System Ease of Use


This post is part of a series describing the different aspects to consider when choosing a security camera system.

The quality of the user interface is one of the hardest aspects of a security camera system to quantify or even find any real information on.

All systems will have a phone app to access it. Some can be accessed by connecting a monitor and mouse to the NVR (Network Video Recorder), and some can be accessed through a web browser on a computer. Each interface is a little different on the same system, and every brand is different. Price can be an indicator, but it is not guaranteed. Some expensive systems are harder to use than cheaper ones. It’s all about the quality of software from the manufacturer.

Some of the questions to ask when looking at a security camera system are:

How quick does the video load?

I have used doorbell cameras that have apps that are so slow to load the video that by the time you receive a notification that someone rang the door, tap the notification, the app loads, logs in, launches the video and it starts playing… the person has walked away. It makes me wonder why they even include the ability to talk to the person at the door.

Video loading time is even more critical with a camera watching a driveway. None are going to be instantaneous, especially when you’re not connected to the same network as the camera, but the faster the better.

Do event triggers show screenshots?

Some systems show event triggers as a line on the timeline. This lets you know that something happened, but you have to watch the video of the event to know what happened. Other systems display events as a series of screenshots of the motion. This allows you to quickly see what triggered the motion each time without having to watch the video.

Do push notifications display screen shots?

Some systems send you an alert that simply says “Vehicle Detected on xyz camera.” This is nice, but not incredibly helpful. If you have to check the app every time you get a notification, you will eventually stop checking and could miss something important.

Other systems will say “Vehicle Detected on xyz camera” and include a still image of the vehicle. The system at my house does this and even displays that image on my smart watch. It is very handy to be able to look at my watch and see that the notification was because of a delivery truck. I know my package has arrived and there is nothing urgent happening without ever picking up my phone.

How complicated is it to scan through recorded video?

When something happened that did not trigger the motion, how hard is it to find? I have used systems where there is a timeline displayed and you click on the timeline to start the video and you have to let it play. Usually you can increase the playback speed, which helps. On some systems you can drag the timeline around and the video will immediately display for that time. Kinda like scrubbing on a YouTube video. This is much faster to watch the video and find what you’re looking for.

Switching to a different camera during playback is important too. Some reset the timeline when you switch playback cameras, some continue at the same point in time.

How easy is it to download clips of video?

Once you find the section of video that you’re looking for, if you need to save it, how hard is it to do? If it’s a triggered event, can you simply download the entire event? If it’s not an event, how complicated is it to set the start and stop time of the segment that you want to download?


The answers to all of these questions and more will determine your experience using a security camera system as well as the time required to review video. Like everything, its a balance between price, features, and usability. If your going to install a system that is so complicated to use that you never learn how to use it, then I suggest that you save your money and don’t even install one, or just put up fake cameras.

Additional posts in this series:

Cloud vs. Local Recording
Constant vs. Event Based Recording
Wireless vs. Cellular vs. Wired
Battery Powered vs. Powered vs. POE
* System Ease of Use

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