There are two basic types: audio and video/audio. Some are analog, others are digital. All monitors operate within a selected radio frequency band to send sound from a baby's room to a receiver in another room. Each monitor consists of a transmitter (the child/nursery unit) and one or more receivers. Prices range from about $25 to $150 for audio monitors and about $80 to $300 for audio/video monitors.
But these nursery essentials can be as fussy as the babies they keep tabs on. And like virtually every other household appliance, they are growing increasingly more capable and complex. In addition to conventional video baby monitors that use a camera and a handheld LCD display, often called a “parent unit,” there are now also Wi-Fi-enabled systems that connect to your home network and use your smartphone as both the display and the controller, much like DIY home security cameras. These latter models offer high-defition video, intelligent alerts, and the ability to check on your child from anywhere you have an internet connection.
Aimee is a pediatric occupational therapist practicing in the neonatal intensive care unit and pediatric out-patient at Central Pennsylvania Rehab Services at the Heart of Lancaster Hospital. She has been working in pediatrics for 18 years and is also the owner/operator of Aimee’s Babies LLC, a child development company. Aimee has published 3 DVDs and 9 apps which have been featured on the Rachael Ray Show and iPhone Essentials Magazine. Also certified in newborn massage and instructing yoga to children with special needs, Aimee Ketchum lives in Lititz, PA with her husband and two daughters.
The DXR-8 packs a lot of punch for the price, including a sound-activated 3.5-inch full-color LCD screen, crystal clear video quality, and an impressive 270-/120-degree pan and tilt range ⏤ controlled remotely, of course. It’s also the only baby monitor on the market to include interchangeable lens for advanced zoom and wide-angle shots, in case the only good spot to set up is across the nursery from the crib.
The handheld unit's 5-inch screen is the largest in our review, complementing the camera's wide-angle lens. However, its resolution is the same as smaller units, so the video quality, while acceptable, is poorer. Also, you can't move the camera remotely, a feature you may not use if you only watch your baby as they sleep. The Wide View 2.0 makes up for its video quality with a user-friendly design. It only takes a few minutes to set up and a couple hours to charge the handheld unit. The handheld unit lets you adjust the volume and has an uncomplicated menu. This simplicity comes at the cost of common features – the Wide View 2.0 doesn't track room temperature, and it can't play lullabies through the camera unit. Because this is a simple video monitor, the battery lasted nine hours before it needed to recharge during our tests. The overall best baby monitor, the Infant Optics DXR-8, went 10 hours before shutting off, so this is a very good result. The Summer Infant Wide View 2.0's handheld unit has a limited indoor range compared to most other baby cameras – it’s good enough for most homes but insufficient in particularly large ones. Summer Infant offers a one-year warranty, which is average for video baby monitors.
Monitors for babies should have good video images that are clear and true to life, but they should also have quality sound that is easy to hear and clear enough that parents can quickly decide if they need to look at the viewing screen, go back to sleep, or get running to the nursery. So while you might consider video quality to be the most important metric for this kind of product, we rated both video and sound equally because, without one, the other doesn't much matter. If the sound is muffled, difficult to decipher, or not loud enough, then parents might miss baby's cries. If sound activation or thresholds for background noise don't work as described, then parents might lose sleep listening to a loud monitor. However, once alerted, you need a clear view of baby with enough details to determine baby's needs, day or night, or the video style monitor isn't much better than a sound only monitor.
This video baby monitor streams real-time footage to a 3.5" color display without connecting to the internet. The product’s battery will last around six hours if the display is always on but can last up to 10 on standby, and it’s range is up to 700 feet, though parents note it doesn’t reliably transmit a signal through numerous walls. In addition to providing high-quality video, the camera has an alarm function, two-way talk, a temperature monitor, and night vision. You can remotely adjust the camera’s angle or zoom with the controller, and if you want to use it as a regular baby monitor, you can turn off the video function.
It’s hard not to like the crystal-clear picture you get on this monitor’s 7-inch screen (the biggest screen on this list!). Its standalone camera can be moved from room to room and will remotely pan, tilt and zoom. Given the cost, this monitor is best if you want full control of the nursery environment. It syncs with the Smart Nursery humidifier and the Dream Machine sound and light machine. Once connected, you can turn on lullabies, project lights onto the ceiling and increase the room’s humidity all from your monitor.
Wi-fi baby monitors are the latest innovation in high-tech baby gear, and they’re super convenient. A baby monitor with wi-fi allows you to connect anywhere that has Internet service or Bluetooth capability, and the monitor can often be controlled remotely using a smartphone or computer. This functionality makes the wi-fi baby monitor great for travelling (unless you’re heading to a remote location). Safety tip: No matter what connection you use, be sure that it’s a secure connection in order to prevent your monitor from being hacked.
But, for many parents, a baby monitor is a part of daily life. If you need to visually confirm that your baby is safely asleep for the night in order to leave the room and relax, it can feel like a necessity. A baby monitor gives you a camera and/or microphone near the crib, and a separate rechargeable parent unit (aka, a monitor) that connects wirelessly and can travel with you throughout the house, either working while plugged in or running off its battery. Monitors are most commonly used for new babies, but even once your household is past the infant stage you may appreciate an easy way to check to make sure your kid is still asleep, still breathing, or still in the room at all. It’s nice to see your children in bed, dreaming happily, sleeping in adorable new positions, cuddling with animals, and generally doing okay. A baby monitor can make that happen.
For these reasons, the Evoz Vision tops our list as best travel baby monitor. The Wi-fi enabled monitor allows more than one person to check in on baby—a nice feature when you're traveling to visit family and friends. Just grant grandparents or sitters access to the app. Another great travel feature: It has an unlimited range. Plus, it uses cry detection algorithms to distinguish baby cries from other noises and will alert you via text or email when baby cries, based on your preference settings. Just make sure you'll have Wi-fi at your destination.
The Dropcam Echo is an example of a digital video camera system that uses your existing wireless network, allowing you to use your computer or other device as the receiver. (We haven't tested this type of monitor.) Parents go to the Dropcam website, sign in to their account, and then connect the Dropcam to their router using an Ethernet cable. (Once the connection is made, you don't need to use the cable again.) The Dropcam locates your wireless network, you enter your unit's serial number, and the unit begins streaming encrypted video that you can view on a computer, iPhone, iPad, or Android device. You mount the camera in your baby's room and plug it into an electrical outlet.
Baby monitors are just one way to keep track of your little one. For newborns, the Snoo Smart Sleeper is a bed that gently rocks your baby for better sleep, and connects to an app on your phone that lets you receive alerts when your little one needs attention. The Owlet Smart Sock 2, meanwhile, is a connected pulse oximeter that allows you to check on your baby's vitals any time through an app, and will notify you automatically if there's a problem. The Sproutling from Fisher Price is a motion and heart rate sensor that straps to the back of your baby's calf and collects data while he or she sleeps.
Child Safety: We care a lot about the safety and well-being of your babies, and our baby monitor reviews are no exception to that rule. Most of the safety issues with baby monitor systems revolve around the parent's due diligence: secure the wires out of reach and out of sight from your baby, make sure you put the camera out of reach (especially when you're mounting to the rail of a crib), and always keep them away from water and a running humidifier. In addition to these basic safety tips, the newer heart rate monitoring, breathing monitoring, and movement monitoring systems can add confidence to parents worried about their baby sleeping in a different room. A good example of a baby monitor with heart rate monitoring is the Owlet Smart Sock that can track heart rate and blood oxygenation levels, and stream that information to an app on your smart phone. Of course, don't be too confident because these devices are not hospital- or laboratory-grade monitoring systems, so keep that in mind.
The features we focused on were those we thought either increased the performance of the monitor or made it more user-friendly for parents and increased the odds of getting good quality sleep. We looked for monitors that have sound activation that keeps the parent unit quiet when the baby isn't crying, so parents can potentially fall asleep faster because they don't have to listen to white noise. Some of the monitors were so loud, even at low volumes, that the white noise might keep light sleeping parents awake; this defeats the purpose of having a video product to begin with. We also liked the models with screens that automatically "wake" and/or go to sleep.
To test each camera’s night vision, we used them in darkened bedrooms with blackout curtains, with and without nightlights. For a more extreme test, we set the cameras up in a windowless room in a basement with a towel blocking light from the door. We aimed all the cameras at a doll’s face approximately 6 feet across the room, looked at the monitors, and tried not to creep ourselves out.