A top specification to consider when comparing security cameras is resolution. This indicates the level of detail it provides, and thus, how well or poorly intruders will be able to be identified or recognized from recordings in the event of a home invasion or break-in.
720p-resolution recordings are fine for many users, but aren’t much cheaper than more sophisticated cameras. 1080p requires more storage and bandwidth, but also offers greater detail, with a minimal price increase. Either can be a solid option for a user’s security needs, but higher-resolution surveillance equipment is the best choice if you can afford it.
The following is a helpful breakdown of some of the many advantages of utilizing 720p- and 1080p-resolution security cameras:
What Does the 1080 in “1080p” Mean?
1080 doesn’t seem to be much greater than 720, but the total picture size actually contains twice as many pixels...
Before discussing these cameras, it’s important to have a basic understanding of what resolution labels actually mean. These numbers represent the quantity of vertical pixels (p)—tiny dots of color—in a recorded image. It affects how much a picture can be enlarged without sacrificing detail—the higher the resolution, the bigger the image.
1080 doesn’t seem to be much greater than 720, but the total picture size actually contains twice as many pixels, because the width increases proportionally as the image gets larger. This can help with identification and recognition at distance.
High Resolution Takes Up Space
While higher resolution offers greater levels of detail, it also takes up more memory. For example, an hour-long 1080p recording uses 675 mb (megabytes) of space, while the same video at 720p only consumes 288 mb.
It’s a good rule of thumb to always have enough storage to cover the longest length of time you’ll typically be away from home. If you regularly go on vacation, you’ll need enough memory card space to record a week’s worth of footage, or more.
Storage Is Affordable
Luckily, even if you record continuously for an entire week, a 1080p camera will only use 113 GB (gigabytes) of space. A 128 GB memory card can be purchased for around $20, so price isn’t typically a limiting factor. Many modern cameras also have advanced features—such as motion sensors—to trigger recordings only at important moments, so smaller cards can also be used for most applications.
Modern cameras often save video to cloud storage...
Some systems might not even need a memory card. Modern cameras often save video to cloud storage—hosted by a third party and accessible through the internet—by default. Remote video monitoring enables recordings to be accessed anywhere, at any time, via computer, tablet, or mobile device. Cloud storage varies in price, but typically comes along with a subscription and enough space for a few days to a month, depending on the plan.
Video Streaming Can Suffer at High Resolutions
If you want to stream live video in real time—to a phone, TV, or other device—it will be easier with 720p quality, because it requires less bandwidth. Many modern internet connections can easily stream at 1080p without a problem under normal circumstances, but a slowdown may cause lag more often with higher resolutions.
How Much Detail Do I Need?
Before selecting a security camera, consider its purpose: to identify or recognize intruders and occupants. The terms “recognize” and “identify” actually represent industry standards outlining qualified image sizes.
For example, these require a picture at least 20 pixels wide to say, “I recognize that person.” You just have to know you’ve seen them before; it’s not necessary to know where you saw them.
“Identification” means the image contains enough detail for you to confidently point someone out when seen in person, even if you’ve previously only viewed them on video. A legitimate identification requires an image between 40 and 80 pixels, depending on lighting conditions.
A higher-resolution camera packs more pixels into an image, so it can help with recognition and identification at greater distances. 1080p will come in handy if you need to identify someone from across a parking lot, for example. Most houses don’t have big enough living spaces to require the upgrade, but there are some instances where it could help.
No system can cover every scenario, but a higher-resolution security camera gives you a slightly better chance of capturing an important detail.
For example, a 720p camera's image is good enough quality to identify someone looking directly at the lens from across an average family room with good lighting. However, real-life scenarios add a layer of complexity. What if the intruder isn’t looking directly at the camera? What if their face isn’t visible, but a small identifying characteristic—like a tattoo—is?
No system can cover every scenario, but a higher-resolution security camera gives you a slightly better chance of capturing an important detail. Competition has driven the cost of 1080p cameras down throughout the past few years, so they’re typically priced comparably to 720p systems, and can be worth the upgrade.
Which Camera Should I Purchase?
Each space has unique camera requirements depending on size, shape, and other factors. In general, small, well-lit spaces with a clear field of vision can be serviced perfectly well by 720p systems, while larger spaces will require an upgrade.
At the end of the day, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. If you’re unsure about what you need, we recommend talking to an authorized home-security professional. The best home alarm systems come equipped with high-end security video surveillance cameras already installed!