Vivint Doorbell Camera Pro review: Sophisticated front-door security—for a price

This is the best video doorbell we’ve tested, but not everyone will want the professionally installed and monitored smart home/home security system that it's part of.

vivint doorbell camera pro installed
Michael Brown / IDG

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At a Glance

The Vivint Doorbell Camera Pro isn’t cheap at $249, but it’s prettier and more sophisticated than the similarly priced Ring Video Doorbell Pro ($249) and the Nest Hello ($229). It’s not for everyone, though, because you must have a Vivint Smart Home system and service plan to go with it. While Vivint offers one of the best professionally installed and monitored smart home/home security solutions on the market, that service isn’t inexpensive, either. More on that later.

Editor's note: The Vivint Doorbell Camera Pro earned an Editors' Choice award; unfortunately, that designation didn't appear when the review was first published due to a bug in our publishing system.

Like those competitors, Vivint’s best doorbell is outfitted with infrared night vision and an image sensor that supports HDR—and the camera’s image quality is superb. It has a wider field of view than either the Ring or Nest video doorbells—180 degrees vertical as well as horizontal—enabling you to see your entire porch (the camera has 1:1 aspect ratio and resolution of 1,664 x 1,664 pixels, but video is streamed in 1080p).  

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best video doorbells, where you’ll find reviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping.

Even though the doorbell is installed at a right angle to my front door, it still affords a view more than 50 feet down my flagstone entry walk. There is a small amount of fisheye distortion when objects are very close to the camera, but the wide-angle view lets me see visitors head to toe, as well as packages left anywhere on the porch.

vivint doorbell camera pro package detection Michael Brown / IDG

Notice the message at the top of the screen indicating that a package has been delivered, and note that the resolution is crisp enough that you can read the logo on the truck in the driveway that’s nearly 100 feet away.

Package and person detection

And package detection is one of the Doorbell Camera Pro’s best features. In addition to sending “person detected” alerts when someone comes within range of its motion detector, the camera will also alert you when a package has been delivered. If you can’t get to your porch right away, and the doorbell is in “deter” mode, it will sound an alert tone on its speaker (I selected a “you-who!” whistle) whenever someone approaches your door, causing them to look to the source of the sound and therefore present their face to the camera. In addition to the alert tone, a bright red LED encircling the doorbell button lights up. You can turn this “deter” feature on or off, or you can schedule it to operate on a schedule.

Vivint package detection alert Michael Brown / IDG

Push notifications alert you when the Vivint Doorbell Camera Pro detects a person or a package.

Another exceptionally good feature—although it is optional—is the Doorbell Camera Pro’s ability to continuously record to a local network-attached hard drive (a four-channel NAS box, essentially, although it can accommodate just a single 1TB drive and it can’t be used for any other purpose). Vivint calls this product the Vivint Smart Drive and it operates with up to four of Vivint’s security cameras (both indoor and outdoor models). There’s no arguing that it’s expensive, but there’s also no arguing that it’s a fantastic option to have—and it’s unmatched by any other vendor.

Rather than record a short clip only when motion is detected or someone rings the doorbell, up to four of Vivint’s cameras record continuously to the drive for up to 30 days (you get 14 days of clip storage in the cloud without the drive). When you look at the camera’s live view via the Vivint mobile app, you can press a Rewind button to bring up a timeline of recordings. Dragging your fingertip along this timeline scrubs band and forth through time of recorded video. At any point along the timeline, you can start watching in real time or at an accelerated speed: 2X, 4X, or 8X.

vivint smart drive Vivint

The Vivint Smart Drive is a pricey option at $249, but it delivers continuous video recording for up to four Vivint security cameras without worry that you’ll bump into your ISP’s data cap.

Markers on the timeline alert you to detection events, and a label appears at the top of the screen to let you know if it’s a person or a package alert. Rewind, fast-forward, and play/pause controls help you quickly locate these motions events, and there’s a helpful time stamp above the timeline and a date stamp above the primary video screen.

Whether the camera has flagged an event or not, you can create a video clip lasting either 30 seconds, 90 seconds, or five minutes from any starting point on the timeline. You can then either download the file or share a link to the clip. If your camera captured a crime in process, you can share this forensic evidence with the police. Unfortunately, these clips are not timestamped, a factor that could diminish their value to investigators.

Nest cameras are among the few other security cameras that can record continuously, but those devices record continuously to the cloud, which can cause problems for users with data caps and/or limited upload bandwidth. Vivint’s cameras record only event-triggered clips to the cloud. My ISP doesn’t currently impose a data cap, but I live in a rural area and do have to put up with very slow upload speeds. Vivint’s official recommendation is to have at least 1.5Mbps of upload speed for each camera. Unlike Nest, Vivint doesn’t allow you to tailor the quality of the uploaded video stream to reduce its bandwidth consumption.

vivint ring my bell Michael Brown / IDG

A message at the top of the screen labels this event as someone ringing the bell. Skip back and skip forward buttons let you jump to previous and next events (the bar to the left of the green line indicates previous events, and the dot indicates the current event).

Motion detection

You can draw a single but irregularly shaped detection zone with your fingertip across the camera’s field of view, to block things like branches from shrubs and trees from creating false alerts, and you can also fine-tune the motion detector’s sensitivity. But the camera proved so accurate at discerning the movement of people from other things—including animals, for the most part—that I didn’t find the custom detection zones to be all that necessary.

There was just one occasion in the several weeks that I tested the doorbell when it misidentified my large (12-pound) cat as a person. But that happened around 2:15 a.m., and only after he jumped from the porch to a bench and then a 20-inch-high planter. I have two other smaller cats, and they’ve never set off a person alert.

The Vivint Doorbell Camera Pro looks more like a conventional doorbell than most, measuring just 1.5 inches wide and 4.5 inches tall. Much of the reason for its svelte dimensions, however, is that it doesn’t depend on a battery for power. I thought that would be a problem for me, because it never occurred to me to ensure my general contractor included a doorbell when we had our house built 12 years ago. Fortunately, Vivint’s installer came up with a clever solution: My dining room is on the other side of the wall from my front porch, so he drilled hole into the exterior wall, snaked the doorbell wiring through to the junction box hosting an AC outlet, and connected it to a plug-in adapter there. (The doorbell can operate on 12-24 DC or 16-24 AC adapters that deliver a minimum of 1.0 amps.)

imperfect person detection Michael Brown / IDG

The Vivint Doorbell Camera Pro only once misidentified my (overweight) cat as a person, and that was at 2:00 a.m. (I added arrows to point out the cat and the alert).

The doorbell has dual-band 802.11ac (Wi-Fi 5) wireless adapter onboard. However, instead of connecting to your Wi-Fi router, the doorbell connects instead to Vivint’s smart home control panel and the control panel connects to your router. The doorbell supports two-way audio, and you can talk with visitors using either your mobile device or the control panel. By the same token, you can view thumbnails of every event and select any of those thumbnails to play a recording in a larger window on either your mobile app or on Vivint’s control panel.

Deep smart home integration

As with all Vivint’s products, the Doorbell Camera Pro integrates tightly with the rest of its smart home system, including its new Car Guard onboard diagnostic product. When you’re viewing a live stream from the doorbell, you can push a button at the bottom of the screen to bring up the user interface for the security system, where you can arm or disarm the system, lock or unlock any of your smart locks, and open or close your connected overhead garage doors.

doorbell on vivint sky control panel Michael Brown / IDG

When a person is detected, live video is streamed from the doorbell to Vivint’s control panel.

You can also create custom rules such as “record a clip with all cameras when an alarm is triggered;” “turn on my porch light when my doorbell detects a person at night, and turn it off 30 minutes later,” or even “record a clip with my doorbell when my vehicle is disturbed.”

But as I said early on: This level of sophistication, security, and automation isn’t cheap. The Doorbell Camera Pro costs $249, the optional Smart Drive costs another $249, and a Vivint smart home system starts at $599 plus a $99 installation fee (which is often waived if the company is running a promotion). The kit includes the aforementioned smart home hub, two door/window sensors, a motion sensor, a water leak detector, and a $100 credit for additional sensors. Monthly service fees start at $39 and include professional monitoring. If you choose to finance the system purchase through Vivint, you’ll need to sign a service contract; no contract is required if you pay for the hardware up front.

If those costs aren’t a barrier, the Vivint Doorbell Camera Pro is the best device in its category.

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At a Glance
  • The Vivint Doorbell Camera Pro isn’t cheap, especially when you take into account everything needed to get the most out of it, but it is the most sophisticated front-door security solution you can buy.

  
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