But not all of the tech has been figured out just yet. Namely, the spectrum of video quality between makes and models is massive. Overall video quality ranged from murky postage stamp, to crisp, HD signals—even on models that cost more than $200 and were filming in daylight! At night, almost every camera we tested used infrared bulbs (light that’s bright to cameras, but invisible to the naked eye). Paradoxically, because of those powerful LEDs, you often get a better picture quality by setting a camera to night mode during the day—especially in a shadowy room kept dark for a napping baby.
For standalone monitors, we found that two features were nice to have: The first is VOX, which mutes the ambient sounds in a room entirely, activating the speaker (and often the video) only when significant sound is recognized. The second feature we appreciated was LED sound meters. These are an excellent, rare feature to keep constant tabs on a baby while muting a monitor and turning the video off (Consumer Reports appreciates these LEDs, too.)
This monitor is known for its zoom lens, included in the box, that lets you see your baby up close even if you have to position it farther away from the crib. You can use the monitor to remotely adjust the camera, and you don’t have to worry about plugging the monitor in overnight—it can sit on your nightstand for up to 10 hours in the power-saving mode (similar to sleep mode on your computer, but it still provides sound monitoring while the display is off) and up to six hours with the display screen constantly on.
The most troubling pattern you see in the one-star Amazon reviews is the reports of battery life declining (or failing) over time. This is part of a larger trend in baby monitors in general, and our take on it is that the battery tech within these monitors is just not at the level people have come to expect after living with good phones and tablets, and other quality electronics. Reading the negative reviews on this and many other monitors reminded us of the kinds of problems people had with rechargeable batteries years ago. Here’s a good example of what we mean. So for now, for any baby monitor, set your expectations accordingly.
The Levana Lila video product is a dedicated camera and parent unit which means you don't need to tie up your personal device or use the internet. This option is user-friendly and has a respectable range that could work for most average size homes. The Lila has long-lasting battery life and a reasonable price with fewer features than much of the competition, but that is part of what makes it easy enough for grandma to use.
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Among the negative reviews, the most consistent complaint has to do with connectivity issues—either difficulty linking up initially or randomly dropping the connection while in use. These represent a slim minority among mostly positive reviews, and we did not have similar issues during our test. One consequence of losing the connection (whether it’s by a dropped link or via manually unplugging the camera) is that disconnecting causes the parent unit to emit a sharp, loud, repetitive beep. It is annoying—especially so if it happens in the middle of the night—but you should rarely hear it under normal circumstances.
Testing battery life for all the monitors was for the parent device only. While some of the dedicated options have a battery in the camera in the event of a power outage, most do not, and they are not intended for use as an all-night option. So while we would support a cordless camera for monitoring baby, due to safety concerns with babies and strangulation hazards, none of the products in our review offer this.
Video products add the element of visual peeking on your baby, so you can see if your baby is crying but calming down without you or if you need to make your way to their side. Most video products work well in the dark and have adequate sound so you can see and hear what is happening in the room. Some options are dedicated with a camera that talks to a parent unit, like the Levana Lila while others use your Wi-Fi to send information from the camera to your personal device like the Nest Cam. Wi-Fi options are great for larger houses where range could be an issue, and it's also nice for away from home monitoring. While video images are not mandatory for getting a good night's sleep, they do provide more information that can help you determine your little one's needs before you get out of bed. With the price of video products being lower than ever, it is no longer considered a luxury product and many parents are choosing this style over sound only products. However, proceed with caution! Spying on your newborn can be addictive and lead to less sleep which defeats the purpose of a getting a monitoring device in the first place.
We got our hands on this KX-HN3001W Panasonic baby monitor in late 2018 for testing, and we were pleasantly surprised with its features, reliability, image quality, and competitive cost. Panasonic has been in the video baby monitor market for many years, and they have consistently improved the quality and reliability of their products along the way. Remember how reliable those old Panasonic DECT cordless phones were when you were a kid? You could drop them, discharge them, lose them in the couch pillows, walk them to the other side of the house, and slam them down for a dramatic ending to a phone call. These devices reminded us of those, mostly out of nostalgia, but also because the portable receiver seemed very well made and reliable. Out of the box, it comes with the color monitor receiver along with a battery and wall plug, the camera and a wall plug, and a wall-mount for the camera. We didn't realize it comes with a wall-mount and were excited to give that a shot. During setup, we mounted the camera to the wall of our test nursery and aimed it at the crib. Once it's mounted to the wall, you can still tilt and pivot it around to get a good pointing direction. Powering it on, it connected quickly to the camera unit; note that you can add two extra camera units as well, and view/control them from the same receiver (those extra cameras aren't available for sale yet). We first tested it during the daytime, and found the color screen to be clear and vivid, the connection to be reliable and relatively long-range (it worked in our back yard), and the battery life to be about 3 hours with the screen on (and unplugged obviously). It goes for much longer in stand-by mode with the screen turned off. During the nighttime, the monochrome night vision worked reasonably well. We found that it worked better if the camera unit was placed relatively close to the crib so you don't have to zoom in and lose image quality. The night vision wasn't on par with the higher-rated baby monitors on this list, but it was pretty decent. After getting the basics down, we tried out some of the cool features. It has a 2-way talk feature that actually sounded pretty good, little melodies and lullabies (or white noise!) you could play to your baby, and the life-changing remote pan/zoom/tilt. That last feature is really a necessity for modern baby cameras so you don't have to tip-toe into your baby's room and try to change the camera angle because it got bumped during the day or your baby decided to sleep on the other side of the crib. The other awesome thing about this baby monitor is that it has room temperature alerts, which allows you to set a safe range (like 68 to 72 degrees) and then it will alert you if the nursery room's temperature ever goes out of that range. There is also a little current temperature indicator on the screen, which is a nice touch. It also has a great stand-by mode that will keep the monitor off until it senses movement or hears your baby (you can set which of these you want to trigger an alert), at which point the device will alert you and turn on. This is great for a few reasons, but mostly because it helps keep battery life up to about 10 hours when kept on stand-by mode. A little extra feature is that you can set the device to automatically turn on a melody or white noise when your baby moves or makes noise - nice touch. A couple more things we noticed. First, the portable device uses micro-USB for charging, which means that you can use most phone or device charger with the same connector type (but not an iPhone charger!). That was convenient for when you're in another room and just want to quickly plug it in, just like you would with your phone. Second, on the bottom of the camera there is the standard tripod screw hole, so you can set it up on any tripod type of device (like those little ones that attach to walls, grip onto crib rails, etc). So there's some really great stuff going on here, and we are very happy to have tested it for inclusion on this list! But there are also some downfalls. First, it is built to control more than one camera, but as of late 2018 we haven't seen the additional cameras available on the market. Second, the night vision isn't up to par with the Infant Optics or other top-rated baby cameras; in fact that was the biggest challenge with this baby monitor, and we are patiently waiting for Panasonic to release a new version with better quality night vision. Third, the display is clearly not high definition, but to be fair the screen isn't really large enough to notice any pixelation. Other that that, you're getting a fantastic baby monitor for only about $120, and that's a lot of bang for the buck! Interested? You can check out the Panasonic Video Baby Monitor here.