Parents who want to not only hear but also see their baby will naturally opt for a video monitor. Video monitors are particularly great for older babies learning to stand in their cribs or toddlers transitioning to a bed who'd much rather play than sleep. They're also a good pick for parents who need to keep tabs on more than one child, as many video monitors will allow the parent unit to toggle between multiple cameras.
Parents say the Infant Optics DXR-8 (Est. $180) offers an ideal blend of value and features for parents who want a quality video monitor without overspending. It has a 2.4GHz connection that parents say is mostly reliable, but there may be interference if the monitor is too close to Wi-Fi-enabled phones or other similar devices. Juliet Spurrier of BabyGearLab.com says video quality is excellent, with solid color and detail and admirable night vision. She is less enthusiastic about sound quality, which she says is "a little muffled," but most parents say sound is clear and they have no problems hearing their child. A voice activation feature helps filter out white noise, and sound-sensitive LEDs indicate noise level in the nursery even if the volume is down on the parent unit. The DXR-8 claims a 700-foot range, but Spurrier warns that it fell far short of that in testing. Still, indoor range is among the best tested, she notes.
Reviewers say setting up the DXR-8 is easy -- "practically plug and play," one says. An included quick start guide is enough to prevent parents from having to delve into the more detailed manual, Spurrier says. The unit has large buttons and an easy-to-navigate menu that minimize middle-of-the-night fumbling, including shortcut keys for volume and brightness. Battery life earns positive feedback as well; many reviewers say the monitor can last all night on standby mode without being plugged in. Indicators include battery level, signal strength and temperature.
A standout feature of the DXR-8 is interchangeable lenses. There is a normal lens for standard viewing and an optical zoom lens, both of which are included; a 170-degree lens, the Infant Optics Wide Angle Lens (Est. $15) is sold separately. The zoom lens earns particular praise because it maintains a high resolution while zooming; the digital zoom on most other monitors can be blurry at best. The DXR-8 also has a temperature sensor, remote pan and tilt, and two-way audio that allows parents to talk to baby. Up to four cameras can be connected to the parent unit, allowing parents to monitor more than one child, but there is no split screen feature that allows viewing of all feeds at once. Parents should be careful to place the camera far enough from the crib so that the wire doesn't pose a strangulation risk.
Infant Optics makes another top video monitor at nearly half the price of the DXR-8, the Infant Optics DXR-5 (Est. $100). Reviewers say the DXR-5 shines where it matters -- clear video and sound -- without a lot of costly extra features. The monitor uses 2.4GHz wireless transmission, a frequency commonly used by household Wi-Fi and other electronic devices. Because of this, several parents complain of interference. On the plus side, reviewers say the monitor provides clear video, even at night. Sound quality is also good, they say. The monitor has voice activation, which mutes the monitor and saves battery power until it detects noise. Most reviewers say this feature works well, though a few say it's not sensitive enough.
The DXR-5 is easy to set up, parents say -- just plug in both units and turn them on. The monitor uses a rechargeable lithium battery, and Infant Optics recommends charging it for at least three hours before use. But several reviewers say battery life is poor, lasting only a few hours before dying. There is a low-battery indicator. LEDs also indicate charge, signal and power. Experts say quality control can be an issue with the DXR-5, with several parents reporting faulty units. Though some reviewers say the monitor's build seems cheap, others say it's surprisingly durable.
Though not loaded with the features that pricier video monitors have, the DXR-5 still gives you a lot for your money, reviewers say. They praise the clear night vision, and they like the ability to use up to four cameras -- great for big families. Portability is another plus: Both the monitor and camera are lightweight, with included stands. The camera comes with mounting hardware, and the monitor has a belt clip. The camera is wired, and parents should be careful to place the cord out of baby's reach to reduce strangulation hazards.
Parents who want a few more bells and whistles will want to look at the feature-rich Motorola MBP36S Digital Video Baby Monitor (Est. $180), praised for its clear sound and image, and its quiet pan, tilt and zoom. The 2.4GHz connection remains mostly interference-free, and experts say image quality is top-notch, even at night. Sound quality also shines and is comparable to top-rated sound monitors, they say. Parents are happy with the 590-foot range, and the monitor bested several competitors in independent testing. Five sound-sensitive LED lights change from green to red based on noise from the nursery. Travis Hudson of TheNightlight.com says the LEDs are "both clear and soothing" instead of being overly bright. There is no voice-activation feature to filter out white noise, which is disappointing at such a high price, experts note.
Most reviewers say setting up the MBP36S is a cinch. However, some parents complain that the menu could be easier to navigate, especially at night. For instance, volume and zoom are buried in an internal menu and require several maneuvers to control. Motorola says it takes 16 hours to fully charge the monitor's battery. Like most video monitors, it gets poor marks for battery life from reviewers. Several reviewers also complain about durability, reporting particular problems with malfunctioning power ports. Motorola has upgraded the monitor's buttons so that the labels don't rub off, a common complaint with the previous model. Indicators include battery level, temperature and signal strength.
There's not a lot the MBP36S doesn't do, reviewers say. Parents can silently and remotely pan, tilt and zoom -- functions experts say can come in handy to keep an eye on active kids once they're out of the crib. An intercom allows parents to talk to their baby, and other features include lullabies and a temperature sensor. The parent unit can scan between up to four cameras, handy for families with several small children or rooms to monitor. Motorola also recently added the ability to see all cameras on one split screen. The camera is wired, and parents should be careful to place the cord out of baby's reach to reduce strangulation hazards.
If you'd rather have a smartphone-compatible monitor, reviewers say the Nest Cam is a top choice. Instead of having a dedicated parent unit, you can view the video anywhere you take your phone, tablet or computer as long as you can access high-speed Internet. Apps are available for iOS and Android. Picture quality receives raves: CNET.com's Megan Wollerton says the 1080p video means "regular and night vision modes were top notch." Most reviewers say audio is also clear. As with any live streaming camera, reviewers say there is sometimes a lag of a few seconds with audio or video. To avoid long lags or dropped connections, Spurrier of Baby Gear Lab warns users that Nest Cam requires high-speed Wi-Fi both in your house and and a strong signal whereever you plan to view video.
One of the biggest downfalls of smartphone-compatible monitors is how complicated it can be to get started. That's not the case with Nest Cam (Est. $200), which experts say delivers on its promise of a 60-second setup. Using the Nest Cam app is also simple: A streamlined interface lets you easily access the live camera feed and an activity log. Parents can enable motion and sound alerts that will tip them off when the baby stirs, but there is an important limitation: Nest Cam will only send notifications once in a given 30-minute period, which means users have to keep the app open for real-time monitoring. The camera must be plugged in to operate, and battery life for parents will depend on the device they're using to view the feed.
Nest Cam comes with a slim, pivoting stand and a magnetic base. There aren't any baby-specific features such as lullabies or night-lights and, unlike the Infant Optics DXR-8 and Motorola MBP36S, there is no remote tilt or pan. There is a zoom feature. Spurrier notes that the Nest Cam's wide-angle view reduces the need for remote tilt or pan; parents will be able to see almost all of the room if they place Nest Cam in the corner. The audio is two-way, so parents can talk to baby instead of just listen. Parents can purchase multiple cameras if they want to monitor more than one child. Nest also offers an optional cloud-based recording service that lets parents save up to 10 days of video for $10 a month or 30 days for $30 a month.