Parents who want to both hear and 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. $170) 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 reviewers say is mostly reliable, but there may be interference if the monitor is too close to Wi-Fi-enabled phones or other similar devices. Tests by BabyGearLab.com reveal solid but not exceptional audio and video quality. However, parents have few complaints in this regard, with many particularly praising the clear night vision. 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 was also in the middle of the pack in BabyGearLab.com's range tests, providing a clear signal through 4 walls and 65 feet indoors and about 600 feet outdoors.
Ease of use is where the DXR-8 really shines. Setup is easy – BabyGearLab.com calls it "a plug and play option" and praises how the camera and parent unit sync up automatically. There are also 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. $12) 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.
Buyers with a little more to spend on a baby monitor will find a worthy step up in the Samsung SEW-3043W BrightVIEW (Est. $199). Reviewers say the 720p resolution provides images that are clearer and crisper than many video baby monitors provide, and the parent unit's 5-inch screen means little squinting is required. Most say sound is also good, and they appreciate the adjustable-sensitivity voice-activated mode that only wakes up the parent unit when baby stirs, not because of white noise or other ambient noises. One sound-related feature that some reviewers miss is sound-activated LEDs like the ones on the Infant Optics DXR-8. Range is up to 900 feet outdoors, and most parents say the 2.4 GHz connection is reliable even in larger homes.
Parents say setting up the BrightVIEW is easy. Fortunately, unlike some high-end monitors packed with features, navigating the menu is also simple, according to CNET. But reviewers there also warn that the touchscreen interface requires firm pressing, which may frustrate users who are accustomed to scrolling and swiping on more-responsive smartphones. Battery life is ho-hum according to many parents who warn that the parent unit won't make it through the night unless it's plugged in. Users can opt for an audio-only mode that keeps the screen off in order to conserve battery, but some say that still won't mean enough power for a whole night. On the bright side, the battery can be replaced when it will no longer hold a charge – no need to buy a whole new monitor.
Big families will be happy to note that up to four cameras can be connected to the BrightVIEW parent unit, and unlike the Infant Optics DXR-8, there is a split screen that allows monitoring of more than one child at once. The monitor also features most of the bells and whistles you would expect on a pricier monitor: remote pan, tilt and zoom; two-way audio; four lullabies; a feeding timer; and a nightlight. There is no temperature sensor for baby's room, however. A kick stand and a belt clip on the parent unit make it easy to view and tote around.
If you're on a tight budget but just can't fathom not being able to see your baby snooze, the Summer Infant In View (Est. $90) offers solid performance at a lower price than our top audio-only monitor, the Philips Avent SCD570/10. Like the much pricier Samsung BrightVIEW, the Summer Infant has a large 5-inch monitor, but image clarity on this unit does not get the raves that the Samsung does. Reviewers are more positive about sound quality, but note that there is no voice-activation mode that accounts for white noise or other ambient sounds. There are sound-activated LEDs on the parent unit to visually alert parents to noise. Range is up to 600 feet outdoors, and that also gets mixed reviews – some parents are happy, others say they go out of range even in smaller houses.
Likely because it is more streamlined, the In View gets good reviews for ease of use. Parents say setup is easy and that the buttons and menu are simple to understand and use, even in the middle of the night. But like the Samsung BrightVIEW, the In View also suffers from reports that the monitor simply won't make it through an entire night without being plugged into the wall, even if it's left in audio-only mode. A few reviewers also point out that there's no audible alert before the battery dies, which they miss having.
At this price, you won't get a lot of extras on the In View. There is a kick stand and belt clip on the parent unit for portability, but the nursery unit lacks a nightlight, temperature sensor, feeding timer or lullabies that can be found on more expensive monitors. There is also no remote pan or tilt, though there is digital zoom. The biggest omission might be two-way audio – there is no option to coo at the baby or tell an unruly toddler to go back to sleep. Upgrading to the Summer Infant Wide View 2.0 (Est. $105) will add two-way audio, a wide-angle lens and a nightlight. The In View will support up to four cameras, nice for families with multiple kids. There is no split-screen viewing option like there is on the Samsung BrightVIEW, however; the system will scan between cameras on eight-second intervals instead.
If you'd rather have a smartphone-compatible monitor, reviewers say the Nest Cam (Est. $170) 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 and night vision in particular receive raves, though audio could be better: BabyGearLab.com notes that it was sometimes grainy, with adjustable sound sensitivity that isn't all that sensitive. As with any live streaming camera, reviewers say there is sometimes a lag of a second or two with audio or video; a speedier Wi-Fi router may help minimize this issue.
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, and experts with "Baby Bargains" say it 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 pivoting stand and a magnetic base. There aren't any baby-specific features such as lullabies or nightlights and, unlike the Infant Optics DXR-8 and Samsung BrightVIEW, there is no remote tilt or pan. There is a zoom feature, however. The audio is two-way, so parents can talk to baby instead of just listen. Parents can also purchase multiple cameras if they want to monitor more than one child. Nest offers an optional cloud-based recording service, Nest Aware, that lets parents save up to 10 days of video for $10 a month or 30 days for $30 a month.