Why spend money on a baby monitor, which serves a single specific purpose, when you could use an indoor home-security camera that you can repurpose once your kid leaves the nursery? We wondered the same thing, so along with with dedicated video baby monitors, we tested a Nest Indoor Cam, currently among our top-rated wireless home security cameras.
This year alone we have seen over 30 new baby monitors enter the market, most of which are low-quality products being mass produced in China. They are cheap and might even work well for a few weeks or months, but give them a little more time and they will start to have all sorts of issues. We've seen way too many melting chargers, malfunctioning screens, and units that are completely dead after a few months. Don't waste your money! Here's some of the factors we consider in our testing:
Every parent we spoke to agreed. A video monitor is the way to go. It’s the difference between getting up to check on your baby because you thought you heard a noise or glancing at a screen to see if you really need to get out of bed. Video monitors are useful well into the toddler years, too. That screen can help you decide whether you need to step in and comfort your child, or if you can wait out a tantrum.
By default, Arlo Baby records in 720p resolution, though you can switch to 1080p if you prefer. You can also adjust the field of view and fine-tune notifications on what triggers an alert. You do have to position the camera manually, however, and the gap between getting a notification on our phone and actually being able to jump to live video was a little laggy for our tastes.
As you'd expect, the talk-back functionality and audio quality on the VTech are great—easily better than the rudimentary talk-back features on our video monitor picks. With the battery lasting about 19 hours on a full charge, this monitor has the strongest battery life of any in our test. Rated to a range of 1,000 feet, it exceeds the range of our pick (700 feet) both as advertised and in practice during tests.
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 price of the Infant Optics, at about $150, is on the higher end for baby monitors. As much as we wanted to recommend a more affordable option, we found their shortcomings to be major enough—terrible video quality and poor connections were common—that we couldn’t recommend one. The Infant Optics offers a better value even though it’s among the more expensive options out there. Many people use these daily for years, which helps justify the investment, and the reports of reliable customer service from other customers are reassuring. If you have to spend less, go audio-only.
When shopping for a video monitor, note that you'll pay a substantial premium over audio-only monitors, which cost around $30 to $50. You'll need to decide if the extra money for video viewing is worth it, though parents may appreciate the ability to glance at a smartphone app or handheld monitor to visually check in on their sleeping child instead of opening a door and potentially waking up their baby.
The audio quality is excellent, thanks to VTech's use of DECT 6.0, so you shouldn't hear any interference, static, or echoing when you listen in on your baby. Since the monitor uses a special frequency to relay the signal from the monitor in your baby's room to the parental unit, everything is encrypted and secure. No one but you will hear your baby.
Sound activation is a feature we think parents should consider. This feature creates a quiet monitor unless the baby is actively making noise and translates to parents potentially getting more sleep because they aren't kept awake by ambient noises. Having sound activation means you only hear what you want to. This feature can be found in dedicated and Wi-Fi monitors.
To use it, just place the sock on your baby’s foot to keep track of your little one’s heart rate and oxygen levels. All night long, the sock will send that health data to an app on your phone, which means you can check on your baby without ever getting out of bed. Moms love the easy-to-use app and rave about finally being able to get a peaceful night’s sleep. If, for some reason, the sock comes undone or your baby’s heart rate and oxygen levels go outside the normal range, you’ll get an alert. You can stay asleep until you absolutely need to be awake—and those valuable minutes count!
But, for many parents, a baby monitor is a part of daily life. 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. It's nice to see your children in bed, dreaming happily, sleeping in adorable new positions, cuddling with animals, and generally doing okay.
Baby's exposure could potentially be even lower if parents place the camera on a wall at least 15 feet from baby (a distance still good for night vision to work properly with most monitors). Given the sensitivity of baby's developing systems we recommend placing the monitor as far away from the baby as possible while still being able to utilize the night vision as intended and see baby's face to determine if they are awake or sleeping at a glance. For most of the products, this distance is between 10-15 feet from the baby.
Movement products are designed to sense the movement associated with a baby breathing. These products attempt to discern when your little one has not moved within a prescribed period that could indicate that they have potentially stopped breathing. While this may seem like a no-brainer option for parents worried about Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), they are not foolproof, have not been approved by the FDA as a medical device, and are known to have false alarms where the baby is fine but then suddenly awakened by a loud alarm. While it is an interesting kind of product, we caution parents that this type of device is not a substitute for safe sleeping practices and doesn't prevent SIDS. However, if you are willing to accept false alarms, it can provide another layer of monitoring to help some parents sleep better at night. Movement sensing products are only useful until babies start to roll over, at which point they become unreliable.
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.
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.
We were also disappointed that the Angelcare’s parent unit lacks an out-of-range warning. If you’re in the backyard or basement and the monitor disconnects, it’s not clear whether you’re looking at a napping baby or a frozen screen. Still, it beat out the Baby Delight for sound and video quality and offers a few customizable features: You can adjust the volume on the baby unit as well as the parent unit, and set up timed alarms and temperature alerts.
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.
There are a few things you can demand from a decent HD video baby monitor, like a crystal clear image and good night vision capabilities. And there are things you can expect of a good Wi-Fi-enabled monitor, like easy remote access from a smart device with real-time streaming audio and video. Then there are things you might hope for from a baby monitor, like two-way talk and solid battery life.
Reliability. This is a tough one, as it requires long-term knowledge of system reliability, through thick and thin. There are many baby monitors on the market that start out excellent but tend to glitch out or completely fail within the first several months of ownership. This is especially the case for many unrecognized brand names that are saturating the market. If you're buying this as a baby registry gift the last thing you want to do is make the new parents think you cheaped out on a junky baby monitor! All of the best video monitors that make it onto our list have withstood the test of time, lasting at least 6 months, and in some cases several years at this point (like the Infant Optics option!). Another point about reliability that's worth mentioning is that most modern wifi baby monitors will keep a local connection to your app even when the internet is down. So as long as you're still in your house, you can continue streaming video even when the internet is down.
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