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.
Video, Audio, or Both: First-time parents are suckers for high-definition, night-vision baby monitors where they can pick up on exactly how their child’s chest is rising and falling. You will do this dozens of times a night. Past the Sudden Infant Death Syndrome-scare age, you may just want an audio baby monitor (which a lot of video ones double as), because you’ll know an “I’m hungry” cry from an “I lost my sock” whine.
Parents are spoiled for choice nowadays, thanks to the rise of the connected home and new technologies like live-streaming video and high-resolution cameras. No matter which type of baby monitor you buy — whether it be an old-school audio-only monitor or a fancy Wi-Fi video monitor — it will have two parts: a monitor in the baby's room and a receiver that you carry around with you to hear and/or view your baby.
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.
In terms of bang for your buck, it’s tough to beat the Babysense. For less than $100, it comes loaded with bells and whistles more commonly found on higher priced models. Not only does it boast a 2.4-inch HD LCD color screen with infrared night vision, pan/tilt, and 2x zoom, but it includes two-way talk back, a sound activated ‘Eco’ mode (the screen stays off) to save battery life, 900 foot range (with out-of-range warning), and an in-room temperature monitor that sends alerts if it gets too hot or cold. It uses 2.4 GHz FHSS wireless transmission for security and even comes with both a built-in alarm/nap timer and lullabies.
Both Baldwin and Kay recommend iBaby’s M6S Wi-Fi video monitor for its design and ease of use. Resembling a little robot, the iBaby offers 360-degree views and 110-degree tilt, 1080p video with night vision, and even comes equipped with lullabies. Other features include temperature, humidity, and air-quality sensors, which Baldwin admits are bells and whistles, but could be useful depending on what kind of parent you are. And, of course, everything comes straight through to your smartphone or tablet, which can also remotely control settings. And while some parents may be concerned about potential hacking of Wi-Fi monitors, Baldwin found that the risk is fairly low and usually occurred in cheap, off-brand models.
Traditional versus Wifi Baby Monitors: Starting around 2010, parents began to switch from using baby monitors with a yoked camera and screen, to using wifi cameras that can stream over smart phones, tablets, and personal computers. At the time, there weren't very many wifi cameras aimed towards the baby gear market, so people were going with familiar wifi camera brands like Nest and Samsung. Over the next few years, companies slowly began introducing baby-themed wifi cameras onto the market. While even high-quality HD wifi cameras can be found for under $50 (like this one) nowadays, companies began to realize they could package a wifi camera as a baby monitor, change the colors and themes of the app, and charge 3-4 times the price. And they continue to use this strategy to this day! So which is better? Well, this really comes down to one thing: do you want to be able to view the nursery while you're not at home? If you answer yes to this question, then you need to use a wifi monitor as opposed to a typical baby monitor. A wifi baby monitor (or any wifi camera) will connect to your internet (some are wired, some through wifi only) and stream live (well, slightly delated) video to an app on your phone. That will work in the house or out of the house, as long as you have a fast internet connection. So you can simply BYOP (bring your own phone) and leverage 20th century technology! That seems really appealing, and we highly recommend some of the newer ones (like the Cocoon Cam, Lollipop, and Nanit), but there are some things to keep in mind when figuring out the type of monitor to buy:
While some monitors keep you tethered to a certain range in your house, this camera is very easy to use, no matter where you are. Watch your baby on a phone, computer or tablet while you’re home or out on a date night. You can talk directly into the app to soothe your baby and get alerts if the motion sensor is triggered while baby’s down for a nap.
We wanted to recommend an inexpensive video monitor, but their flaws were so significant that we decided we’d rather spend less on a quality audio-only monitor like the VTech DM221. This is a well-reviewed best seller in the category, and it has crisp sound and better talk-back functionality than the best video monitors we found, as well as a longer range and better battery life than our video picks. It easily beats out its audio-only competitors for various basic reasons like being cordless, rechargeable, or less expensive.
It really depends on what you feel most comfortable with. There are audio monitors that allow you to listen to any noise coming from the nursery, vital monitors that track sleep and breathing and video monitors that add sight to sound. Babylist parents overwhelmingly choose video monitors. The security of seeing what your child is up to—like if they’ve gotten tangled in their swaddle, pulled their diaper off or climbed out of the crib—can be worth the extra cost of a video monitor.