A Closer Look at Baby Monitors

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A caring parent will always try to respond quickly to the needs of their young ones, but sometimes this requires the powers of a superhero. You need to be able to see and hear through walls and leap over tall buildings in a single bound. Recent technological advances have not made any progress in the area of machine-free flight, but wireless baby monitoring systems have really come a long way.

B&H features a range of baby-monitoring products that enable parents to see, hear and talk through walls. Some of them allow you to do these things from the other side of the globe, in real time. Most impressively, compared to professional products that enable you to stream audio and video wirelessly, these baby-monitoring products are a downright bargain.

In this roundup, I'll take a close look at what B&H has to offer, and explain how each system works, pointing out each product’s highlights and its drawbacks too. If you’ve ever seen a baby-monitoring system in someone else’s home, some of these options will likely be familiar. However, there’s a good chance that you’ll also encounter things you didn’t know existed.

The chart at the end of the article compares the various features of the products in the roundup. One of the specifications in the chart is “Range.” These specs are based on information given by the manufacturers. Keep in mind that the range of these products will vary greatly in different environments. What works really well for one person may not work very well for another person in a different location. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of a big city or in a vast, empty desert. How well these products perform in your home is not completely predictable. Frequently, their range tends to be a good bit shorter than the manufacturers claim.  

Sony BabyCall

Sony’s BabyCall is an “audio only” baby monitor that has been popular for many years. The way it operates is simple: the Baby Unit is placed in the baby’s room (it needs to plug into an AC outlet for power). The Parent Unit runs on either AC power, or via its included rechargeable battery. You can carry the Parent Unit into your bedroom, living room, kitchen or bathroom (it’s water resistant). When your baby makes a sound, you’ll hear it from the built-in speaker on the Parent Unit, and see lights illuminate as well. A volume knob on the Parent Unit lets you adjust the sound level. If you travel too far away from the Baby Unit, a beep will sound on the Parent Unit to inform you that you’re out of range. 

The BabyCall system works well for many people. However, with all things wireless, what works well for one may not work so well for another. Should you encounter interference or range issues, the BabyCall has 27 separate channels on which it can operate. The BabyCall is available with just one Parent Unit (model name NTM-910YLW), or with two Parent Units (model name NTM-910DUAL), perfect for placing in the two most popular rooms in your house.

Levana Melody

The Melody from Levana is an “audio-only” system with some really appealing advanced features. Not only does it let you hear what your baby is doing, you can also use it as an intercom to talk to the baby from another room. A flashlight is built into the wireless Parent Unit, so you can navigate obstacles in the dark. The backlit LCD on the Parent Unit displays the temperature in the baby’s room, so you can always gauge how comfy baby is. By pressing a button on the Parent Unit, you can remotely play one of three different lullabies in the baby’s room (which could potentially keep you from having to get out of bed in the wee hours). You can turn on a built-in night light in the baby’s room, remotely, as well. You can also program a “feeding timer” into the system, which can help you or your nanny keep the little one on its dining schedule.

The Baby Unit can run on AC power or on AA batteries. The Parent Unit has a built-in rechargeable battery (and it comes with a charging dock). Some people find the illuminated parts of this system to be too bright, so if you’re sensitive to light, you may need to obscure the Parent Unit in your bedroom somehow. That said, many owners are very pleased with the performance of this system and its additional features.

Foscam FI8910W

The Foscam FI8910W doesn’t have a cute and snuggly baby-oriented name, nor a baby-friendly appearance. That’s because it’s a full-blown piece of surveillance equipment that can double as a baby monitor. It’s the first product in this roundup that’s capable of remote viewing, so you can keep an eye and an ear in baby’s room no matter how far you travel. It provides high-quality video and audio, access from Internet-connected computers and smartphones, remote pan and tilt, motion detection, night vision, and it has the ability to record to a network-connected drive. It’s compatible with the iPhone and other kinds of smartphones as well. There are third-party apps available for these phones that enable you to view, talk and control the pan and tilt from afar. You can install up to nine of these cameras in your home and view them all remotely.

The FI8910W pans in a 270-degree arc with 120-degree tilt. IR beams provide night vision up to 8 feet. It connects via wired RJ45 cable or through a Wi-Fi network. A built-in speaker and microphone allows for two-way “conversations” with the baby, and an audio output jack lets you hook up more ample speakers for your needs. The drawbacks are that it needs AC power from an outlet (no battery option), it’s for indoor use only, and setting it up is involved. However, it may still be useful for security purposes when you no longer need a baby monitor. This model is available in black or white.

Levana Safe n’ See

The Levana Safe n’ See borrows some of the best features from the Melody system and adds in a few tricks of its own, making it a comprehensive audio and video baby monitor. It sets up easily and features night vision, which allows you to see your child up to 10 feet away, even in complete darkness. It’s also got a talk-to-baby audio intercom; a built-in night light; and five musical lullabies that you can play remotely. You can see the temperature in the baby’s room from the Parent Unit, and an LED sound level indication light displays up to five different levels of sound. This means you can turn the volume all the way down and still know when and how much noise your baby is making. It also has a sound-activated vibration mode that will alert the Parent Unit with a familiar, mobile phone-like wiggle.

The camera can be wall mounted so you can view your baby in its crib easily, as well as see all other parts of the nursery. A recharging dock and a rechargeable battery are included for the Parent Unit, and the Baby Unit can run on either AA batteries or AC power. The Parent Unit is a bit battery-hungry, so take note. It comes with an integrated table stand (so it doesn’t have to lay flat when you set it down) and the stand doubles as a belt clip.  

Lorex Live Sense

When your baby starts doing something really cute on your video monitor, wouldn’t it be nice to touch a button and record it? That’s one of the innovative features on the Lorex Live Sense. It has a built-in microSD card slot that can save the video from your system. You can then transfer the video easily to a computer with a card reader. Another handy aspect of this system is that it lets you constantly monitor the live video feed. Many video baby monitoring systems turn off the screen on the Parent Unit automatically after a short period of time in order to save battery life. Legions of parents prefer to be able to see their child uninterrupted, and to turn off the screen only when they choose. Constant video monitoring is possible with the Lorex Live Sense.

The drawbacks are that the speaker on the Parent Unit isn’t terribly loud, and you have to put it right up to your mouth for the audio intercom to be effective. However, it can integrate with Skype so that a loved one can see what’s going on with the little one from afar. Plus you can add three additional cameras to your Live Sense system with separately available LW2401 add-on camera. Any of these cameras can give you the temperature of the area they’re in, and play lullabies, as does the camera in the base system.

Lorex Live Snap

The Lorex Live Snap is a two-camera system that was designed to be a baby monitor first and foremost, but it can also double as a powerful handheld home security video monitor as well. The name “Live Snap” comes from its ability to take still pictures from the remote handset. You just press a dedicated button on the Parent Unit and a photo is instantly taken and saved to its included microSD card. You can view the pictures on the Parent Unit, or you can remove the card and transfer the image files to a computer (microSD to SD card adapter included). This system has a talk-to-baby audio intercom, so you can speak to your baby from another room. Setting up the Live Snap is really easy, and it features excellent night vision that turns itself on automatically. The entire system can run on internal rechargeable batteries or with AC power (it includes power cables for the cameras and a charging dock for the remote), and the system is compact—it packs up and travels easily.

You can add up to four LW2003 cameras in order to monitor different areas of your home (the kit ships with two cameras). The Parent Unit allows you to view all four cameras on its 2.4-inch LCD screen at the same time, or you can manually select which camera you want to see with dedicated buttons, or it can automatically scroll through each camera every eight seconds. The drawbacks are that it doesn’t have an Internet-monitoring option, or the ability to record and save video, but otherwise it’s a really purposefully designed, well-thought-out product.

JVC Everio Camcorders

You may be wondering what palm-sized camcorders are doing in a baby-monitoring article, eh? Well, there are three JVC Everio models that feature Wi-Fi remote monitoring ability that can be used to see your baby. These camcorders can be used as any camcorder would, to capture all of those once-in-a-lifetime memories in full-HD. The Wi-Fi monitoring ability lets you see the video feed remotely on a smartphone, tablet or computer, even if you’re on the other side of the planet. For mobile devices, you can download a free app (versions are available for both Apple’s iOS devices and Android), and when both the Everio camcorder and the mobile device are connected to a Wi-Fi network, you can view the camera’s video through the free app. All of these cameras feature low-light performance that’s indispensible for shooting in dimly lit environments, such as in baby’s room during sleep time.

The models that have this capability are the JVC GZ-EX250, the GZ-VX700 and the full-featured GZ-GX1. The EX250 features a fast f/1.8 lens, plus 16GB of internal flash memory. The VX700 has a slimmer design, an f/1.4 lens and a frameless 3.0-inch touch panel display. The GZ-GX1 is the flagship of the series and features an f/1.2 lens and a 3.5-inch touch display, plus the external mic input and headphone output that true video nerds require. The down sides here are that these are obviously not true baby-monitoring systems. You’re giving up a lot of basic baby monitor features (namely audio monitoring), plus you’re going to have to figure out how to set up the camera in junior’s room (such as using a wall mount). However, you’re getting a really nice iPhone, iPad, Android and PC capable video monitor that will double as the family camcorder.   

Should I buy a used system?

You can usually save a few bucks by purchasing used gear, but baby monitors are one area where I would exercise caution. Buying used baby monitors increases the margin of malfunction dramatically. Most of these systems feature wireless, battery-powered components. The trouble is that these kinds of devices routinely get dropped, accidentally knocked from nightstands, etc. They’re designed to withstand abuse to a degree, but they’re still low-cost consumer electronics, not industrial-strength field equipment. Plus, they tend to be used constantly, and log endless hours of work time. The point of these systems is to decrease your reaction time to attend to the needs of your little loved ones. In an emergency situation, prompt functionality could make a world of difference in outcome.

  Type Audio Intercom Web Monitoring  Range Expandable Standout Feature Power
Sony BabyCall Audio only No No N/A No LED alert lights Baby Unit requires AC
Levana Melody Audio only Yes No 500 ft. Optimal / 2,000 ft. Max. No Plays lullabies  Fully battery operable
Foscom FI8910W Audio & Video Yes Yes Global (via Internet) Up to 9 cameras Remote Pan & Tilt Baby Unit requires AC
Levana Safe n' See Audio & Video Yes No 150 ft. Optimal / 450 ft. Max. No Plays lullabies  Fully battery operable
Lorex Live Sense Audio & Video Yes Yes Global (via Skype) Up to 4 cameras  Records video Baby Unit requires AC
Lorex Live Snap Audio & Video Yes No 150 ft. Indoors / 450 ft. Outside Up to 4 cameras  Saves pictures Fully battery operable
JVC Everio Camcorders Video only No Yes Global No Family camcorder Fully battery operable

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Great Article! Glad you did not recommend buying used equipment. In addition to the reasons you give, consumers should not buy used equipment due to the safety concerns. Parents should always purchase new equipment and read and know the safety information from the user manual to ensure their kids are safe.

Trevor Shattles