alerts are perhaps the most important aspect of a quality home security system. Nobody wants to stare at a monitor all day in the event that someone approaches your house with bad intentions. It is vitally important that your system sends you an alert whenever activity occurs on the camera. For this reason, it is important to have a smart system that filters what sort of events should or should not trigger alerts. For example, a car driving down the street in front of your house isn’t an “event,” whereas someone opening your front door probably is.
None of the above systems are perfect. In fact, the #1 complaint of smart security system owners is the sensitivity of the alert system. Many users complain that the system is too sensitive, and they receive alerts whenever an insect flies past the camera. On the other hand, turning the sensitivity settings lower may result in legitimate alerts being missed. It is a delicate balancing act to find the correct sensitivity setting for your security system.
The best thing you can do is purchase a security system from a well regarded brand that has quality software and excellent support. We chose the products listed above in part because we know that Lorex, Reolink, and Swann are established companies that should continue to provide software support and updates. Purchasing a system from an unknown or unreliable brand will result in a system that is quickly outdated and with no software support or replacement parts. This brings us to our next point…
Company reputation and warranty
As mentioned above, purchasing a 4K security system from an unreliable brand will end up being an expensive mistake. Not only does the hardware need to be high quality, but the software and apps need maintenance and updates. If a company goes out of business, for example, their app stops receiving updates and the product quickly becomes obsolete.
Swann provides a 1 year warranty on the product mentioned above.
Reolink provides a 2 year warranty on the product mentioned above.
Lorex provides a 1 year warranty on the product mentioned above.
This is obvious, but should be mentioned anyway. Some cameras include audio, while others don’t. So be sure to verify before purchasing. Another thing to be mindful of — some systems will advertise that they are audio ready, or capable of receiving audio inputs, but won’t actually have any microphones built into their devices. If audio matters to you, find a system that has audio built into the cameras, rather than a system that is just “audio-ready.”
This is the same as a refresh rate, and basically just determines how smooth (or how choppy) the video will be. Ideally, a camera will have a high refresh rate and smooth video. This will be especially valuable for trying to identify moving objects, such as a car license plate driving by. Of the products listed above, Reolink has the highest frame rate, at 20 fps (frames per second).
If you value home security, and want to upgrade your system, a 4K security camera is your best bet. 4K video quality is exceptional, with 4 times the pixels of high-definition 1080p. In recent years, prices have come down on these products, and are now affordable for many of us. Due to the plug and play nature of these systems, it is easy to install and even add additional cameras to the system. This allows great customization, and your home security system can be as elaborate and high-tech as you wish.