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Virtually every smart home product manufacturer has a security camera product available for the masses. I officially got into the security camera game when Arlo released their second generation camera system, but only a few years later they have moved on to new generations and, quite honestly, the hardware is overly expensive. Don’t get me wrong, I still use my Arlo cameras, but I’m always on the lookout for a less-expensive alternative that provides just as good of an experience without so much of the capital overhead.

Generally, if you’re looking to get into the game, whether it be for your home or business, wireless options will always be simpler to install—and companies like Defender have released hybrid options that remove the need for a base station, allowing for flexible deployments starting with only a single camera.

The Night Owl Wireless NVR Surveillance System is another such hybrid, with a couple of neat features that make it attractive in some applications. First, keep it mind that this is a surveillance system. It is not a smart home camera system, and this is a distinction worth pointing out.

The Night Owl differs from a run-of-the-mill consumer smart home camera system because of its NVR (network video recorder). In some ways this acts as a base station, but also has onboard storage in the form of a 1 TB hard drive. This means that your cameras are NOT connected to Night Owl’s cloud servers, so if you’re looking for a CCTV solution (or, like some I know, don’t trust “The Cloud”), keep reading.

And to clarify, I’m not suggesting that the Night Owl can’t be used as a smart home camera system because whether you utilize the base station/NVR, this is a product that can be easily installed in many homes. The option to forgo the NVR is a nice touch that helps reach a more diverse market, and while I will cover in this review some differences between the two deployments, I will mostly be focused on the system’s use as a fully fledged NVR.

There are two main pieces to this system, both of which can be used independently or in unison. The first is the appliance itself, which is a small device that acts as a base station for the cameras as well as a central surveillance monitoring system with onboard storage for recording. If you can imagine a stereotypical security guard sitting behind a monitor with multiple video feeds—this appliance is the thing that would provide those feeds. It has a small operating system onboard and (at least for the time being) requires a physical connection to view the system’s interface.

Also, available through Night Owl is a smartphone app, which provides view-only access to camera feeds from anywhere, provided you have the system configured to allow that. As I alluded to before, it is possible to use the cameras in ‘app only’ mode, but I won’t focus as heavily on that here. I do wish, though, that the instructions made the different deployment methods a bit clearer, and better outlined how these two components can work together or separately.

Back to the appliance—the first thing you’ll need to do is get it connected to your network and create a Night Owl account. There is an HDMI port on the back of the appliance to connect a display, and this is the only way to interact with the system and configure the cameras for it. But because many people live a ‘wireless’ life now (and may have purchased this system because it offers wireless cameras), you will have to be able to connect the appliance to your network AND have a nearby monitor to get everything set up. Night Owl, by the way, provides a wired mouse that can be connected to the appliance via one of the onboard USB ports.

The instructions for setup are rather simple, and provided that you have some basic computer knowledge, you shouldn’t have too many issues clicking around the appliance’s software to get all your cameras discovered and added. The cameras themselves are straightforward to add to the system once they are powered on, and provide audible indicators that they are ready to pair.

Once the appliance is configured and the cameras are added, the mobile app itself provides a decent experience for view-only access. There aren’t many configuration options within the app when using the appliance as the base station; for instance, I don’t think you can’t add a camera to the appliance via the app. When not using the appliance as the base station, the mobile app can instead be used to pair the cameras to your Night Owl account. In this deployment because the appliance (with onboard storage) isn’t used, the cameras have micro SD card slots to handle local video storage, which can then be accessed via the mobile app. Night Owl certainly could have done a better job in their instructions to lay out the differences between the two deployments.

The cameras themselves are very installation-friendly, requiring only a power source and location within the range of your wireless network. Mounting hardware is included with each camera, and the mount itself can be positioned up to 90 degrees from the surface to which it’s mounted. There is a weather-shielded cable that extends from the camera, but this cable is only a little more than a foot in length before it has to be connected to the power supply; the power supply cable is about 10 feet long.

From a build quality perspective, the cameras are fully plastic, and seem to be relatively durable. The appliance, likewise, is durable and has a metal construction. In fact, as a testament to its durability—shortly after connecting the antennae to the base unit I accidentally dropped it, which loosened (and bent) the antennae connection to the appliance and the frame of the appliance itself. I could remove three screws from the bottom of the device, allowing me access to its internals—and could quickly repair the bent antennae connector and ensure everything was working as intended. I’ll admit that I rarely buy things intending to repair them within minutes of unboxing, but it was nice to be able to easily repair a device with basic tools.

The cameras feature two-way audio, and while on the receiving end (i.e., from the app) the audio is excellent, the onboard speakers on the cameras are of relatively low quality and audio played through them is hard to understand. For what its worth, the speakers on the cameras are fantastic for scaring someone nearby due to minimal volume control and crass playback, but not so great for two-way communication.

The video from the cameras (arguably the most important part) is full-HD quality and works well at night, providing great visibility regardless of lighting condition. There is also a motion-sensing spotlight on each camera, which can be disabled, but only through the appliance (at least while the appliance is the base station); I was unable to find a setting within the app to control the spotlight.

This is a 10-channel system, meaning you can have up to 10 cameras on a single appliance, allowing for a robust setup if you buy the add-on cameras; in this package there are 4 cameras included. Add on cameras (although difficult to track down on Night Owl’s website) are available for $100 each. I’m not sure what the app’s limitations are in terms of number of cameras, although I don’t imagine it is limited to 10.

The system is simple to set up, and easy to use. Even the software on the appliance is straightforward, if not a bit “surveillance system-y,” and while a system like this might be a bit overkill for the standard homeowner, it is user-friendly enough for those who have the facility for it. And, it’s totally reasonable as a solution for a DIY small business owner who is looking to have a simple, unmanaged system on premise that doesn’t require subscription fees.

The user experience on the app and the appliance are very different from one another—and you should understand this difference before you make a purchase. Fortunately, at $399, the appliance is (in some ways) ‘included’ in the purchase of the first four cameras, so you could assess the usability for your individual installation without additional financial risk.

And when it comes to financials—comparing the Night Owl system to a more ‘mainstream’ solution like Arlo Pro 3, except for a couple of power supply cords that you’d need to run to get the cameras powered, you can save quite a bit of money going with Night Owl. Add on cameras are also less expensive, so expanding the system further increase these cost savings.

The Night Owl is a good overall surveillance solution, especially if you’re looking for local storage of recorded media and a more traditional surveillance experience. The cameras connect wirelessly to your network (although they require external power), and their feeds can be viewed from the app or locally on the appliance. Installation and setup is simple, and the cost is reasonable. The instructions leave something to be desired, especially in the explanation of the two different deployment methods, however, if you’re comfortable using a computer you will probably be able to determine the best deployment for your specific situation.

This product was provided by Best Buy and Night Owl in exchange for an honest, unbiased review. The opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author and have not been reviewed or approved by any sponsors prior to posting.

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