How to check if your house can support a doorbell camera, and which models will work for you.
Video Doorbell Camera Buyers Guide 2023
If you’re going to have just one home security camera, then a video doorbell is the one you want. Video doorbells see everyone who approaches your front door and can usually see a good chunk of your front yard too.
But how do you know if a doorbell camera will work with your house? Do you have the right voltage? The right chime? What if you can’t mess with your existing wiring? What if you don’t have existing wiring?
This guide is here to help. This is the complete rundown on what you need to support a doorbell camera, and how to choose a model that will work for you. Go forth and never miss a package again.
Connect to your existing doorbell
Most video doorbells use your existing doorbell wiring to power the camera and work with your chime (the thing that makes a sound when someone presses the doorbell). As part of the installation process, you’ll remove your existing doorbell and rewire the electrical connection to your new doorbell camera.
Sound intimidating? It’s not as hard as it seems. But first, you do want to make sure you turn off the breaker that powers your doorbell connection.
If you don’t have a doorbell, or if you’re a renter who can’t modify your existing doorbell system, there are some alternatives to a doorbell camera that might work better for you.
Check your doorbell’s voltage
Video doorbells have voltage requirements, most commonly 16V AC to 24V AC. You may find some models that support lower voltages, such as the Ring Video Doorbell 3, which works with 8V AC to 24V AC. FYI: doorbell cameras do not generally support DC connections.
You can check your doorbell wiring’s voltage a few different ways:
- Check the doorbell transformer. Transformers are usually located near your main electrical panel, but sometimes they’re hidden in weird places, like your garage, attic, or a front closet. You may have to look around.
- Use a multimeter to check the voltage of your doorbell’s wiring. This is the most accurate method, since transformers can degrade over time and produce lower voltage than what’s listed.
- Check the inside of your doorbell chime’s case. It may be listed there.
If your house was built within the last 50 years or so, you should have the appropriate voltage. But the voltage in older houses may be too low, or your doorbell transformer may have degraded over time.
You can adjust the voltage by hiring an electrician to install a new transformer. (You probably don’t want to tackle that one yourself.) Or, you can opt for a doorbell cam alternative.
Check what kind of chime you have
If you have a doorbell, then your house has one of two kinds of doorbell chime: mechanical or digital. Mechanical chimes use literal bells to create their sound, whereas digital chimes play recorded tones through a speaker.
You can usually tell what kind of chime you have from the way it sounds. Mechanical chimes don’t let you adjust the tone, and they sound like a bell (or two) being struck. But digital chimes sound recorded and may let you choose from a few different tones.
When in doubt, you can open up your chime box and take a look. If it has a speaker inside, it’s a digital chime. If it has a couple of pistons inside, it’s mechanical.
Knowing what kind of chime you have will help you choose a doorbell camera. You can check which chimes are compatible with the model you’re looking at. Ring, for example, has a list of compatible mechanical and digital chimes.
A lot of doorbell cameras give you the option to skip your existing chime altogether and opt for a wireless chime. You plug these into an electrical outlet near your doorbell camera, and they’ll play a tone when someone rings the bell.
Best battery-powered video doorbells (no wiring required)
If you can’t use an existing doorbell connection for your video doorbell, then you can opt for a battery-powered version. These video doorbells don’t require any wiring. You simply mount the baseplate near your front door and attach the camera.
Battery-powered doorbell cameras, like a Ring doorbell, usually have fewer features than hardwired versions, and they need a wireless chime that you can plug in. You’ll also have to keep an eye on the battery and recharge it when it gets low.
Best doorbell camera alternatives
If you can’t install a doorbell camera at all, then don’t worry—there are other ways to watch your porch.
Over-the-door cameras and peephole cameras are becoming more popular. Like doorbell cameras, they let you see your porch and yard, and they alert you when they detect motion from visitors (or package thieves).
The Ring Peephole Cam is the best doorbell camera alternative out right now, but it does require an existing peephole. Over-the-door cameras have easier installation and don’t require as many mechanics.
Decide which features you want
There are so many doorbell cameras on the market these days that you have your pick of prices and features. If you want to spend less than 100 bucks and still have a basic camera by your door, you can do that. And if you’re fine spending a couple of Benjamins, then you can get some really cool features.
Essential features: $50–$120 price range
Essential doorbell camera features:
- Two-way audio
- Night vision
- High-definition resolution (720p or 1080p)
- Motion detection
At a bare minimum, doorbell cameras tell you when they detect motion and let you see and talk to visitors on your porch. Even a basic doorbell camera will have features like two-way audio and motion detection.
These basic cameras don’t cost a lot—we’ve seen doorbell cameras priced as low as $20. Generally speaking, the more you pay, the better the quality. But you can find a decent model for around $100.
Best basic doorbell cameras
These doorbell cameras offer all the basic features, and sometimes a few extras. For example, the Amcrest Video Doorbell offers cloud, local, and NVR storage options.
Advanced: $150–$250 price range
Advanced doorbell camera features:
- 1080p or 2K recording
- Person detection
- Package detection
- Animal detection
- Vehicle detection
- Custom motion zones
- Facial recognition
- Built-in siren
- Continuous video recording
- Emergency call function
Now here’s where things get fun. Advanced doorbell cameras can tell you exactly what they see, and some of them can even recognize familiar faces.
These cameras give you much smarter alerts than a basic model. Instead of saying, “Motion detected,” they can say things like, “Package detected” or “Aunt Martha is at the door.” You can also adjust the settings to only alert you about things you care about. That way, you don’t get a notification every time a car drives down your street.
Expect to pay more for advanced doorbell cameras. They usually cost in the neighborhood of $200, and you’ll often want to sign up for a monthly subscription plan to get cloud storage and additional smart features.
Best advanced doorbell cameras
Not all of these models have every single advanced feature on our list, but they all offer a huge upgrade over the basic doorbell cams. For example, with Nest doorbells, you'll get AI assistance and HD recording. And Arlo video doorbells
Choose a compatible home automation system
Doorbell cameras are often one of the first devices people get when they’re building a smart home. These cameras almost always offer a couple of smart integrations, like Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.
A lot of smart video doorbells also work with IFTTT, which lets you create “recipes” between your doorbell camera and your other smart home devices, like smart door locks, smart light bulbs, and smart electrical outlets.
Video doorbells that work with Amazon Alexa*:
- Ring Video Doorbell (all models)
- Arlo Video Doorbell
- Toucan Video Doorbell
- Google Nest Hello
- August View
- Vivint Doorbell Camera Pro
- RemoBell S
- Eufy Video Doorbell
Video doorbells that work with Google Assistant*:
- Google Nest Hello
- August View
- Eufy Video Doorbell
- Maximus Answer DualCam Video Doorbell
- RemoBell S
- SimpliSafe Video Doorbell
- Ring Video Doorbell (all models)
- Ring Peephole Cam
Video doorbells that work with Apple HomeKit:
- Netatmo Smart Video Doorbell
- Robin ProLine Doorbell
- Yobi Video Doorbell
* Not complete lists
If you’re an Apple HomeKit devotee, then you have fewer options for doorbell cameras with direct integration. HomeKit works with only three doorbell cameras. But you might be able to develop a roundabout solution through IFTTT if you want a different model that still works with your other smart stuff.
DIY or professional installation
Most doorbell cameras require DIY installation. But maybe you’d rather kick back with a mint julep rather than mess around with electrical wiring all afternoon. In that case, you can opt for a doorbell camera with professional installation.
The most obvious models are the ones that work with the biggest professionally installed security systems: Vivint and ADT. Just keep in mind these aren’t standalone products: they’re for people who want a whole security system that also offers a doorbell camera.
If you want a standalone doorbell camera with professional installation, some companies do work with third-party contractors to offer a pro install option.
Standalone doorbell cams with professional installation:
Get a strong Wi-Fi connection
Nothing kills the fun of a new security camera faster than a weak Wi-Fi connection. And your porch can be a tricky place to get a strong signal. Front doors and walls are thick and often block an otherwise strong Wi-Fi network.
Most video doorbells require an internet download speed of at least 2 Mbps. Keep in mind, that’s just for the doorbell itself. If your family already uses a lot of bandwidth playing games or streaming videos, then you’ll need higher speeds.
Best Wi-Fi range extenders
If your internet speeds are good, but the Wi-Fi on your porch is bad, then you can try a Wi-Fi range extender. These can boost the signal closer to your front door.
Best mesh Wi-Fi system
Our favorite way to get even, consistent coverage across your entire house is a mesh Wi-Fi system. These are especially useful for larger homes. If your porch is pretty far away from your internet router, then a mesh system might work better for you.
Best internet service plans
If your internet speeds are flat-out too low for a doorbell camera, then you can always upgrade to a faster plan. If you spend a lot of time staring at loading screens, then a faster internet plan can make the rest of your online life easier too.
|AT&T Fiber||$55-$250*||300-5000 Mbps||View Plans|
|Verizon Fios Home Internet||$49.99-$89.99†||300-2300 Mbps||View Plans|
|Xfinity Internet||$20-$85‡||75-1200 Mbps||View Plans|
|AT&T Internet Air||$55-$55||140-140 Mbps||View Plans|
|Viasat Internet||$69.99-$299.99^||12-100 Mbps||View Plans|
Recap: How to prepare for and choose a video doorbell
Video doorbells are great for home security and as a foundation for your whole smart home. You’ll have the best experience with your new doorbell cam if you know how to choose the right model for your house and your needs.
Check your existing doorbell: Most video doorbells require an existing doorbell connection to work. If you don’t have one (or can’t modify your doorbell), then choose a battery-powered doorbell cam or a doorbell camera alternative.
Consider what features you want: You can get a basic doorbell camera for pretty cheap or an advanced, smart video doorbell for double the price. Decide if you just want basic features (like two-way audio and motion detection,) or if you want to opt for advanced features (like facial recognition and package detection).
Decide if you want smart home support: Most doorbell cameras work with either Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Some also work with IFTTT, and a few work with Apple HomeKit. Make sure the doorbell camera you choose works with your favorite smart home stuff.
Consider professional installation: If the electrical installation is a bit much for you, you can get professionally installed doorbell cameras from major security system providers (like Vivint and ADT) or from companies that partner with third-party contractors, like Google Nest and Arlo.
Check your Wi-Fi connection: If you have a weak Wi-Fi connection, then your doorbell camera won’t work very well, no matter how much you paid for it. Make sure you have fast enough download speeds and that your Wi-Fi signal reaches all the way to your front porch.
Most video doorbells will still function without a Wi-Fi connection. As long as the video doorbell is hardwired to your existing doorbell, you'll still get a chime alert when someone presses your doorbell, but you won't be able to view a live stream of your video doorbell's feed.
And if you want to capture video without a Wi-Fi connection, look for a video doorbell with local storage. With local SD card storage, your video doorbell will store any motion-triggered events for you to playback. Just remember this usually means you won't have 24/7 recording.
Unfortunately, yes. While it is not super common, it definitely happens. But there are a few measures you can take to decrease your risk of theft.
Make sure to install your doorbell securely. You don't want to make it easy for anyone to unscrew your doorbell. And rest assured that if you have cloud storage with your video doorbell, you'll still be able to view footage, even if it is stolen.
If you have a Ring video doorbell, you can grab their anti-theft mount which will definitely make removal more difficult for sneaky thieves.
Not all video doorbells require a monthly fee. Some smart doorbells require a monthly fee for services like cloud storage or motion alerts, but you don't always have to enroll in these subscription plans to use the doorbell.
For example, Ring video doorbells can provide you with a 24/7 live-stream view without any monthly payment. You just won't have access to any previously recorded footage.
Doorbell cameras can typically see anywhere from 8 to 60 feet from your front door.
You'll often be able to adjust the doorbell's range or "motion zones" to better fit your surveillance needs.
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