Home Surveillance and Video Storage Options

Video storage optionsThis article is in response to questions I often receive about home video storage options. Before we get into those, we first need to look at the systems that record video footage. The cheapest and least effective type of home security surveillance is the USB webcam. For webcams to work they need a laptop or PC as the control hub and it has to be on at all times. Without these devices they wouldn’t be able to monitor anything. They are better than nothing, and some of the high-end cams come with their own security software.

My view on these is that they’re best for keeping an eye on the family pets, kid’s playroom and baby’s cot, etc., than as an actual security system. Some people use them before they invest in a more flexible setup. It’s one of those good ideas at the time, but it’s not long before the restrictions of a webcam become apparent.[1]

Still the most common use of any webcam is as a social tool. Most people use them for capturing and displaying video from one computer to another.

NOTE: You can jump to any part of this post by clicking the links in the table of contents

Table of Contents

  1. Storing Webcam Footage
  2. Professional Home Security Cameras
  3. How Much Storage Is Enough
  4. DVR Vs NVR Storage Options
  5. Network Video Recorders (NVR)
  6. Storing in the Cloud – Pros and Cons
  7. The Conclusion

Storing Webcam Footage

To store your video footage from a webcam you will need to install some special software. This will allow you to record the feed in either continuous mode or in motion detection mode (recommended). The recording software program should provide you with a user playback console. This is where you get to view and manipulate the recorded footage. There are various ways you can record but you will need physical drive space to do it. USB cams might sound like an ideal solution considering how cheap they are when compared to professional home security cameras. But you do need to think about what you want your system to monitor, image quality and other things before using USB cams. Don’t forget too that your computer needs to be on continuously, thus shortening its life and also adding to your electricity bill.

Professional Home Security Cameras

This brings me on to professional security cameras. These are purpose made for home security so they have a lot more options and flexibility compared to regular webcams. Cloud security cameras, as they often call them, are systems that allow you to store video footage in “The Cloud”. That means “online” in non-technical terms. You can still save your footage to local disk drives. A lot of newer cameras come with microSD card slots for this very purpose. Cloud storage uses a web portal for saving video, as opposed to a computer or external hard drive. This means even an intruder can’t get hold of it. Even if they take off with the actual camera, all the footage it caught up to that point is safe in the cloud.

How Much Storage Is Enough

It’s not usually necessary or practical to keep weeks of security footage. In fact, whatever footage you have that the cameras have captured without event doesn’t need keeping. If my home surveillance has been recording for a couple of weeks to a disk—without incident—I will simply continue to record by overwriting the old data.

How much storage space you need will depend on a few factors:

  • The type and amount of home surveillance in place
  • Number of outdoor or indoor surveillance cameras
  • Color or black & white video
  • Resolution
  • Image quality (frame resolution and FPS (frames per second))
  • Storage device

DVR Vs NVR Storage Options

In the not too distant past, storage options were limited to VHS tapes. Today, however, we have the option to digitally record many hours of footage to hard drives (HDs). This brings me on to Digital Video Recorders (DVR). A DVR is a more flexible storage solution than the older VHS tapes. It is a kind of hard drive used for recording and storing security video footage. In that sense, it’s not much different to the HD in your computer. DVRs for home security purposes are reasonably priced, reliable and efficient solutions. With DVRs, the security cameras are typically of the analogue variety.

The cameras connect to the DVR by using standard coaxial cables. When the analogue camera feed comes to the DVR, the DVR converts that video feed to digital. It then records it to the hard drive so that you can play it back later. Note that DVRs are unable to handle megapixel cameras and have no options to upgrade. So why are they still popular? Well, DVRs are simple to setup and easy to use, which is one of their main attractions for home security. They also offer up to 30 day storage which is impressive compared to the 72 hours of the DVR’s predecessor. The main downside is that the analogue image quality is not as good as IP security cameras. The popularity of DVRs is likely to remain for the foreseeable future. This is because they still provide users with a reasonable level of security at an affordable price.[2],[3] Amcrest provide a very good DVR and camera system for outdoor use.

OK, now let’s look at NVRs (Network Video Recorders).

Network Video Recorders (NVR)

To keep things simple, the main difference between a DVR and an NVR is with the security camera types you can use. NVRs are expensive and more complicated to set up, but the image quality is superior when compared to DVRs. The NVR works with IP (Internet Protocol) cameras. You can place these cameras at individual locations far away from the NVR and they will still connect to it with ease. Furthermore, the image resolution is second to none. At the time of writing you can find security cameras up to 29 megapixels. Still, such high-end, high-priced cameras are not necessary for home security solutions to be honest. You need to think about bandwidth usage and storage options with high-end IP home security cameras. You can work these things out by using one of the many bandwidth and storage calculators online.[4]

If you plan to use megapixel cameras, NVRs are the way to go. If you plan to use standard analogue cameras (up to 600TVL) DVRs might be your best choice.

Storing in the Cloud – Pros and Cons

We’ve already looked briefly at cloud (internet) storage. Now we’ll run over the main pros and cons of this option and its playback potential. The most impressive feature is that cloud storage has desktop folders for both PC and Mac. This makes dragging and dropping files between your local HD and the cloud as easy as anything. The other advantage is that you can access your stored security files from anywhere at any time. That’s as long as you have a browser and a connection to the internet.

There are a few disadvantages to cloud storage, cost being the first of those. Your security camera provider will have various packages that charge different monthly rates. If you happen to surpass your bandwidth allowance, they will charge you extra or cut the service. Another disadvantage of cloud storage is access. Whenever you don’t have a connection to the internet, you won’t have access to your security footage unless you’re also saving it to a HD as a backup.[5]

The Conclusion

There are a number of considerations to think about with a home security setup and storage options. There’s video streaming, image quality, monitoring, DVR Vs NVR and how, when and where to keep the footage. It sounds complicated but it’s not as difficult as it seems. Start by writing down everything you want from a home security camera system. You can then view your options to see what is practical, doable and affordable to you.


  1. http://www.pcadvisor.co.uk/how-to/pc-peripheral/how-use-webcam-as-cctv-3510687/
  2. http://www.pcmag.com/encyclopedia/term/42147/dvr
  3. http://www.archilovers.com/stories/10308/dvrs-for-home-security-must-have-these-features.html
  4. http://www.stardot.com/bandwidth-and-storage-calculator
  5. http://bigdata-madesimple.com/5-advantages-and-disadvantages-of-cloud-storage/

About Mark Bickmore

Hi, my name is Mark Bickmore. I'm an Engineer, who has a keen interest in home security and keeping my family, property and valuables safe from burglars. This website was set up to help me explore the research, facts and myths about burglars and burglary. Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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