Analog or Digital?
As time goes by, this gets to be an easier choice because many companies are phasing out their analog models. The difference are pretty straight forward. Lets take a brief look at the characteristics of each
Analog Baby Monitors
Transmit signal in the form of a radio wave- For this reason they are less secure from eavesdropping
Sound quality is often not as good digital
Are typically less expensive than digital
Should not interfere with household electronics
Digital Baby Monitors
Transmit signal that has been converted into data- For this reason they are more secure from eavesdropping
Tend to have better sound quality- Are frequently higher in price
May interfere with certain household electronic equipment, depending on frequency (We’ll look at this more below)
Audio Baby Monitor or Video Baby Monitor?
Do you want to be able to watch your baby sleep, or is it enough just knowing when she wakes up? Comparing audio only vs video:
Audio Only Baby Monitor
Like analog monitors (though not necessarily the same), tend to be less expensive
Often take up less space
Can be set up anywhere in the child’s room
Video (+ Audio) Baby Monitor
Allows you to see the baby (Sorry for stating the obvious!). This can be useful for you to know if your child is actually awake or in distress or just make noises in their sleep. This can save the weary parent a trip!
Tend to be more expensive.
Take a little more effort to place. Because the camera needs to be pointing at the baby, they have to be mounted in specific locations that allow full view of the crib.
Receivers may deplete battery faster due to the power needs necessary to get a video feed.
Audio Baby Monitor Features
Even with a basic audio only monitor there are a couple of features that can be useful:
Sound Activated Light – This will give you a visual clue that your child is making noise if you are doing something like vacuuming or watching TV and can’t hear the monitor.
Out of Range Indicator – If you are in a place where the transmitter can’t contact the receiver, it will typically shriek like a banshee to let you know that the monitor will not work. While irritating, it is good to know.
Low battery indicator – Lets you know your receiver is about to stop working by shrieking or flashing lights at you.
Talkback – Some audio monitors allow you to operate them like a walkie-talkie, speaking either directly to you baby or with the other parent on their receiver.
Voice Activation – Many models in all price ranges offer voice activation. This is handy because you can leave your audio monitor on without having to listen to background noise that might drive you crazy after awhile. This feature also conserves the battery on video monitors.
Video Baby Monitor Features
Now things get a little more interesting! Video monitors are getting more advanced and, depending on the price, can do a bunch of cool stuff:
Clear Video Image – Give you a crystal clear image of your child on your receiver when there’s enough light.
Night Vision – Automatically switch over to night vision when it gets darker so you can still see, even at night with blackout curtains.
Pan/Tilt/Zoom – Some monitors give you the option to move the direction the camera is looking in case your child moves while he sleeps or just to get a better look at what’s going on.
Touch screen – Some video monitors have a touch screen for simple control of features. This is good as, these days, some folks may not know how to operate an electronic device that doesn’t have a touch screen!
Effective Baby Monitor Range
Range is the maximum distance your baby monitor receiver can be from its transmitter and still function properly. It’s important to understand the effective range of your baby monitor, otherwise it won’t be doing you much good if you get too far away. There are typically two numbers that manufacturers give when discussing the effective range of their baby monitors:
Open Field range – this is the distance that the baby monitor can transmit when there are no obstructions (walls, buildings, etc) between the transmitter and receiver. This is sometimes printed on the product because it looks impressive, but for most parent’s circumstances will be largely irrelevant (Unless your baby sleeps in an open field. No judgement). Ranges given by manufacturers may be misleading
Indoor range – The distance the receiver can be from the transmitter in an enclosed area (like your house). This should probably be the only range that matters to most parents
For an example of this, you can see a brief discussion of the range of the Infant Optics DXR-5 in our review.
Baby Monitor Security
No one wants to think about the possibility, however remote, of a stranger intercepting the transmissions of their baby monitor. On a less sinister note, we’ve probably all seen some sitcom where one family’s baby monitor picks up signal from another family’s baby monitor and hilarity ensues. (If you haven’t seen anything like this, I recommend the show Raising Hope. Just watch them all and remember I mentioned this when you get to that particular episode).
Philips Avent DECT Baby Monitor
Anyway… To save yourself the potential embarrassment of accidentally sharing moments you’d rather not, consider a digital baby monitor with Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT). The Philips Avent model pictured right has DECT. This is a technology that encrypts the digital signal, making it unlikely to be picked up by another monitor.
Another technology I’ve seen featured on the Infant Optics DXR-5 is FHSS, which is described as an automatic frequency hopping system. This claims to jump between channels in its range to “virtually” encrypt the signal.
Baby Monitor Frequency Ranges
This is sure to make some eyes glaze over, so we’ll try to keep it short and sweet. First, why should you care about the frequency band your monitor is on?
Certain frequencies are more secure than others.
Some baby monitor frequencies can interfere with other electronic devices in your home, like routers or cordless telephones.
What frequencies are typically used for baby monitors:
49 Megahertz – Many basic models use this frequency, this is a pretty common FM frequency and can be picked up by radio scanners.
900 Megahertz – This is the next level, but can cause interference with older, analog cordless phones.
2.4 GHz – This is a pretty common frequency for video baby monitors. However, it is also a fairly common frequency for cordless phones and wireless routers. This may cause interference issues if you have too many of these devices running at once.
1.9 GHz – This band is now used on many baby monitors, due to the issue with the 2.4 GHz band. This is where the DECT comes into play, as the FCC has designated this band for voice only applications.
At the same time, I’ve seen many great reviews of video monitors on the 2.4 GHz band, so be sure to try it out in your home and see how it works for you.
Baby Monitor Size
This may not be terribly important to many people, but worth a mention. Will you be carrying the monitor all over your house? Hooking it to your belt? Smaller receivers will make this slightly easier.
Baby Monitor Expandability
At some point you may realize that it would be handy to be have another receiver, whether you keep forgetting to bring it with you, or you would rather leave one in your bedroom permanently and tote the other one around with you. Or maybe each parent wants a receiver. Maybe you have a second, third or fourth child and you want to monitor all their rooms.
Vtech Safe and Sound Baby Monitor
Whatever your situation, it can be handy to have a baby monitor system that can grow with you and your family. Many baby monitors have upgraded packages that come with two receivers and it doesn’t really increase the price that much. The Vtech Safe and Sound pictured is an example.
Summer Infant Multi View Baby Monitor
If you have multiple children, many video baby monitors also offer additional cameras. The Summer model pictured allows you to add up to 4 cameras to the system.
If you are able, it’s best to get a system with at least 2 receivers. If you have a video baby monitor, look for one that will enable you to add extra cameras in the future should you need them. It will almost always be more convenient to only need one receiver for two different video feeds!
Baby Monitor Connectivity
Withings Baby MonitorIf you’re a gadget person, you could opt for a baby monitor that lets you use your iPhone (or Android) or iPad as the receiver. These usually use bluetooth and get set up over your wifi network, but then give you the ability to also view the video feed when you are away from home.
Baby Monitor Movement Indicators
Angelcare Movement and Sound Monitor
Another category of baby monitors involves not only audio, but also movement indicators. These have the typical audio receivers that will allow you to hear your baby cry, but also have another piece. Also included is a pad that goes under the crib mattress. The baby can’t feel it, but it notices if movement stops.
This would be of particular interest during a child’s early months, when the risk of SIDS is higher. Apparently these have created some controversy, as there is no scientific proof that these products demonstrably reduce the risk of SIDS. These monitors are also not medical grade.
Hisense Baby Movement Monitor
Though there is no scientific proof, there is anecdotal evidence that these products have been helpful for people. One of the reviews of the HiSense monitor said that it saved her son’s life. Others have similar stories. It’s worth saying one more time that these movement monitors are not a substitute for you paying attention to what is going on, but can certainly be helpful if used properly.
So if you were to choose one of these monitors, it is important to understand that it is not a foolproof solution, or a substitute for parental vigilance (In fact, no baby monitor is a substitute for your attention). Consider it another useful tool to help monitor your child.
Whether you spend that $30 or $300, a baby monitor is almost a must-have for parents of young children. It’s very useful to be able to move around the house and still know when your child needs you, even when you are outside of hearing range.
I know it can be overwhelming with all the options out there, but hopefully this guide helped clarify some of the features you may be looking at or helped you understand what is and is not necessary for your unique situation.
If you feel like I left anything out or have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me and be sure to check out our reviews as they come out!