Setting up a video doorbell alternative can save you money over time

Video doorbells are an ideal way to improve your home security. Still, many video doorbell manufacturers charge monthly fees that can add up over time. Luckily, you can set up your own outdoor surveillance system to avoid subscription costs. We sat down with our tech expert, Jaime Vazquez, to learn more about setting up a video doorbell alternative.

In this article: ReoLink 4K PoE Security Camera System, Synology 2-Bay NAS DiskStation and Apple Mac mini

What is a video doorbell?

Video doorbells are home security devices with small cameras, motion detectors and an alert system. These devices connect to your home’s Wi-Fi to alert you when someone approaches your door or rings your doorbell. In most cases, they have small speakers and microphones, letting you communicate with people approaching your door.

What you need to make your own video doorbell alternative

Network-attached storage enclosure

NAS enclosures are file storage devices that let machines on your network store files on a hard disk drive. These devices are ideal for DIY security systems, as they’re designed to remain on at all times. Alternatively, you can use a computer or laptop like the Mac Mini.

Camera

You’ll need a camera that can connect to your network. It’s best to buy a model designed to be used outdoors. Ideally, you’ll want a real-time-streaming-protocol camera, as these allow you to view your camera’s live video stream from various devices and programs. Still, most internet-protocol cameras will work even if they don’t support RTSP.

Software

You’ll need software to turn your setup into a security system. Apps like Synology Surveillance Station are an ideal choice. “You can use Surveillance Station to find the cameras on your network,” said Vazquez. “I use it to set up security zones and send me notifications when my cameras are triggered. All of these are built with apps, so you can set it up to check your front door from the other side of the world.”

Benefits of making your own security setup

  • No fees: One of the main benefits is that you won’t be tied to a subscription service, meaning you can avoid recurring costs.
  • More privacy: According to Vazquez, “You’re essentially setting up your own closed-circuit system.” In the past, some video doorbell manufacturers have mishandled their customers’ data. For example, Eufy cameras were found to store thumbnails of faces from video feeds and identifiable user data on the cloud, even though they were supposed to offer a local-storage-only service. With your own closed-circuit system, you won’t have to worry about these issues.
  • More customizability: You’ll have more freedom when adding cameras and devices to your security system.

Home security system FAQ

Does Synology Surveillance Station charge monthly fees?

A. No, the software is included with most Synology NAS devices and includes two free camera licenses. Perpetual licenses for additional cameras can be purchased for around $50 each.

What is the Real-Time Streaming Protocol?

A. RTSP is a protocol that dictates how video is streamed from a device to an endpoint. In the case of a home security system, it is usually the protocol that dictates how live video is transmitted to phones, computers and other devices. “This protocol is specific to the use case of security cameras and isn’t used by services like Netflix,” Vazquez said.

Are there any video doorbells without monthly fees?

A. Certain video doorbells save your footage to an external storage device, such as an SD card, rather than the cloud. Some Kasa devices by TP-Link don’t require monthly fees, although you won’t get the same functionality as you would from having the subscription. Many Eufy video doorbells don’t require monthly payments, but given their track record, they aren’t an excellent choice for those concerned with privacy.

Expert-recommended tech for home security

Best ReoLink 4K PoE Security Camera System

ReoLink 4K PoE Security Camera System

This camera offers 4K video streaming with a wide viewing angle. It has spotlight and alarm capabilities to help deter intruders. Many were impressed with the color night vision.

Sold by Amazon

Best Amcrest 5MP Turret POE Camera

Amcrest 5MP Turret POE Camera

This camera has a built-in microphone and a wide viewing angle. The image quality is top-notch, and it offers motion-detection alerts. Many were impressed with its low-light recording capabilities.

Sold by Amazon

Best Synology 2-Bay NAS DiskStation

Synology 2-Bay NAS DiskStation

This lets you share and sync data across various operating systems. It’s surprisingly easy to use. It comes with Synology Surveillance Station and two free camera licenses. Many were impressed with the intuitive user interface.

Sold by Amazon 

Best Synology 5-Bay DiskStation

Synology 5-Bay DiskStation

You can add up to 10 additional drive bays. It comes with Synology Surveillance Station. Many were impressed with its ease of use.

Sold by Amazon

Best Synology IP Camera License

Synology IP Camera License

This perpetual license lets you add an additional camera to your Synology Surveillance Station. You can purchase it as a one-pack, four-pack or eight-pack.

Sold by Amazon

Best Apple Mac Mini

Apple Mac mini

The Mac mini is the perfect alternative for those who don’t want to buy an NAS. This model features 8 gigabytes of RAM and 256GB of internal storage. Most said they enjoyed its performance and quiet operation.

Sold by Best Buy

Doorbell cameras worth checking out

Best Kasa Smart Video Doorbell

Kasa Smart Video Doorbell

This hardwired video doorbell is one of the few that doesn’t require a subscription. It’s compatible with Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa. It has a 30-foot night-vision radius for low-light recording. The built-in speaker and microphone let you talk to people at your door.

Sold by Amazon

Best Logitech Circle View

Logitech Circle View

This wired video doorbell is an excellent choice for Apple HomeKit fans. The video quality is excellent, and it features color night vision. Many said it was surprisingly easy to install. It has facial recognition and customizable activity zones.

Sold by Amazon

Best Arlo Essential Video Doorbell

Arlo Essential Video Doorbell

This features a wireless design and HD video capabilities. It’s compatible with Amazon Alexa. It has two-way audio and a built-in siren. It’s available in black or white.

Sold by Amazon and Best Buy

Best Ring Video Doorbell Elite

Ring Video Doorbell Elite

This can be powered via an ethernet connection. It features night vision and two-way audio. The video quality is excellent.

Sold by Amazon and Best Buy

Want to shop the best products at the best prices? Check out Daily Deals from BestReviews.

Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals. 

Cody Stewart writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

Copyright 2023 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.