If you’ve ever compared 4K video to standard “full HD” (i.e. 1080p) video, you will have seen a substantial difference. 4K contains four times as many pixels as 1080p video, which is just a fancy way of saying that you get much more detail from 4K videos.
Therefore if you have a smart doorbell to help protect your property from theft, it surely makes sense to have a smart doorbell that records in the highest quality possible, right? Well this is true, but…
There are a couple of possible 4K smart doorbell options (including Feels and a DIY approach), although you are very limited right now. Thankfully a few smart doorbells do offer better than ‘full HD’ recording quality.
Smart doorbells and the problem with ‘full HD’ recording quality
Smart doorbells are great – they replace (or sit alongside) your traditional doorbell, and in addition to notifying you when someone is at your front door, they record people who walk nearby. This can be useful for crime prevention, and generally keeping an eye on your neighborhood too.
Whilst many aren’t fully blown security devices (like hardwired CCTV cameras are), they certainly provide many of the same functions – meaning that their recording quality is really important. Many smart doorbells right now provide ‘full HD’ recording quality, which is 1920×1080 pixels. Whilst this sounds fine – especially since HD stands for High Definition – it doesn’t always allow you to see people’s faces at night, or even vehicle plate numbers during the day when they drive past:
This can be a bit frustrating, especially if you really need to pull a plate number or try and see someone’s face in connection with crime. When you can’t make out these details, you’ll be asking yourself what the point of your smart doorbell is.
Well, they are generally useful – but ones which record in better than full HD resolution are even better…
Why 4K smart doorbells would be awesome
I mentioned at the start that 4K captures four times as many pixels as full HD:
It’s literally twice as wide and twice as tall (hence 2 x 2 = four times as many pixels)
But what does this mean in reality? Well, Paul Hibbert reviewed a 4K smart camera which clearly shows the extra quality it provides over full HD:
If you’ve walked into an electronics/TV shop in the last decade, you’ve probably seen 4K TV displays that compare the quality to full HD too – and they show a massive difference between the two video qualities.
A 4K smart doorbell would be awesome because instead of struggling to make out car plate numbers and people’s faces from a distance, you would easily be able to pick them out – a clear benefit compared to full HD.
So… are there any 4K smart doorbells available? Well, I discuss this in the next two sections.
Feels: the World’s first 4K smart doorbell?!
None of the big smart doorbell players – such as Ring, Nest and Eufy – offer 4K smart doorbells. In-fact, searching Amazon for “4k smart doorbell” returns… zero relevant results. Oh dear.
There are a few reasons for this (as I discuss in the “Flaws with 4K smart doorbells” section later), but thankfully Feels – a fairly new player in the smart home arena – have a well funded IndieGoGo campaign which has seen dozens of 4K smart doorbells produced already.
Unfortunately despite initial aims for December 2020 shipments, the latest updates (as of February 2020) were that things have been delayed for a range of reasons including China factory delays and the pandemic effect.
There’s also some comments from backers that the app has various bugs. There are new Feels app releases coming out all the time to address these, but the Feels 4K doorbell is currently still a work in progress. Nonetheless, I hope that it’ll overcome its production issues because I’d love to test it out:
With no other ‘off the shelf’ doorbells offering 3840×2160 resolution, can you ‘DIY’ it?
A DIY 4K smart doorbell
There are a range of online tutorials showing you how to create a smart doorbell yourself – using a Raspberry Pi. These range from $40-150 depending on what you want to do, but many opt for a simple 1080p (i.e. full HD) camera lens.
However in April 2020, the Raspberry Pi blog announced a new 4K camera that costs $50. This can record at 40-60 fps depending on settings, which is pretty good – especially when Ring devices tend to achieve just 15 fps.
Equally a slightly cheaper Pi-compatible camera (called Arducam) exists on Amazon:
This actually records in better than 4k resolution (at 4192x3120pixels), although this is only at 12 fps.
So if you’re interested in a challenge, building your own Pi-powered smart doorbell could be a really nice idea – especially using the official Pi camera from Sony that can achieve a high level of FPS even at 4K resolution.
Why FPS matters (both the good and bad)
Gamers will already know this, but FPS stands for ‘first person shooter’. Kidding, it stands for ‘frames per second’ in this context. Video is essentially made up of multiple still images – called a frame.
Therefore if a video has 30 still images (frames) every second, this would be called a 30 fps video.
The reason this matters is because if a video was only 2 fps (for example), you’d only get 2 images per second – resulting in a very jumpy video, which may miss important detail like the plate number of a passing car. Therefore a higher frame rate is better…
… in general! A high FPS combined with 4K video quality can actually be a flaw – as the next section discusses.
The flaws with 4K smart doorbells
The idea of high FPS, high resolution video is great: you can easily make out people’s faces and car plate numbers, even if they’re running (or driving) past.
However remember that smart cameras offer smart features: such as only receiving motion alerts if it detects that it’s a person. Or allowing you to only receive alerts if motion is detected in a particular zone of the camera (such as a path or walk way).
To work effectively, this all requires on-device processing power. But the more frames that exist in a video (i.e. the higher the FPS), the more processing power is required. This is also true of pixels – the higher the number of pixels, the more processing that’s needed.
If you had a full HD 15 fps video (such as from Ring), and you compare this to a 4K 30 fps video (from a DIY smart doorbell, for example) – you’d need 8x as much processing power to smartly monitor the video feed and send out the relevant notifications.
Ouch. This isn’t ideal, especially since it’ll naturally cost more money since you’ll need more powerful hardware.
Secondly, this also means that extra storage space is required. If you store the video clips locally, your NAS needs to be four times bigger to store 4K video compared to full HD video.
Whereas if you store the recorded video in the cloud, you still need to pay for extra storage space – plus you might need to upgrade your internet connection too, as the required upload speeds will be 4x greater!
The third flaw with a 4K smart doorbell is that they’d use a lot more power, whether they’re plugged in or battery operated. This is due to the extra processing requirements of 4K video compared to full HD video.
I record my YouTube videos in 4K and it drains my smartphone’s battery very quickly compared to when I shoot in full HD, so this point can’t be understated.
As a final point, 4K smart doorbells don’t readily exist! Yes the Feels doorbell seems promising, but right now it’s a very low production system and it probably won’t be selling en masse for a couple of years yet (if it does enter mainstream production at all, that is). So… what’s the alternative?
Suitable alternatives to 4K smart doorbells
If you want better than full HD recording quality (I certainly do!), there’s two mainstream alternatives available: the Ring Doorbell Pro 2, and the Eufy 2K doorbell.
The Eufy 2K doorbell recordings in – you guessed it – 2K resolution. Gah, another buzz-word! This is actually better than full HD but worse than 4K, providing 2560 x 1920 resolution.
The Ring Doorbell Pro 2 offers 1,536p resolution (1536 pixels tall), which is nice because you can see any parcels left on your doorstep – but the width is also limited to 1536p which is lower than the 1920p width of other Ring doorbells:
Finally, the Nest Hello records at 1600 x 1200p resolution. Whilst this means a narrower view (1600p compared to 1920p for full HD), it actually offers a slightly taller view (1200p compared to 1080p for full HD) meaning that you see more of people when they’re standing by your doorbell.
To sum all the above up:
|Ring Doorbell Pro 2
|All other Ring doorbells
|Eufy 2K Doorbell
|4K (e.g. Feels)