From a pure imaging standpoint, night vision is vital for watching your baby sleep from another room, and is standard for most baby monitors. Motorized pan and tilt (which lets you swivel the camera from afar) isn't quite as common, but is very welcome if you have a toddler and want to scan an entire room. High-definition is a nice plus, but you don't need the highest-resolution sensor to keep tabs on your baby—most of the monitors we test use 720p cameras rather than 1080p.
Lullabies: Monitors often include a selection of soothing sounds to help your baby drift off to slumberland. These can be traditional nursery rhymes of the rock-a-bye-baby variety, nature sounds, white noise, or some combination of all of them. It’s a good idea to check them out before you play them to your sleeping child to determine whether they might help or hinder their sleep.
Both Kay and Baldwin chose the Infant Optics DXR-8 as their top choice in video baby monitors (it also has nearly 24,000 4.4-star reviews on Amazon). The DXR-8 uses secure 2.4 GHz FHSS wireless transmission (as opposed to Wi-Fi) to send crystal clear color video and audio to the receiver, has a solid battery life, allows for remote pan, zoom, and tilt capabilities, and comes with an interchangeable zoom lens (with a wide-angle lens sold separately). Other features include a two-way intercom, remote temperature display, and the option to set the monitor to audio-only.
Adjustable Camera Pan/Tilt/Zoom: One of the most annoying things that can happen when you're using a baby monitor is closing the door and then turning on the video monitor only to realize that your camera isn't aimed at the baby at all, and you can't see a thing. Most of the baby monitor systems would require you to go back into your baby's room and manually adjust the camera. Some of the systems we review below have remotely adjustable camera angles, so you can pan side-to-side, tilt the camera angle upward/downward, and zoom in or out, without having to go back into your baby's room. Super convenient, and a critical feature to stay at the top of our best baby monitor list. It's also nice to have a relatively wide-view camera, like the Summer Infant wide baby monitor, so that even if you don't have wireless camera panning and tilting, the odds of still seeing your baby are pretty high if you have a wide-angle camera.
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.
Last, a few features are simply not that useful, but they’re more like unnecessary clutter than legitimate flaws. The talk back feature can be difficult to understand on the baby end of the line (we found it works best—that is, intelligibly—if you speak about a foot away from the microphone, and avoid shouting). A “shortcut” button to control the monitor’s volume and brightness doesn’t really save you much time. There are other features on the menu—counting the little songs, a timer, and a zoom, you have a total of about seven. But honestly, after testing this monitor for some time and others for years longer, the only thing you really need to be able to do regularly is adjust the volume.
Most monitor systems have an electrical cord or nonrechargeable battery option for the unit in the baby's room. And receivers typically have an electrical cord or rechargeable batteries. Some models are notorious for burning through batteries at an alarming rate. Parents have complained that even monitors sold with rechargeable batteries built in can drain quickly. Our Baby Monitor Ratings , available to subscribers, include an evaluation of battery life. Subscribers can also check out our battery report and Ratings (for subscribers).
The dedicated monitors did not score as well as the Wi-Fi products for features. It isn't that they don't have features, it's just that they don't offer as many, don't have features that make the camera easier to use or the features they have don't work that well. All of the dedicated monitors have 2-way communication, but they all also can only be viewed on the parent device that comes with the monitor. Some offer temperature sensors and lullabies, but most of them don't provide motion detection or great zoom. The highest score for features for the traditional video products was 5 of 10. Two monitors managed to earn the 5 rating, with the Infant Optics DXR-8 being the highest ranked overall with a feature score of 5. However, this monitor did not score well overall, or in key metrics, we think are essential for a good video monitor. So despite having a high score for features, we still would not recommend this monitor to a friend.
The Infant Optics DXR-8 has a superior battery life to any of the other video monitors we tested, as well as a simpler monitor interface that’s more intuitive and easier to navigate than those found on competitors. The range, image quality, price, and many other features are comparable to the best competitors. Other good qualities include its basic but secure RF connection, and ability to pair multiple cameras, but those are features common to several other baby monitors. Every baby monitor has its share of negative feedback, but in more than 10,000 Amazon reviews, the complaints about the Infant Optics are relatively mild.
You can expect to pay between $30 and $200 for a dedicated video baby monitor, with most branded units costing around $100 on average. Units that allow you to remotely reposition the camera with pan-tilt-zoom functionality are more expensive than those with a fixed view. Wi-Fi video baby monitors don't generally cost extra, because the lack of a specific parent unit balances out the costs of adding Wi-Fi functionality.
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.
The Nest boasts some impressive hardware specs, such as true 1080p/30fps video and a 3-megapixel camera sensor. Setting up the Nest Cam specifically to look in on a 2-year-old at night, we found the video quality on Nest's camera to be sharper and more detailed than on any baby video monitor we tested. The Nest Cam includes push-to-talk features as well as alerts triggered by motion or sounds. And when your child is past the age when you need a nighttime monitor, you can repurpose the Nest Cam to check in on other parts of your home.
Interchangeable Camera Lenses: Some of the newest baby monitors have interchangeable lenses to best suit your baby's room. If you have the camera positioned close to the baby, like on the edge of the crib or on a nearby dresser, you might prefer the wide angle camera. If you have the camera positioned relatively far from the baby, like on a bookshelf on the other side of the room, you might prefer the regular narrow angle camera. Flexibility is nice, particularly if you end up rearranging the room or have to move things out of the reach of a growing menace.
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.