CCTV vs smart home security cameras: what’s the difference and which is better?



When it comes to protecting your property with cameras, there are two distinct paths to follow. The first and more conventional of the two is the traditional CCTV system, where a set of cameras record images in a central storage unit, ready to be viewed on a dedicated monitor.

The second is one of best home security cameras, which stores its images either in the cloud, locally, or on a micro SD card or built-in memory, so that they can be viewed remotely through a web interface or smartphone app.

There is some overlap between these two approaches, with CCTV systems from companies like Swann and Reolink getting some of the smart features offered by home security cameras from tech companies like Ring and Nest.

So which one to choose? It really depends on what you are looking for in home security as to what style of security camera you choose. Do you want a system that, once installed, can be left on its own, knowing that if something were to happen there would be a recording that you can access instantly.

However, do you want a more affordable system that only records when motion is detected and swaps cables for a wireless internet connection?

Read on to find out how CCTV and home security camera systems differ, or check out the best prices for home security cameras right now:

How is CCTV different from a smart home security camera?

First of all, the traditional video surveillance system. The clue here is in the name – closed circuit television – as the footage is captured by cameras which are usually connected by long cables to a central recorder. The sequences can then be viewed on a monitor or on your television, also connected to the recorder. It is a closed loop system which, at least traditionally, has no connection to the Internet.

With the advent of smart home security camera systems from companies like Google-owned Nest and Amazon-owned Ring, CCTV manufacturers have started adding additional features, including support. smartphone apps, motion notifications, etc. These features are usually included in the initial cost of the system, and are not offered as part of a monthly subscription service, as is often the case with smart security cameras.

The advantages of a video surveillance system lie in its simplicity and reliability. Wired connections between the cameras and the recorder ensure that images are captured without interference or the risk of a wireless connection failing or the camera’s battery draining. These cameras tend to be used outdoors, so they are water resistant and designed to survive inclement weather.

CCTV systems tend to record everything, or at least they include the ability to do so. This means that the amount of footage recorded is only limited by the size of the hard drive the cameras are recording to, and a full timeline of footage can be viewed, instead of simple motion-triggered clips like this. is the case with most smart home security cameras. Some business systems like Sansco, Annke, and Swann have motion detection, which then alerts you via email or app notification.

Almost all CCTV systems are equipped with infrared night vision. Some smart home cameras either lack this or don’t have the range of a CCTV system (i.e. how far night vision can see), but it’s a feature that’s becoming more and more common. In all areas.

By recording to a central unit with a built-in hard drive, a CCTV system is a way to record footage locally. Instead of being uploaded to the cloud or streamed to a smartphone, footage is stored on a drive located on-site. This removes the middlemen and problems that could arise if the cloud storage provider goes out of business, experiences an outage, or is the target of a cyber attack.

On the other hand, saving footage locally also means that an online backup is not available if the original is lost or damaged. If the recorder is lost due to fire or flood, so are the images stored on its hard drive. Another downside to CCTV systems is that they are limited to the size of their own hard drive, while many smart home security camera companies offer unlimited online storage as part of a monthly subscription.

One of the pros and cons of CCTV systems is the way the cameras are installed. Usually intended for outdoor installation, cameras can get a great view, mounted high on an exterior wall. But their installation and wired connections require a lot more effort than many smart, wireless, and web-connected cameras. Some wireless CCTV cameras are available, but are still in the minority at the moment.

Ring Floodlight Cam on a wall illuminating an intruder

(Image credit: Ring)

What makes home security cameras different from video surveillance?

Now for smart home security cameras. Instead of operating in a closed circuit, these upload images to their manufacturer’s cloud storage services. From there, the footage can be streamed or downloaded via a smartphone app or web interface. This means there is no need to manage the recording of footage yourself, as is the case with CCTV, and allows customers to view recordings whenever they want, wherever they are. It also means that the camera feed can be viewed live, via the app from anywhere.

These cameras are offered as wired and wireless devices, the latter using rechargeable batteries. This can be very useful for installation, as no cables are needed, but it does mean that the owner should keep an eye on battery life and possibly leave the camera off while the battery is charged. . Some home security cameras can also record footage to a microSD card, instead of uploading the video to the cloud.

Artificial intelligence is provided by many home security cameras. This allows them to identify people, pets, cars, and packages, so they can only alert you when something unusual happens, rather than when the cat next door walks down the street again. lawn. Some models can even recognize your friends and family, with Apple’s HomeKit system using tagged faces in your iPhone photo library to notify Siri, which then tells you who’s been spotted at the door, and the Nest camera line. from Google using facial recognition and alerts you through the app if a stranger, friend or family has been spotted in the camera’s field of view. .

Another key feature that sets most home security cameras apart from CCTV systems is two-way audio, where the camera has a microphone and a speaker to allow a conversation between a person recorded by the camera and the other watching live via a smartphone application. This can be useful to tell a delivery driver where to leave a package or to scare off a potential intruder by telling them they are checked in.

Unlike CCTV, smart security cameras are also designed to work indoors. Brands like Nest, Ring, and Arlo all offer cameras suitable for indoor use; they lack weather resistance and are powered by USB, but are small, more affordable, simple to use, and often contain a range of smart AI-powered features. They can be used as a regular security camera, hung up at the front door and ready to register a burglar, or can sit on a table, ready to broadcast live footage of your dog while you are at work or to play the role of baby monitor.

This flexibility distinguishes home security cameras from a traditional CCTV system. While the former can be used much like CCTV, and the latter now offers app integration and even Alexa support in some cases, smart security cameras have more use cases – like dog or baby monitors and video doorbells – just video surveillance.


CCTV and home security cameras can keep tabs on your home when you are not around and offer a recording of what happened, so if you need to look into an incident, the footage will easily be there. available. If you are looking for a simple system that records all the time and offers local footage that is not dependent on the internet, a CCTV system is the best option.

Meanwhile, home security cameras are the more affordable option and although most don’t record all the time, they can be used indoors or outdoors are simple to install, without requiring the intervention of a professional.


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