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How Do Doorbell Cameras Work?

Safety Team
Updated Jan 28, 2021
9 min read

Yesterday’s bulky, conspicuous video surveillance cameras looked like anti-aircraft weapons standing guard over otherwise ordinary homes and businesses. Today, security cameras come in sleek designs, are easy to self-install and come equipped with app-based technology that puts control in the palm of your hand. Enter the video doorbell camera, also called video doorbells, the latest craze in affordable home security. The doorbell camera has become the bane of burglars and porch thieves and a crime fighting tool for law enforcement agencies and neighborhood watch groups.

How Do Doorbell Cameras Work?

Video doorbells connect to your home network via Wi-Fi. With built-in motion detection, doorbell cameras record video whenever someone comes within range. But unlike old-fashioned security systems, which recorded grainy black and white video on video cassette recorders, video doorbells capture digital, high definition color video. Many doorbell cameras also feature night vision technology, which can capture clear images of nighttime prowlers.

The difference between new and old camera technology does not end with image quality and recording format. Most doorbell cameras integrate with apps designed for Android and Apple devices such as smartphones and tablets. When a visitor or thief triggers your video doorbell, it sends an alert to your app, enabling you to view a live stream of the action occurring on your doorstep. Many doorbell cameras also feature built-in microphones and speakers, enabling you to carry on a two-way conversation, whether you are inside your house or away from home.

Various sources can power a video doorbell, depending on the brand you choose. For instance, the Ring Video Doorbell 2 comes equipped with a rechargeable battery pack but can also hardwire directly into an existing AC-powered doorbell system for continuous charging. On the other hand, the Skybell HD Wi-Fi Video Doorbell requires an AC connection. Many manufacturers have designed their doorbells to integrate with existing door chimes to give you two types of alerts, the notification sent to your mobile device and the traditional “ding dong” sound.

Many doorbell camera apps come packed with functionality. For example, using the Nest Hello Video Doorbell app, you can arm and disarm a Nest alarm system and operate smart home devices such as smart lights, garage doors and thermostats. Most video doorbell apps enable you to see live streams from connected cameras and access video footage from your alarm system or cloud storage.

Video Doorbells Enhance Neighborhood Security

The instant notification functionality of doorbell cameras helps fight crime in two ways. By receiving an immediate alert, you can quickly contact the police, increasing the chances of apprehending a perpetrator. And, you can send high definition video to authorities from which they can glean valuable details such as a perpetrator’s facial features or license plate number.

Ring is taking shareability to an even higher level with its Neighbor’s program. Ring users who opt into the Neighbors program can upload messages and video, which other Ring systems owners and police departments can access. The Neighbors app includes list and map interfaces, which enables users to see crime incidents in their area, giving them a heads up to take precautions. It is like a virtual neighborhood watch program, which provides real-time reports on a broader level than just your home and block.

Doorbell Cameras in the Marketplace

You can find dozens of doorbell cameras currently on the market and due to their popularity, you can expect to see even more brands in the future. Today’s top video doorbells include:
  • Best Smart Video Doorbell
    Ring Video Doorbell 2

    1. Ring Video Doorbell 2

    Our rating

    Our take

    The Ring Video Doorbell 2 uses a crystal clear 1080 high-definition (HD) video camera to see who’s at your door day or night. With Ring’s doorbell, you’ll receive any doorbell alerts using the mobile Ring app and an iOS or Android mobile device.

    Stand-out features include

    • Powered by an easy-to-remove battery pack to charge the battery without detaching the doorbell
    • Weather resistant to continue working through weather conditions from -5 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit without worry
    • Uses the Ring app to control customized motion sensors that best fit your outdoor home activity
  • SkyBell Video Doorbell

    2. SkyBell Video Doorbell

    Our rating

    Our take

    SkyBell’s award-winning smart doorbell works with Alexa and Google Home for voice commands, easy control, and convenience. Simply use the SkyBell HD app to see and speak to guests at your door using your smartphone even when you’re away from home.

    Stand-out features include

    • Automatically stores activity including two-way voice and motion alerts
    • Color HD night vision to clearly see who’s at your door, even at night
    • Weather resistant, rain or shine and any temperature between -40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Best Audio Functionality
    Nest Hello Video Doorbell

    3. Nest Hello Video Doorbell

    Our rating

    Our take

    The Nest Hello is a Wi-Fi-enabled video doorbell that allows you to see and speak to visitors using your smartphone and the doorbell’s built-in microphone and speaker. You’ll be able to generate pre-recorded messages to share with visitors when you’re unable to answer the door and use two-way audio to welcome your family home when you’re on the go using the Nest mobile app. The Nest Hello video doorbell even includes Familiar Face recognition when the doorbell detects familiar friends.

    Stand-out features include

    • Includes a 4:3 HD video view for a clear view of who’s at your door
    • Send pre-recorded responses if you’re unavailable
    • Uses motion and sound detection to spot visitors
  • Zmodo Smart Greet Video Doorbell

    4. Zmodo Smart Greet Video Doorbell

    Our rating

    Our take

    This smart doorbell is designed to make you feel at home, even when you’re not with customized recorded greetings and mobile notifications. Zmodo easily connects you to your visitors using a smartphone and Zmodo’s app to quickly and easily answer the door.

    Stand-out features include

    • Adjustable field viewing angle using the Zmodo app to see all angles outside of your door
    • Built-in microphone to clearly hear door activity and speak with visitors
    • One-press button for visitors to ring your doorbell and automatically call your phone
  • Best for Visitor Messaging
    Arlo Audio Doorbell for Renters

    5. Arlo Audio Doorbell

    Our rating

    Our take

    Arlo’s audio doorbell syncs with other Arlo cameras for a safe smart home for better convenience and control connecting both audio and video devices. If you’re unable to answer the door, Arlo allows you to pick from a list of quick replies to tell visitors when you’re unavailable.

    Stand-out features include

    • Visitor messaging for your guests to leave a voice message that you can
    • Receive automatic mobile notifications when another user accepts the doorbell call using the Arlo app
    • Silent mode to hush the indoor doorbell alerts for extra peace and quiet moments

Doorbell Cameras Provide Peace of Mind for Homeowners

Homeowners and renters install video doorbells for various reasons. In our internet-driven consumer world, some doorbell camera users simply want to protect packages delivered to their doorsteps. Some video doorbell users enjoy the ability to communicate with visitors, even when they are away from home. Working parents can access doorbell camera footage to make sure their kids arrive home safely from school.

Many people install security devices after falling victim to thieves, but some forward-thinking homeowners turn to video surveillance to head off trouble before it occurs. After a spate of burglaries in her Memphis neighborhood, Adrienne Timberlake and her family decided to install a Ring Video Doorbell 2. “We bought one as a test, since security has been on my mind,” Timberlake said. “Now I’m going to invest in a second and possibly in the Ring floodlights for perimeter protection.”

Timberlake has been impressed by Ring’s Neighbors community program, a feature she was not aware of when she bought the doorbell, and amazed by the quick and easy installation. “I was concerned about the installation, but it took maybe five minutes, just as the instructions promised.”

The Ring app gives Timberlake and her family loads of options, which puts them in control of their home security. “I was really impressed by how the app allows you to set the tracking zone for your camera, so it captures the area you want, but doesn't alert you every time a car drives down the street,” she said. “Now I get alerts on my phone when there is movement in the area I'm tracking and when the doorbell is pushed. I can also get a live, real-time view any time I want, which I've done recently to look for package deliveries or to ensure my package is still on the doorstep and hasn't been stolen.”

Drawbacks of Popular Doorbell Cameras

Video doorbells often do not provide all the protection you need, and some criminals have found ways to work around the surveillance. In mid-2019, burglars in Sammamish, Washington, cut the exterior internet line of a home protected with Nest and Ring security systems. After entering the house, the thieves stole over $50,000 worth of designer handbags, diamonds and wine, according to CBS affiliate station WTVR.

Jason Pendergrass, a security consultant with the Dallas-Fort Worth company Clear IT Security is not surprised. “The most popular cameras like Ring and Nest require Wi-Fi. A lot of people rely on them for security, but if your internet connection goes down, you’re not going to capture anything during the time it's down,” Pendergrass said. “You can take down an entire Ring system if you know which one is the internet cable and disconnect it.”

Clear IT Security has sold doorbell cameras for three or four years and its customers like the technology. But Pendergrass recommends using video doorbells within a broader security system and stresses the need for system redundancy. “Our high-connect doorbells don't rely on internet and use your existing doorbell wires. A camera which records within the device or somewhere locally, like an NVR (network video recorder), provides better protection. With a device that records locally, you have a battery backup, so even if the power is cut, it still records. Our systems include cellular and battery backup.”

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Safety Team

The Safety Team is a group of experts that handle provider research, product reviews and recalls to make your home safety and security search as easy as 1-2-3.

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