Some audio/video monitors filter out "normal" sounds and motions. The receiver is supposed to turn on only when your baby makes an unusual motion or sound, such as crying or rolling over when he's waking up from a nap. This feature is designed to extend battery life, although the receiver should be docked for overnight monitoring to keep the battery charged. We haven't tested any models with this feature, so we don't know how well it works.
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.
Among the negative reviews, the most consistent complaint has to do with connectivity issues—either difficulty linking up initially or randomly dropping the connection while in use. These represent a slim minority among mostly positive reviews, and we did not have similar issues during our test. One consequence of losing the connection (whether it’s by a dropped link or via manually unplugging the camera) is that disconnecting causes the parent unit to emit a sharp, loud, repetitive beep. It is annoying—especially so if it happens in the middle of the night—but you should rarely hear it under normal circumstances.
Alex Colon is the managing editor of PCMag's consumer electronics team. He previously covered mobile technology for PCMag and Gigaom. Though he does the majority of his reading and writing on various digital displays, Alex still loves to sit down with a good, old-fashioned, paper and ink book in his free time. (Not that there's anything wrong wit... See Full Bio
Rechargeable batteries: Since the camera will most likely stay trained on your bundle of joy, it can remain plugged into AC power. But parent unit displays are designed to be always on and carried with you as you move from room to room. That can drain batteries quickly. Look for a parent unit that runs on rechargeable batteries, so you’re not constantly swapping them out.
A standard video baby monitor is the first step up from audio-only baby monitors. They all come with two parts: the parent unit, consisting of a portable display screen, and the baby unit, which includes the camera and its stand. If you just want the basics or have an unreliable internet connect, a standard video monitor will help you watch over your baby without the price tag of more feature-heavy WiFi monitors.
Security is a mixed bag, especially as baby monitors get more high tech. If tech giants like Apple and Google run into security flaws, high-tech baby monitors are sure to experience similar problems. However, some less high-tech baby monitors aren't secure, either, and many suffer from signal interference. We've checked each company's security policy to find the most secure options for you.
Our favorite standard video monitor, HelloBaby, masters the basic features. It’s the easiest to set up and its video and sound quality competes with monitors twice the price. Its screen is smaller than most, but its simple interface gives you immediate access to the most important functions: talk-back, zoom, and pan; while menu button opens up customizable settings for temperature, sound, lullabies, and timers.
You might prefer one that has lights as well as sound. All the audio monitors we rated had this feature. The Philips Avent DECT SCD510, which sells for about $120, has a series of small LED lights on the parent monitor. The louder the sound in your baby's room, the more lights go on, so you'll notice his crying even with the unit set on mute. Audio monitors are generally less expensive than audio/video models.
Relatively new to the market, this Philips Avent baby monitor has some really great features. Philips Avent has a long history of making high-quality baby gear and home products, including their great (non-video) DECT monitor, and this one is no exception. When we unpacked this baby monitor, it took us about 20 seconds to set up. We put the screen unit in the dining room and the camera in the nursery. Plug both of them in and you're off to the races. The digital color screen looks very good, with a high resolution 720p, and pretty good night vision. If you can't see closely enough, you can remotely zoom in by about 2x; but note that if it's not lined up perfectly this won't be so helpful since you can't remotely pan or tilt the camera to get your baby into view. Some additional features include private, secure connection, and very clear sound so you can hear your baby's every little peep. One of our favorite features was the ECO mode, which saves power in the screen unit by shutting off the screen and sound. Only when it detects a sound from your baby will it turn on to notify you. This is a great feature when you're using the hand-held screen unit with battery only, unplugged from the charger. Though we'd probably never need it, you can also remotely turn on some soothing lullabies (twinkle-twinkle, rock-a-bye baby, etc). Limitations? Well, the Philips Avent doesn't let you add multiple cameras, and the video quality isn't quite on par with some of our better-ranked units. It's high resolution digital color video, but if the signal and screen quality aren't so great (in terms of contrast, brightness, signal strength, etc) then it won't look very nice. Overall, however, a highly recommended video monitor that deserves its place on this best baby monitor list, from a company with a good track record of making safe and reliable baby products.
Project Nursery offers a variety of monitor options that include fantastic features like remote camera control, two-way communication, motion, sound and temperature alerts and the ability to play white noise or lullabies. But what we like best about this one is that it comes with a traditional 5-inch screen monitor and a 1.5-inch mini video monitor that you can wear like a bracelet. Both monitors have a long battery life, too.