Jan 26

Affordable Home Surveillance

Affordable home surveillance: sort of like saying affordable filet mignon, affordable supercar or affordable whole home solar setup.   Does such a thing as GOOD affordable home surveillance really exist?  Well that depends but first let’s examine why it’s a great idea to have some eyes and ears outside of your home which never require sleep.

– Situational Awareness.  Right now I’m sitting in my basement typing on the computer and I have a tablet next to me on a stand, with the front and rear of my home fully in view (and it’s dark outside).  Isn’t that a wonderful thing?  I have both avenues of approach covered and if something did go bump in the night I wouldn’t have to peek out of a window to see what’s going on.

– Keeping Honest People Honest.  An experienced and determined criminal would laugh their way through my electronic home defenses (cameras and alarm).  However to the average delinquent teen or thug exterior cameras with flashing red lights on them could be just enough to force them to seek a softer target.

– Piece of Mind.  With my current setup I can access my cameras via iPhone app and see real time footage from my house, I can even tap record or snap pictures if something shady seems to be going on.

Affordable vs High Tech

I have a friend who installs home security systems for a living and naturally I reached out to him prior to making my purchase.  He mentioned that he could make me a great deal on a quality system for around $1500 to $2000, to which I replied that was way out of my price range.  I needed something under $500 (hopefully quite a bit under $500) which was still capable of being out in the weather, required very little in the way of custom installation (read: DIY) and could also record.  His suggestion was this:  buy whatever has the best warranty as the cheaper systems aren’t known for being the most reliable.

Armed with that information I went to Costco to seek out a surveillance system which would suit my needs.  After a lengthy discussion with a very helpful customer service rep (who mentioned I could bring it back no questions asked if not satisfied)  I settled on the Uniden Guardian G955, priced at $350 online but available for $299 in the store.

The system includes:

  • G955 9-inch Monitor
  • 2 Outdoor Surveillance Cameras
  • 2 Camera Stands
  • 2 Camera Antennae
  • 3 AC Adapters
  • Mounting Screws
  • Ethernet Cable
  • 2 Extension Cords
  • 8GB microSDTM Card and Adapter


It took longer to mount the cameras outside than it did to get the thing set up on the network and tablet.  It was as simple as mounting the camera brackets to the exterior of the house and running the power cables inside.  While the system does claim to be wireless it only makes sense that the cameras would need some sort of power, hence the power cables.  The good news is that I was able to route the lines in a way which minimized their exposure and then ran them through two second story windows (the cables were thin enough so that I could easily shut the windows).  I also made sure to position the cameras under cover so that it would not rain directly on them, even though they are supposed to be completely weather proof.

Once I had the cameras installed and plugged in I fired up the tablet and it immediately detected both cameras.  From that point I just had to re-adjust the angles of the camera to get the coverage I wanted and I was 95% of the way home.  The last step involved making sure that I could view the images from my iPhone, which meant downloading the Uniden App and then struggling to figure out why I couldn’t see anything.  It turns out that the tablet must be connected to a router via an Ethernet cable before you can utilize the remote viewing app, sort of a bummer but nothing I couldn’t work around.  Basically I’ll just have to make sure that the tablet is plugged in the router prior to leaving for the day and then unplug it while I’m around the house.  A minor inconvenience at best.

You Get What You Pay For

Alas, despite all of the great things this system provides there are still quite a few things that could be improved.  Yet when you think about the price I paid and the 30 minute installation I guess I really can’t complain.  Still….

The image isn’t exactly high definition.  In static mode it looks just fine, sort of email photo quality if you know what I mean.  When things start moving though it gets a bit fuzzy/grainy.  For instance you would definitely be able to see that two people are in the driveway and make out what clothes they were wearing, but clear facial recognition would be nearly impossible to achieve.  If that person were standing perfectly still or very close to the camera I suspect the image would improve but that isn’t realistic.

The battery life on the tablet is terrible.  I had it fully charged and brought it down to the basement with me, it was almost completely drained in the span of two hours.  Looks like I’ll have to drag the power cord around with the tablet if I plan on staying in one place for more than an hour or so, that’s pretty inconvenient if you ask me.

Still a Bargain

The system does have some faults but I feel performs as advertised.  I can see what I want to see (the cameras do have a great field of view) and record when necessary, both from home or remotely.  I can set it to record via motion detection or set specific time tables (e.g. 10 pm to 3 am).  Despite some negative reviews I have read I think the night vision capabilities are decent and more than enough for what I need.  The tablet which was included is easy to use and I can navigate quickly between the quad screen and individual cameras.  Speaking of the quad screen I failed to mention that I can easily add two more cameras should I feel the desire to do so.

The Bottom Line

A professional security system installer/salesperson would no doubt scoff at my purchase but for my demands and what I am willing to pay I believe it delivers.   For the piece of mind it provides I really think you can’t go wrong with a setup like the Uniden Guardian G955 and most definitely think this is a much better investment than say…1000 rounds of 9mm ball ammunition.  One final point: I will check back in after 3 to 6 months have passed in order to provide a longer term update.


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    • The Maj on January 27, 2014 at 1:55 PM
    • Reply

    Definitely one area that I am lacking in, including a monitored security system. Living in a rural area, it has been one of those things that has really been somewhat unnecessary, especially with nosy neighbors that ride by and look to see what is going on at everyone’s house. Couple that with the fact that the systems have not been readily available either for monitoring and I have just been lazy in addressing it. Of course, after my incident Christmas Eve, I have been researching monitored security systems and will hopefully make a choice shortly. Then maybe, I can upgrade to video surveillance.

    On that note, does anyone have any experience with SimpliSafe Home Security Systems? Pros, cons, etc. I know the big companies can and will provide what I need, just not really crazy about having to have wires run or an installer running around in the house.

      • PJ on January 27, 2014 at 5:01 PM
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      Thanks for bringing up the SimpliSafe System, it made me check out one of the reviews written here. While I have no experience with the Simplisafe system myself based on the reviews it appears to do just about everything my “professionally” installed system does, and at a much better cost. The one time fee of around $500 and then the monitoring of $15 to $25 or so a month might seem like quite a bit but consider this. I’ve been paying $40/mo for my system for over 7 years, AND I’ve had to pay for a landline which I only have because of the alarm (that’s how they remotely monitor it). That equates to around $60/mo X 7 years and we are talking big cash compared to what Simplisafe offers. Additionally my system is not completely wireless and I wish it was. Finally when the power goes out at home my system goes offline (the sensors still work but no remote monitoring).

      I think the Simplisafe looks like a great option, combined with a $300 camera system like the one I just purchased and you’ll be all set!

      • JAS on January 27, 2014 at 8:45 PM
      • Reply

      I have been using the simplisafe system (original system, not the new 2nd gen) for going on 2 years and only had one complaint. The base unit comes with a T-Mobile cell module and in my area T-Mobile seems to have almost lost all connections. For almost a year I had no problems and then it started reporting that it could not connect to the monitoring service. I did some research and found that quite a few people were having the same issue. I called Simplisafe and discussed this with them and they sent me a Verizon module, as well as a backup internet telephone jack that connects through my cable modem. I don’t know if they had a contract with T-Mobile and it was dropped when ATT bought out T-Mobile or what. Once I swapped out the Verizon module, everything worked great again. I don’t recommend the motion detectors though, if you have any thing that moves (pets, fans ETC). My ceiling fan kept setting mine off and I finally removed them from the system. It is a good system for the money. I have this plus a Q-See multi camera surveillance system and feel quite secure. If you do get one, get the additional external siren as well. The base unit is not that loud and can not be heard outside.

        • PJ on January 27, 2014 at 8:51 PM
        • Reply

        T mobile? I didn’t even realize that company was still in business 🙂

        Thanks for the real world information JAS and for the info on the motion detectors. Never had an issue with ceiling fans but did have a rogue party balloon set it off in the middle of the night once.

        • JAS on January 27, 2014 at 8:51 PM
        • Reply

        Almost forgot. A big factor with Simplisafe is that you can buy what you can afford and then add additional components as money is available. It has a very simple computer USB interface using the keychain remote to add, delete and reconfigure the system. You are in complete control of how it works.

    • The Maj on January 27, 2014 at 9:17 PM
    • Reply

    Thanks for the information JAS. My biggest concern was the “T-Mobile” part of the system. T-Mobile shows coverage in my area, but several others do as well and do not work inside my house. I figured with a 60-day money back guarantee I could get it, try it, and if it did not work return it. Glad to know they sent you a Verizon module, which I know works at my house. Also appreciate the information on the motion detectors since we have a small dog.

    • Brandy on February 7, 2014 at 12:39 AM
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    When we moved in our house, there were already cameras on each corner of the house. We have a media closet with lots of wires and a computer tower, monitor and keyboard the previous owners left behind. They never finished it and I have no idea where to start to get it going. We are in a very isolated, rural area which can be good in some ways and bad in others. Any tips or advice on where to start?

      • PJ on February 7, 2014 at 8:16 AM
      • Reply


      You could try to find out what system they used and then find an instruction manual online, this might help you complete the project yourself. Or if they were going for a custom setup you might have to bring someone else in to figure it out and that could be pricey. It might be a cheaper option to start over and go with something quasi wireless like I did, installation was a breeze and the only wires you need to run are the power cords for the cameras. Before getting that setup I looked into the more complicated ones which involved lots of wiring and decided to take a pass…for my needs (basic monitoring and recording) it was just more than I wanted to get involved in.

    • odd on February 15, 2014 at 8:32 AM
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    been “playing” with security cameras for a while now:

    Amazon has MANY reviews

    kguard 8 channel dvr (no HD) $100

    100′ wire with audio connection $12 -wires= better security, audio is nice to have

    audio mic w preamp $8 – for audio where you need it

    GW Security IR Night Vision Security IR Night Vision Waterproof Bullet Outdoor Security Camera – 520TVL 1/3-Inch Sony CCD 3.6 Wide Angle Lens $40
    I have 3 different types of cameras, these are the best so far (They have been running for 6 months) Cameras are the hardest thing to buy- many chocies and you are never quite sure what is “best”

    25′ monitor cable $15

    15′ usb cable (for mouse) $8

    gargae sale old crt monitors $10-25

    500 gig HD $50 I have about 400hours of record time for 500gig

    Audio is nice in 2-3 locations- I can hear things LONG before I can see them- like the guy shoveling snow on the next block

    Start with 1-2 cameras, buy another each month ($12 +40) up to 8 ( I have 23 and another comming in soon)

    Watch your power supply (best to buy an 5 AMP PS with 8 connectors $20 for cameras – always have a PS that can handle much more than you need

    Use the PS that came with the dvr for the dvr only

    Most dvr systems have “motion alarm” This will be set off from blowing snow and animals but IF you spend some time with seting up the zones/partial zones you can ensure that NO ONE is getting near without setting off an alarm(typically a small beeping noise), which you can look at your monitors and see who(or just see that raccon digging though your trash)

    I may not have “the best”( no facial reconition or licence plates) but you will not get within 50′ of the perimeter of my home without being on SEVERAL cameras. It gives me time to gear up and properly prepare before you even get to my door- and get some money for the pizza guy.
    I can generally see(even at night-but reduced) cars from 6-7 houses away, people 150-200 feet and critters to 40-50 feet.(wife like to watch the kitty that walks though the property each night at 10:19pm

    • Lux on February 24, 2014 at 2:59 PM
    • Reply

    First you will need to hear that bump in the night outside.

    Blast from the past:


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