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Here’s why it’s beneficial to use local storage with your security camera

Do you prefer to use cloud storage, or do you feel safer if your information is stored locally on a hard drive or memory card? Many modern security cameras offer both options, which can make it hard to decide which to use. The good news is that you don’t have to choose one over the other, and using both forms of storage provides redundancy — you can trust the footage is available somewhere.

Cloud storage offers the convenience of not using physical media or finding an SD card reader in 2021, but there are multiple benefits to using a security camera with local storage. Before you decide, consider how local storage might improve security, save you money, and provide you with a higher-quality video.

Local storage provides better security

Recent years have seen more focus on data security. Breaches at credit card companies, smart home companies, and numerous other sources revealed weaknesses in the way the average person interacts with their data. Other incidents saw a family terrorized through their smart thermostat. That’s only a few steps away from a security camera, and the last thing anyone wants is someone peering into their home — or worse, obtaining recordings of them. These events proved that the smart home is not invulnerable to cyber threats.

Companies have taken dramatic steps to improve the encryption strength of data streams, with many using military-grade encryption to protect against unwanted intrusion. However, the only completely reliable defense against hacking is to ensure the data is never available in the first place.

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Local storage means no one can access the video recordings without the memory card. Provided you do not give the card to anyone else, your recordings are totally secure — confined within the walls of your home.

There’s another major benefit to local storage: Video footage is still stored, even if your internet goes down. Many smart cameras now have limited battery backups (or better — solar power) that allow them to continue recording even in the event of a power outage. With no internet, the footage cannot go to the cloud, but it will be saved to the memory card for review later.

You should also consider the possibility of theft. While a wall-mounted security camera likely isn’t worth the trouble, a smaller camera that sits on the table might get snatched. If a thief steals the memory card or the entire camera, you lose any locally stored footage. That’s why the placement of your security camera is equally important.

Cloud storage means you will still have footage of the incident right up until the point your camera goes offline. Of course, the best option is to use both local and cloud storage — you get the best of both worlds.

Video quality might be better

Sometimes, video stored in the cloud can look blurry or lower-quality than you remember. This is due to the way cloud services sometimes compress video in order to preserve storage space when a video is uploaded. While this is not always the case, you might find that locally stored video is of better quality than video uploaded to the cloud.

For an example, just look to YouTube. Even high-resolution YouTube videos sometimes suffer artifacting due to the compression methods used.

If a video is compressed in order to save space, this is called “lossy” compression. It packs all of the video’s information into a smaller amount of space, but in doing so it loses some of that information. Imagine taking a puzzle and moving the pieces together in a box, but in the right pattern. The end result will still somewhat resemble the puzzle, but it won’t look quite right because the pieces are not snapped together. The good news is that you can lose quite a lot of information before you notice a difference.

On the other hand, “lossless” compression preserves the quality of a video, but it does little to reduce file size.

If you save video to local storage, there may be little to no impact on the quality of the footage. However, cloud storage often uses compression to reduce file size. Whether or not this happens varies from camera to camera. Each brand handles uploads and compression differently. It’s also possible that the difference in video quality will be so minimal that you can’t tell a difference.

We tested the difference on the Eufy Indoor Cam 2K Pan & Tilt. Take a look at the photos below:

Local storage Image used with permission by copyright holder
Cloud storage Image used with permission by copyright holder

Aside from the difference in aspect ratio, the locally stored clip looks slightly crisper, particularly around hard lines like the top of the television. The cloud-stored clips had lower resolution, but the difference between the two is negligible. In terms of day-to-day operation, it wouldn’t make much difference.

Of course, this might vary between brands. It depends on how the brand handles video compression on their cloud service.

Local storage saves money

Memory cards, especially secure digital (SD), are infinitely more affordable today than they were even ten years ago. On the other hand, cloud storage plans often hide behind subscription services. For example, Nest Aware is $6 per month, while Nest Aware Plus is $12 per month. Ring Protect is $10 per month. The Arlo Elite plan is $15 per month.

A large-capacity SD card is as little as $15. If you choose to use local storage rather than cloud subscription plans, you can greatly reduce the cost of your home security system, especially when some companies charge the monthly fee per camera. You can still access the video stream from your phone to check in throughout the day, but you do not have to rely on the cloud to store your video.

John Velasco / Digital Trends

On the other hand, you might have no choice but to use the subscription services, as many of the best features of the cameras are locked behind the paywall.

If you’re looking for a security camera that offers a local storage option, you might want to consider the Arlo Pro 4. The EufyCam 2 is another solid option. Wyze and Blink both offer a variety of cameras with local storage options, too.

Local storage offers a lot of benefits that cloud storage does not, with security and costs ranking near the top. That said, the convenience of cloud storage goes beyond accessibility. Some of the biggest names in the market (like Nest) do not offer local storage options, and installation isn’t always easy on those that do. For example, the EZVIZ C3X requires a particularly small screwdriver like you might use to repair glasses to open the latch. It isn’t a size that most people would have available in a standard toolkit.

The default option for most people today is cloud storage. Local storage seems almost archaic; after all, SD card readers are not as commonplace as they once were. Before you discount the option completely, though, think about how the older option might actually be the best one.

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Patrick Hearn
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Patrick Hearn writes about smart home technology like Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, smart light bulbs, and more. If it's a…
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