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.
In addition to the standard parent and baby unit, these monitors include a device that tracks your baby’s movements, breathing, or heart rate, and offer time-sensitive alarms that alert you if your baby hasn’t moved in the last 20–30 seconds. While they aren’t proven to reduce SIDS, many new parents told us these monitors gave them added peace of mind.
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.
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The HelloBaby might be a standard monitor, but it excels at the basics. It scored better than some of the more expensive WiFi monitors in picture clarity, and was hands-down the easiest to use. Just open the box, plug in the two devices, and you’re ready to go. No difficult packaging to tear through, and no account setup or device pairing necessary. Our testers had it up in running in less than 3 minutes each time.
The Nest Cam lets you view live video in 1080-pixel high definition, and it has many of the same features as a standard video baby monitor. For instance, it can alert you in the event of movement, and there’s a two-way talk function built in. Nest Cams also have impressive night vision, allowing you to check in on your little ones as they sleep. Because this camera uses WiFi to send you video, there’s no range limit on it — as long as both the phone and camera are connected to the internet, you’ll be able to see what’s going on.
Before buying or registering for a baby monitor (or any wireless product), be sure you can return or exchange it in case you can't get rid of interference or other problems. If you receive a monitor as a baby-shower gift and know where it was purchased, try it before the retailer's return period ends. Return policies are often explained on store receipts, on signs near registers, or on the merchant's website. But if the return clock has run out, don't feel defeated. Persistence and politeness will often get you an exception to the policy. Keep the receipt and the original packaging.
Baby monitors are available in three primary forms: audio, video and movement. If your main concern is hearing when your baby wakes up, then an audio-only monitor will do the trick. These baby monitors tend to be smaller, and less expensive. With a video baby monitor, there are a wide variety of options available, including different screen sizes, cameras that tilt, pan and zoom, and night vision. This type of monitor tends to provide extra levels of security, allowing you to tell if your baby is lying down or standing up, to track sleep patterns, and to evaluate whether intervention is required, or whether your child seems likely to self-soothe and fall back asleep. Plus, if you get a video camera that connects to your Wi-Fi, you can use the camera as a nanny cam, and check the baby video even when you're away from home. Movement-based baby monitors are designed to track your baby's heart rate, movement, respiration, skin temperature and sleep quality.
This monitor offers lots of convenient features. Don’t have the best view of your baby? Use the monitor to remotely pan, tilt or zoom the camera without having to go back into the nursery. Fussy baby? Press a button to play lullabies. Need the camera to move from your bedroom to the nursery? No problem: this freestanding monitor can be set on top of a dresser or grip onto shelves and brackets. You can also unplug it and use it in another room for up to three hours on a single charge. And there’s a room temperature display. But the most impressive feature is its 1,000-foot range—the highest of all cameras on this list. That means you can hear your little one’s every chirp even if you’re hanging out in your backyard.