Warning! - Watching is Addicting
While the ability to check on baby visually (without disrupting a sleeping infant) is the main reason parents opt for a video monitor verses sound monitor, it also happens to be highly addictive for new parents who won't be able to stop looking at the little person they created. Sure peace of mind during naps and the long night time hours is a huge asset, and can often prevent the need for parents to get out of bed, but just being able to spy on a little one cooing and breathing can be habit forming. You might just find yourself watching baby so often you get little else accomplished in the day or even sleep at night. Don't say we didn't warn you.
A Visual Monitor Can Mean More Sleep for Everyone
You might be asking yourself why should I get a video monitor? Probably one of the hardest parts of being a new parent is the inevitable sleep deprivation that comes with it. In addition to the paranoia of possible night time dangers and wondering if baby's room is the right temperature, there is the wake up in the middle of the night, not sure if you heard the baby cry out or not moments you can't shake without getting up to check on your baby in person. Between feeding and diaper changes, worried midnight visual checks of a moving rib cage to indicate breathing, is not an uncommon event for parents of newborns. Rest assured you are not alone in your fears, or your lack of slumber. When it comes to bringing home a new little person, one of the few things most parents actually agree on is the terminal lack of sleep they endure over time.
A video transmitting monitor can help alleviate some fears by giving parents the opportunity to "lay eyes" on their baby without actually getting out of bed and losing valuable sleep time. Often the noises that baby makes in the middle of the night don't indicate any kind of problem or necessitate an in-person visit by an adult. Having a handy visual monitor by your bed can allow you to make an informed decision on whether or not baby really needs assistance, or if she can self-soothe and go back to sleep without you.
While an audio only monitor can alert you to noise in baby's room, you may not be able to quickly assess whether baby really needs you. However, with a live video feed you can make a better decision about whether to get up and go help baby, or roll over and go back to bed. Without video, you need to get up immediately and check in-person to avoid baby becoming more agitated, or you can sit and listen for further crying and risk that baby will be distraught before you get there. If you get up and go to baby, there is a greater chance you both will lose valuable sleep that possibly wasn't necessary. Having a monitor that provides instant visual contact might be worth all the money in the world if it means you both get a few more minutes or hours of shut eye. Luckily, monitor prices have come down and the quality has gone up, making it more affordable than ever to invest in a monitor that can last even through toddler time, and potentially act as a nanny cam later in life.
Types of Video Monitors
There are essentially 3 different kinds of video monitoring products on the market, and only two of them are easy options for baby watching.
Dedicated Video Baby Monitors — this kind of monitor is by far the most common option. It works in a similar fashion as a walkie talkie with the camera base unit placed in baby's room and the parent unit used mobile or placed in the parent's bedroom. The parent unit allows parents to watch and/or listen to baby while they are apart. These versions are all slightly different in the features they offer, but the basic principle is the same; camera watches baby and parents can see baby on parent unit to determine level of need. The many versions of this type of monitor usually offer the addition of multiple cameras, sound activation, 2 way talking, zoom in and camera pan and tilt from the parent unit capabilities. The parent unit can only be used with its corresponding camera and it cannot be used for any other kind of activity. This is why it is considered a "dedicated" monitor.
Wi-Fi Video Monitors — this type of monitor requires that parents have internet capabilities and some kind of compatible device for use as the parent unit, such as an Apple or Android device, or a computer. These monitors come with a camera that utilizes an app or internet website where parents login and create an account for setup. This is a more complex option for monitors and has a higher chance of failure given the different variables that could stop working. With reliance on an internet connection, possible Wi-Fi use, and a separate device for monitoring, there is an increased chance of technical difficulties or errors not present with the dedicated monitors. However, this type of monitor uniquely allows for parents to observe little ones from anywhere with an internet connection. While not the main reason parents decide to purchase a visual monitor for baby, being able to check in on little ones from work can be very appealing for parents who miss baby while at work. In addition, some models offer the ability to invite friends and family to take a peek too. This can be very rewarding and exciting for long distance grandparents to feel close or involved. Given the increase in availability, improved technology, and cheaper pricing of this type of monitor we included three in our review. In addition, the connection range of Wi-Fi monitors is far greater than that of dedicated options. Depending on your home size, Wi-Fi monitors might be your only option for monitoring baby.
Wired Monitors- this kind of monitor is really more akin to a surveillance system than a true "baby monitor" product. It requires hardwiring the camera and a video monitor device in your house, might necessitate professional installation, and is often cost prohibitive, not to mention over kill for the needs of most parents. While it will certainly do the job of allowing you to take a peek at baby, it really is more than you need for checking in on baby's well-being. This kind of system is more often used in places of business where security is a concern and surveillance a priority to discourage illegal activities. While we did not review any monitor of this type, we think it is important to mention because it is the only kind of camera monitoring device that lacks "dirty electricity" concerns.
Range in Video Monitors is Worse than Sound Only Monitors
How far away can I be from the camera and how many walls can be between the units for clear reception? This is arguably one of the biggest problems with monitors of any kind but even more so with video variety. Range problems, or lack of useful range, are some of the biggest complaints about the monitors, and it is what drives most of the overall dissatisfaction for parents when it comes to the monitors they have purchased. If a monitor doesn't work in your home, then it is a useless item that doesn't even make a good door stop.
The problem usually begins with the range listed on the side of the box or manufacturer website. These ranges sound pretty good and make potential buyers feel warm and fuzzy only to buy the monitor and be disappointed. In very fine print, that most parents don't read, the information will go on to say that the actual range varies depending on walls, other electronics present in your home, and what materials are used in your house. So a monitor that claimed 500 ft on the box might really be more like 65 feet and 2 walls. This might work on smaller homes, but it isn't likely to work in larger homes or through floor/ceiling transitions. One of the lowest scoring monitors in our range test was the Project Nursery 4.3 which did okay in the open field range test, but lost significant points for only working up to 54 feet indoors with just 3 walls between camera and parent unit. We suspect most parents will not be leaving their baby in an open field, so that range is sort of useless to the typical consumer.
On the up side, most of the video options use digital technologies that experience far less interference from other devices. The digital technology helps the monitors eliminate static interference that is a problem with cheaper sound monitors. In addition, for the Wi-Fi options, parents don't need to worry about range from baby unit to parent unit; as long as the Wi-Fi signal is strong, the monitor should work, with just a minor concern over how far away from the wireless router the units are placed. If need be, parents can add a signal boost or extender to increase the router range.
Therefore, it is important to do a little research in your home by measuring how far away the baby's room is from where the parent unit will be located, then factor in how many walls the signal needs to travel through. This will give a place to start when looking at ranges advertised by the manufacturers. We tested the monitors in our review for range in open spaces, as well as in home distances and how many walls. This is a better picture than that offered by the makers, but it is only an estimate because it can still vary depending on what your house and what is in it. Your specific range will vary based on your home's construction, but at least with our guide you should be able to avoid the monitors that have no hope of working. One of the top scorers for range in our tests is the Philips Avent SCD630, which worked over 92 feet with 5 walls between the camera and parent unit. If you need more than 5 walls, or less than 5 but more than 92 feet, then a Wi-Fi monitor might be a better option.
We strongly suggest that you purchase items through a retailer with a good return policy to avoid frustration and disappointment in a product you find doesn't work in your home. If you have a lot of difficulty finding a monitor with the range you need, you might consider switching to audio only, or using a Wi-Fi option. However, keep in mind that Wi-Fi options potentially have an increased possibility of failure, though we had great success with the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi and the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi. However, if your internet is spotty overall, or your upload speed isn't fast enough, it could necessitate an audio monitor as backup.
Surprisingly, Sound is Still Key
Despite the fact that what you really want to do is gaze upon the beauty of a little person you love, and so therefore you are only thinking about video quality, display size, and night vision, the sound clarity of a video product is still an important key factor. After all, when you are fast asleep, enjoying the limited time you get to sleep with a new infant, it is not the movement on a screen that wakes you, but the sound of baby crying through the monitor that alerts you and disturbs your slumber. Given this belief, we looked at each monitor for sound related features. Does the volume adjust high enough to hear when sleeping? Does it offer a voice activation feature so you don't have to listen to the white noise of the baby's room as you try to fall asleep?
While we aren't looking for home theater quality sound from these products, we are looking for sound reception that is clear, easy to interpret, and accurately reflects what is happening in the room. Sound activation is just a bonus (one we think is key) that helps decrease the amount of ambient noise parents must endure to get and fall asleep while still monitoring baby. If sound activation isn't a feature, we also looked at whether or not the volume could be adjusted low enough to avoid hearing house noises, but still loud enough for a crying baby to wake a dead tired parent at 2 am. Luckily, most of the models offer voice activation and most were definitely loud and clear enough to wake the dead, or at least the zombie like state most parents fall into at some point during babyhood. While video monitors are not necessarily on par with the audio only products, they are certainly adequate enough to do the job.
In our tests, most of the monitors struggled in the sound department with poor somewhat muffled sound, bright sounds that lack mid-range or low tones, and/or an inability to reduce or filter out background or white noise even on the lowest setting. The background white noise of some of the parent units could be enough to prevent restful sleep for parents. The Project Nursery 4.3 has the lowest maximum decibel levels of any of the monitors in the review, which helped it earn the lowest score for the working monitors. Only two monitors scored over a 6 for sound in our tests, and both were dedicated monitors. The two top monitors for sound were the Philips Avent SCD630 and the Levana Lila, with scores of 8 and 6 respectively; probably not incidentally, these two monitors also won awards. All of the Wi-Fi monitors earned 4s for this metric.
You want to see those chubby cheeks and fluttery eyelashes on your little miracle, or you wouldn't be looking at this kind of product to being with. Most of the parent units had similar display sizes and those that were larger didn't necessarily offer a better or clearer image. With the exception of the Wi-Fi models, where display is contingent upon what device you use as a parent unit, the other monitors we looked at were roughly similar in size (somewhere between 2.4-4.3 inches, with the majority coming in at 3.5 inches). What we discovered is that being able to see baby clearly outweighs how big the display is on the parent unit. Sure, it would be great to see each individual breath on a bigger display, but seeing a grainy image on a bigger display is disappointing compared to a clear image on a smaller display. In an ideal world you would get a clear image on a display that is big enough to see detail, but still small enough to transport easily from room to room if necessary.
So while bigger might be better for some devices, it isn't always the best. We think it is more important to have a display that shows your baby and the room as it truly is, than a large image that renders an unclear visual. If you can't see baby well enough, then there is no point in having a video monitor. If the idea is that the video gives parents the opportunity to assess baby's needs without leaving their warm bed, then a display parents can't really see well just doesn't fit the bill, no matter what its size.
The Infant Optics DXR-8 earned the highest score for video quality for the dedicated monitors with a 6 of 10. It has nice images and the color is true, but it is a little fuzzy and the details of baby's face aren't very clear. The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi earned a 10 for video images that are virtually identical to what you'd see if you were standing in the room. The iBaby M6S Wi-Fi earned a 9 and offers video so clear it is like watching a high definition movie as opposed to strange ghostly visions offered by some of the competition.
Night Vision is More Important Than Daytime
Undoubtedly, you will be using your monitor during the daytime while little ones are napping, but your primary viewing time will probably be at night. This makes the night vision, and display options offered during the wee hours, more important than the quality of image the camera can offer during daylight. All of the monitors we tested included infrared LEDs that provide a black and white view of the baby even when the room is very dark. While a black and white view is not as great as color, it is the only viewing option available for night time peeping.
In order for infrared to work, the camera must be in close proximity to baby so the LEDs can work their magic. Too far away and you won't be able to see baby, too close and the camera or its cord could pose a potential health risk. Some of the cameras boasted a range up to 20 ft or more, but most worked best at closer to 10-15 ft. Luckily, it would appear as though most of the monitors we reviewed work well enough to position the camera just about anywhere in a standard size room. However, keep in mind if you live in a very large house with giant bedrooms that you might need to be more flexible on where you place the camera to ensure proper night vision capabilities while maintaining a safe distance from baby.
The clarity of image for the night viewing portion will be naturally downgraded somewhat from the visual of daytime viewing. However, this doesn't mean you can't find a monitor and camera combo that doesn't offer a clear picture. Many of those we tried were so clear at night we could see finer details of baby and the nursery than were necessary for proper monitoring. In general, we were not disappointed with the night vision of most of the models we tested. The poorer quality video images included cameras that only lit up a small portion of the viewing screen with a spotlight effect, which left large portions of the room black, and fuzzy images that lacked enough detail to see if baby's eyes were open or closed. All of the Wi-Fi monitors offered the best night vision images, with the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi earning a 10, the LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi a 9, and the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi coming in with a respectable 8. The Infant Optics DXR-8 had the highest night video quality score for dedicated monitors, with the Motorola MBP36S earning the lowest score in the review with a 3.
Pan and Tilt
In the beginning baby won't be doing much but lying in bed and manufacturing waste products, so the idea of needing a pan and tilt feature might leave you feeling like they are gimmicky and not worth the extra price. You will probably set up your camera, point it directly at your lovable human larva and that will be the end of the story. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your point of view, baby is going to start moving, and before you know it, baby will be cruising all around the crib and sometimes out of the crib like a monkey at the zoo. When this happens, and trust us, it will happen, you will find yourself saying "Ah, now I see what all the fuss is about" when it comes to a remote camera that offers pan and tilt.
Most of the monitors on the market today will claim they offer pan and tilt. However, there are 2 kinds of pan and tilt, so make sure you are getting the one you really want. The first kind of pan and tilt is the true pan and tilt where your actions on the parent unit cause the camera in baby's room to move and scan the room (remote camera control). It doesn't change the field of view, but it increases the amount of space you can view through the camera by moving the camera to see more parts of the room. Depending on which camera you choose and where you mount it in the room, you might be able to view the entire room using the pan and tilt features. This is the least limiting and most versatile version of pan and tilt. The iBaby M6S Wi-Fi offers a true pan and tilt with remote control over the camera in the baby's room, causing it to physically move and pan the room. If you aren't sure about a specific model you can usually tell by looking closely at the camera. If the camera doesn't appear to swivel from side to side, like the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi and the Philips Avent SCD 630, then it probably doesn't offer a true pan feature.
The second kind of pan and tilt is more like a bait and switch (well kind of). This pan and tilt does NOT control the camera in the room at all. What it actually does is pan around the original field of view while using the zoom feature. So first you need to zoom in, then you can pan around the field of view you originally had only with closer images. This gives the appearance of pan and tilt, but it doesn't increase what you can see or how much of the room is available for viewing. Whatever your original field of view was, that is all you will ever have. Like ever. The only way to change the camera point of view or field of view, is to manually change the location of the camera in the room. This isn't practical if you are trying to avoid disrupting baby.
While the kind of pan and tilt each model has may not be a deal breaker, and in a smaller room the true pan might feel like overkill, it is definitely worth researching which version a product has so you know what you are paying for and exactly what you are getting. Thinking you are getting a camera and parent unit with real pan and tilt and total control, only to find out you have no control over the camera at all, can be frustrating and disappointing. If the camera offers a field of view almost as large as the room, you might be able to forgive that isn't adjustable from the parent unit. The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi does not offer a true pan and tilt. However, the field of view on the camera is large and encompasses almost all of the room except for right under the camera itself.
Just like there are two types of pan and tilt, there are two types of zoom. The first true zoom is an optical zoom, or a traditional zoom in and zoom out feature you might be familiar with on some cameras where the camera lens actually does the work to zoom into the desired object. This offers the best clarity of image, and it has the most versatility for how it can be used. The Infant Optics DXR-8 comes with an interchangeable 2x optical lens that can be manually put on the camera. It is nice that it is optical, but sort of a hassle that it needs manual placement. We suspect most parents won't bother with it after the newness has worn off and eventually will just choose one lens and leave it on the camera permanently. However no other camera offers any version of optical zoom besides the Infant Optics.
The second, and sadly more common type of zoom, is usually called digital zoom. Digital zoom is sort of like using the zoom feature on some types of software or a crop tool. It is also similar to how many smartphones and tablets work when you want to make a portion of an image larger. This kind of zoom looks like it brings you closer to the desired action, but it doesn't really get closer. All it really does is crop and eliminate the portions of the image you don't want to see. So while it looks like the baby's face might be closer, it isn't really. This usually results in images that aren't as clear and are often pixelated. Given that you are really seeing the same image, just cropped in, you are losing some of the resolution and clarity when you zoom. This is not the best kind of zoom. Cameras that offer only this kind of zoom might result in images that are unclear and can make it hard to distinguish details like if a baby's eyes are open or closed in the dark. The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi offered the highest digital zoom with an 8x zoom feature. This monitor offered enough zoom at a relatively high degree of clarity to see smaller details parents might hope to see like baby breaths or open eyes, and it has an enhancement feature that made the image clearer. Most of the cameras in the review offered a 2x digital zoom, likely because a more significant digital zoom would leave the images too grainy to tell what was happening.
Sound Activation vs. Notifications and Alerts
Sometimes features and the terminology used for monitors can get a little confusing. While it is easy for those in the industry to toss around terms as if we all know exactly what they mean, it isn't always easy for parents to know what the heck they are talking about.
Sound activation is one of our favorite features and we think it is one of the top features parents should be looking for. But what is it? Monitors are designed to relay sound from the baby unit to the parent unit. Many monitors do this by sending a constant stream of sound from one room to another and do very little to differentiate between ambient room sounds and baby crying. This means you will be hearing the monitor all the time, all night long, while you try to sleep (possibly unsuccessfully). Sound activation is a feature that limits the level and/or type of sounds from one unit to another. This means the parent unit is silent when baby isn't making noise. A feature like this can help parents get more sleep by offering a quieter room for them to sleep in. This might be an all or nothing function, or it could be something parents can adjust themselves using a sound sensitivity adjustment feature. Either way having sound activation means you only hear what you want to hear, when you want to hear it. This feature can be found in some dedicated and some Wi-Fi enabled monitors.
Notifications and alerts are an entirely different animal and not as useful for parents monitoring baby. These features work by sending a message to your handheld device or an alert email telling you that a sound or motion has occurred in the room where the camera is located. While this feature might be useful if you are using the monitor for security (its original intended purpose), it isn't great for baby.
Notifications often come after the fact, so by the time you get the notification that sound is happening in baby's room, baby could have been crying for several minutes or longer depending on the monitor. In addition, a sound notification is not going to tell you if baby is crying hysterically and needs you now, or is just cooing to herself and doesn't need you at all. But what about motion alerts? Well, while a motion alert might be nice if you are worried about someone entering the room without your knowledge, it is also going to come after the fact, and the monitor could send you loads of motion alerts for baby playing with her toes. We found the notification and alerts feature to be mostly useless for younger babies and only mildly useful for older babies and toddlers. While testing the monitors we felt we received far too many alert notifications and found the constant stream sort of annoying. This feature is only found in the Wi-Fi enabled monitors.
In the end we like the sound activation feature and almost consider it a deal breaker if a monitor doesn't offer it. Alternatively, the ability to receive a notification is not a necessity and is more of a personal choice, one you might even find yourself turning off (as we did eventually), and is a feature we don't recommend using for baby.
A video monitor might have a longer shelf life than an audio only monitor. Let's face it what your preschooler might be shouting from behind their door is probably far less important than whether or not they snuck a marker into nap time and are decorating the walls and furniture with it (true story). So while most audio monitors will be headed to the donation pile by the time children are 3, a video monitor might just be hitting its stride of usefulness. The ability to be able to monitor little ones at all times, regardless of what room you are in, might be exactly what you need to relieve anxiety and increase alone time. Add on the feature of two way talking and you could be telling little Johnny to drop that marker without even getting out of the bathtub. The ability to add cameras to your device will increase its usefulness over time by giving you the ability to monitor multiple rooms or different parts of a larger room so you can keep tabs on two children or just one rambunctious one.
Most of the monitors we looked at had the ability to add at least 1 extra camera, one is a single camera only device, while others had the ability to add up to 4 or more. If you have plans in the future for more children, or you can imagine the need for more cameras down the road, it is probably best to purchase them now, just in case compatible cameras are no longer available down the road. You can count on the additional camera sold separately to run you around $100 each (for dedicated monitors, depending on brand) or the same as the first camera for Wi-Fi options. This cost might be worth it if it means not having to buy a completely new unit when baby number two comes along.
The other aspect of multiple cameras to consider is that the Wi-Fi versions can offer the ability to be used as a nanny camera so you can see what is happening even when away from home. Being able to put a camera in each room your child and nanny might occupy means the nanny can't escape the eye of big brother and you can feel more confident in your choice of caregiver. The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi offers infinite camera additions, so if your goal is to one day have your whole house monitored, it might be a good one to start with. The Philips Avent SDC630 only works with 1 camera, so it will be rendered somewhat useless if you have a second baby and still want to monitor the first. Most offered the ability to add up to 4 cameras, including the Best Value winner for dedicated monitors, the Levana Lila.
Electrical Pollution or Dirty Electricity
Excuse me? Dirty what? This falls into the category of things you didn't know you needed to know, but really should know, and then after you know will wish you didn't know. Electronic devices all have an electromagnetic field (EMF) associated with them, wireless devices and items like microwaves have even more. EMF can be associated with radiation, which can potentially be harmful in heavy doses. With more and more technology being brought into our homes, much of it wireless, the amount of EMF exposure is on the rise. Overexposure to these fields might have consequences to human health (the studies are still in the works). These consequences might be even more significant to babies because they are in the process of developing and have thin skulls for bone and brain growth. This could potentially leave baby more vulnerable to exposure to EMF than adults.
Most baby monitors are wireless devices and are more likely to have significant EMF emissions than wired electronics. In addition, the cameras are often placed close to baby's crib, giving baby increased exposure for the duration of their sleeping hours. Some preliminary studies indicate that exposure to the kind of radiation caused by wireless electronics may cause health issues over time. The jury might still be out on this topic, but we feel it is important to review the information and limit exposure to these types of electronics emissions when possible, just to be on the safe side at least until more research has been done and conclusive evidence presented either way.
Putting the monitor as far away from baby as possible can decrease the amount of EMF the baby is exposed too. Using monitors only when absolutely necessary, can also help limit exposure and possible harmful effects. Some monitors with voice activation might (we aren't sure, but it has been suggested by different sources) also limit the amount of EMF being transmitted, and finally using a Wi-Fi version that is plugged in with an Ethernet cable usually limits it even further. In general, decreasing the number of electronics in a baby's room is a good idea. After that, unplugging devices when not in use is a great second step. Finally, placing any electronic devices as far away from sleeping baby as possible is also smart.
We used an EMF monitor with each device in our review to determine EMF levels and how far away the camera needed to be from the crib to limit exposure to the baby. At 6 inches away from the baby monitor pretty much all the monitors gave off an EMF reading of 6+. At 3 feet away from the devices most of those reading were split in half or better. At 6 feet away (most cameras can be place at least 10 - 15 feet from baby) most of the camera readings were 2 or below. The LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi gave off the least amount of EMF out of the all the monitors used wirelessly with a reading of 0.87, it was slightly less when connected via Ethernet cable with a reading of 0.84. The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi monitor had an average read out of 0.92, giving it a second place in the group for low EMF reading. The lowest reading for dedicated monitors was 1.89 for the Infant Optics DXR-8, with the Philips Avent SDC630 coming in second place with an average reading of 1.91. The Levana Lila has the highest reading overall with an average of 3.49 at 6 ft from baby. This is a significant difference from the rest of the group. These readings were all at 6 ft from the camera. If you want to limit the amount of EMF baby is exposed to, picking a device with the lowest reading is your best bet, then placing it as far away from baby as possible to still be useful is the second step. The parent units didn't decrease as much as the cameras with distance, but it is probably still a good idea to keep them as far away as possible and still be useable.
As with any product, safety and security is important to us here at BabyGearLab. The dedicated monitors are relatively safe given their lack of internet connectivity and use of DECT technology to encrypt the signal (DECT encryption technologies are considered quite secure although some hackers have managed to find a hole in some DECT portable phones that transmit without encryption). But, Wi-Fi monitors present a more compelling target for hackers, and some products, such as some of the Foscam models (which didn't make the cut for our review), have been victim to some well publicized and somewhat disturbing hacks where hackers are watching the baby, and used the speak-to-baby feature to scare parents.
Nest Cam Offers Strong Security
To our knowledge, there have been no successful hacks of the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi (or its predecessor the Dropcam) without the hacker having physical possession of the device. We think this is significant, since it suggests that Google's (owner of Nest) very large and on-going investment in security technology, is paying off for parents who rely on their Nest Cam products. Google uses a unique architecture in their implementation that relies on a secure encrypted connection between Nest Cam and Google's secure servers, and a separately authenticated and secure connection between devices (computers, phones, tablets) and the Google servers. It appears to be a quite reliable configuration, and given Google's unique investment in security across their product family, and commitment to paying substantial rewards to any hacker who can find security holes, we believe Nest Cam is the best bet for those parents interested in Wi-Fi monitors and also concerned about security.
Infamous Hacks of Foscam Monitors
In this section, we'll try to give you a sense of some of the history of hacks of Wi-Fi monitors, in particular the Foscam products, and what you should know about Wi-Fi monitor security.
Since all the Wi-Fi monitors need to transmit the video signal over the internet, they implicitly provide a potential target for hackers to intercept the signal and decrypt it. However, differences in how the video signal is transmitted over the internet, and the use of differing encryption technology, mean that different monitors offer very different security profiles. A few cases with some Foscam models have been widely publicized and left parents feeling a little uneasy about who might be looking in or talking to their beloved babies, and rightfully so. Given that no camera connected to the internet is 100% fail safe, it makes sense for parents to educate themselves and take some precautions.
If you search the internet for "video baby monitor hacks" you'll quickly find a series of articles such as:
Foscam claims that firmware updates have addressed these security holes, but the company is unique in offering additional security recommendations that seem bizarre and arcane in nature for a consumer product aimed at parents.
Check the logs of your Foscam cameras often. Foscam cameras have embedded logs which allow you to see exactly which IP addresses are accessing the camera. You will be able to tell if an outsider has gained access to your camera.
We feel that the topology used by the Foscam IP cameras, where you connect directly to the camera via its IP address, is inferior to the encrypted security method used by Google with their Nest products. For these reasons, and others, the Foscam IP based cameras did not make the cut for our review.
Across the board, Wi-Fi monitor manufacturers recommend that you:
- Make sure you have the most recent firmware for your camera
- Set your own password; do not rely on default passwords
- Make passwords at least 8-10 characters long and use a combination of lower and upper case letters, numbers, and special characters to make it harder to guess
- Change passwords periodically
- Limit what the camera can see
- Unplug the camera when not actively monitoring baby. Do not rely on turning it off, many cameras can be remotely activated if hacked
Security by Product
Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi, our Top Pick for Wi-Fi Monitoring, is unique in their implementation, which relies on secure and encrypted communication from the device to their servers, and from the server to your PC, tablet, and/or phone. We feel this is a vastly superior topology for assuring security, and also a key part of why the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi is so easy to install and use. Nest Cam advises parents to keep their apps up to date and not to enter your Nest Cam username or passwords into 3rd party sites. Nest Cam is only supported by the Nest Cam website and app, and requests from other sources could be a security risk. You can read more about the precautions Nest Cam has taken, and continues to take, to ensure the security of their product and the safety of their users here.
We were unable to find any stories about hacked Nest Cam feeds. In fact, even when private companies have tried to, they have been unable to hack into Nest Cam's predecessor, the Dropcam's feeds without first having physical access to the camera itself in order to take it apart to "read" its inner identification data. A concern we feel is unlikely unless you have a sworn enemy (Superman vs Lex Luthor) or are famous and accept gifts from strangers (you probably shouldn't do this).
Dropcam (the company name before it was bought by Google) Co-founder and CEO had this to say about attempts to hack the Dropcam by the Synack company in 2014:
We did not find much in our research about security and the LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi, but we did find some interesting articles concerning the iBaby M6 (not to be confused with the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi that we tested for this review). A study found that the iBaby M6 had some vulnerabilities that made it potentially susceptible to hackers. Here is the article that reported on the findings that listed the iBaby M6 and the iBaby M3S as monitors NOT to buy.
We contacted iBaby multiple times for comment and information on what changes they may have done to the iBaby M6S to address any of the potential security concerns outlined in the study, and they directed us to a statement on their website. When pressed for more information or the opportunity to offer specific details outlining exactly how the concerns were addressed, the Co-founder and President had this to say:
What does this mean for the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi? It is hard to say. We could not find any information about this monitor being hackable, and it is not one of the versions called out in the article or the study. We do suggest parents proceed with caution and follow all advice for avoiding a hack if they choose to purchase the iBaby M6S.
From our research, we believe that Nest Cam offers the most secure internet monitor we reviewed, and has the power and resources of their parent company (Nest/Google) to help back them and prevent potential hacking issues. Nest Cam even uses their own servers and special private key codes and certificates.
Best Crib Viewing Requires Wall or Ceiling Mounting
As a general rule of thumb for infrared LEDs to work, the cameras need to be relatively close to the baby. If the camera is too far away, the night vision won't work as well as it can.
With this in mind, we suggest the cameras be mounted on the wall or ceiling as far from the crib as possible to decrease exposure to EMF, but as close as necessary to work in the dark. Not all cameras can be mounted, so if you think this is something you will need or want, be sure to check the specifications for details. If necessary, a small shelf might be useful for models that aren't mountable.
For the sake of safety, please be sure to route and secure ALL cords up and away from children's reach. They are a significant strangulation hazard and should never be within reach of baby or in proximity to fall into or be pulled into a crib. Do not wait until baby is more mobile. They will get there before you know it, and the first time you notice could be after they find the cord.
First- Wi-Fi or Dedicated Unit
This decision will be largely based on personal preference, peace of mind, or range needed for your specific purposes. If you have Wi-Fi in your home and aren't sure if you want to go with a Wi-Fi option, you need to consider how well your wireless works and if it is reliable. If it works well and is reliable (isn't spotty or has connectivity issues), then it might be a good option for you that offers lots of potential down the road. It will allow you to move the parent unit farther from the baby's room, and the video feed can be seen online from just about anywhere in the world. The downside is this type of monitor will fail if your internet fails, which could leave you without any real coverage, which might go unnoticed if it happens in the middle of the night. Some also don't seem to work that well on all parent devices. The best kind of devices are those that are mobile and can be placed bedside for easy night time monitoring, so keep this in mind if you are tempted by the Wi-Fi products, you will probably need a device that can be dedicated to monitoring, at least during the night time hours.
A dedicated unit is a nice option if you have limited internet, lack dependable Wi-Fi connectivity, or don't have a good device to use as a parent device. These models have a baby monitor and a dedicated parent unit that work harmoniously, and continue to work via battery even if the electricity goes out. If you want true peace of mind monitoring, these models are probably the better bet. These cameras can only be used with their associated parent units.
Both options can come with cameras that have all the features most parents will be looking for, and the ability to connect multiple cameras should you decide to in the future. The Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi and the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi scored the highest for the Wi-Fi monitors, and both won awards. The highest scoring dedicated device, and Editors' Choice winner, was the Philips Avent SDC630, but a Best Value winner the Levana Lila is also a good monitor that scored second place for dedicated monitors and has a budget friendly price.
Second- Field of View/Pan/Tilt/Zoom
The second thing to think about in narrowing your options is whether or not you want to be able to control the camera from the parent unit, or if you are content just being able to navigate about in a stationary field of view, and how large that field of view is.
If you want or need the ability to control the camera inside baby's room from the parent unit then it is important to get a model that has true pan and tilt. This is a feature that is usually found in higher priced models, but it is not a guarantee, just reading that a model has a pan/tilt/zoom feature is not enough to ensure that the camera itself is actually adjustable from the parent unit. For instance, the Philips Avent SDC630 is one of the higher priced dedicated options, and has a list price higher than all the Wi-Fi monitors, but it has a manually operated camera. Be sure to read the fine print before purchasing any monitor if this is an important feature to you. It can be frustrating to have baby or an older toddler just out of the field of view and there is no way to see them without going into the room and disturbing them. Certainly being able to adjust the camera from the parent unit is a bonus, especially if the field of view is a small one in standard mode. While it might not seem as important when baby moves very little, it can increase the longevity of the unit if parents can continue to monitor mobile toddlers long after infancy has passed. Nothing is more frustrating that being able to hear the "party" taking place in a 2 year old's room, but being unable to "see" it from a stationary camera with limited field of view.
The Infant Optics DXR-8 is the highest scoring dedicated monitor that offers true pan and tilt capabilities. Both the iBaby M6S Wi-Fi and the LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi have a remote controlled camera with true pan and tilt abilities. However, the Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi has a large field of view, with almost the entire room covered in standard view, making the need for remote camera manipulation fairly unnecessary. Parents can still take a peek at children from work no matter where they might be sleeping or playing in their room, and after zooming in can pan around the room as necessary for a greater detailed image. If the field of view is large enough, and the image quality is good, then zooming in and panning within the original field of view is still acceptable.
After you decide if you want a Wi-Fi Model or dedicated unit, and you have narrowed those down to only the ones that offer the kind of pan, tilt, and zoom features you want, you will likely be looking at only one or two possible options. If there is only 1 then your job is done and you have found the best option for your needs. If there is more than 1 possibility, then you need to consider the additional features that mean the most to you. Many of the monitors have additional features, but very few have all of them, and even fewer will have all the ones you might find important.
Some of the features to consider would be:
- Ability to add more cameras
- Two way talk to baby
- Sound activation
- Motion detection
- Parent unit screen size (Wi-Fi options have the greatest variability)
- Visual quality
- Temperature and other air sensors
- Lullabies and other baby-centric features
If you have a strong preference for any of these additional options, then this will likely narrow down the field to only 1 possibility and the video monitor of your dreams. We highly recommend some kind of sound activation or sound threshold setting option. Whether or not a monitor has this feature is almost a deal breaker for us. We think being able to fall asleep and still monitor baby is important. Falling asleep is easier if the monitor is quiet and not generating any kind of superfluous noise. The iBaby M6S Wi-Fi offers more additional features than any other monitor we tested, which helped it score a first place rank.
If budget is a concern for you, like many parents, then it can also be a deciding factor in narrowing down your choices. The monitors in our review range in list price between $70 and $260 in price. Interestingly enough, the most expensive option scored the lowest in our tests, the Project Nursery 4.3. If you are shying away from the video option altogether, thinking they are out of your price range or simply not affordable, technology has come a long way and many of them are actually reasonable enough that if spying on little ones will help you get better sleep, then they are definitely worth the investment. The LeFun C2 720P Wi-Fi is the cheapest monitor in the review and it earned a 3rd place rank. Sure, it doesn't have a night light or lullabies, but if you want a monitor that allows you to see your baby, is silent when the baby is and has 2-way talk, it does that well for a very reasonable price. Even the top scoring product, Nest Cam Indoor Wi-Fi, seemed relatively reasonably priced at $200 with several dedicated monitors costing more.
In the end, choosing a video type monitor can be a daunting task with so many versions available, and several that look almost identical on paper. Luckily, our complete review and testing process has already done most of the homework for you, and once you walk through the selection steps outlined here you should have found the best monitor for your baby. The technology for this type of monitor has grown leaps and bounds in the last few years giving parents a broader range of possibilities that function and work better than any previous generation of video products. We feel confident that there is a product available to offer even the most paranoid of parents peace of mind. Happy viewing. Wait! We mean happy sleeping!