The Best Video Baby Monitor

No new parent can stand laying their baby down in a crib and just walking away. Having a good video monitor can offer an addictive sense of security—a robo eye that can see your baby in the dark—leaving your conscience free to binge on Netflix in the next room. After weeks of testing, we found the Withings Home to be the best video monitor around, especially for tech-minded, app-friendly parents. (If you want a more traditional single-purpose monitor, we’ve got a great recommendation for that, as well.)

No new parent can stand laying their baby down in a crib and just walking away. Having a good video monitor can offer an addictive sense of security—a robo eye that can see your baby in the dark—leaving your conscience free to binge on Netflix in the next room. After weeks of testing, we found the Withings Home to be the best video monitor around, especially for tech-minded, app-friendly parents. (If you want a more traditional single-purpose monitor, we’ve got a great recommendation for that, as well.)

We tested more than a dozen cameras over the course of 40 hours of research and testing. The Withings Home delivers top-notch picture quality, has the widest angle lens, includes many bonus features like lullabies, background audio smartphone support, privacy mode, a soothing nightlight and Apple Watch support. There’s even support for streaming to the latest Apple TV. Its cloud-connected features alert you to noises and movements consistently, and because the signal beams to your iOS device (or Android, if that’s how you roll) rather than a short-throw standalone video monitor, you’re never out of range.
We tested monitors from eight different major manufacturers, living with these devices as they monitored a baby, but also challenging them to film in daylight, low light, and total darkness while walking down three flights of stairs.

Who should buy this

Parents of babies from birth onwards who want to actually see their sleeping child without opening the door and waking them, as well as parents of toddlers who could use a pair of eyes when the young ones could get up to trouble in their own room.

Video baby monitors are the ultimate tool for peace of mind when your baby is sleeping in room, or even a room where it’s just too dark to see them.

A cloud-connected video monitor can also double as a nanny cam—giving you a remote set of eyes to watch those who watch your children when you’re away.

What makes a good video monitor

Before the 1980s, baby monitors didn’t even exist. What did mankind do for countless millennia before then? No one knows. Probably something with an array of mirrors or a series of flaming pyres on high mountain peaks.

Historically speaking, baby monitors and wireless video systems have been notorious for indiscriminately sharing radio frequencies with other gadgets, meaning neighbors might have been able to eavesdrop on the things going on inside your house. Modern-day video monitors are smart enough to find the best frequencies to avoid interference and encrypt the signal from camera to monitor for standalone units or camera to router to online for smartphone-based monitors. And almost every model supports the option to add a second camera if you’d like to monitor another room, too.

But not all of the tech has been figured out just yet. Namely, the spectrum of video quality between makes and models is massive. Overall video quality ranged from murky postage stamp, to crisp, HD signals—even on models that cost more than $200 and were filming in daylight! At night, almost every camera we tested used infrared bulbs (light that’s bright to cameras, but invisible to the naked eye). Paradoxically, because of those powerful LEDs, you often get a better picture quality by setting a camera to night mode during the day—especially in a shadowy room kept dark for a napping baby.

That said, while video quality is an obvious necessity to any good video monitor, it isn’t the only important metric. In practice, you won’t find yourself watching your monitor all the time. More often, you’ll either be listening in bed, or keeping the monitor in the corner of your eye while reading, watching TV, or cleaning. You want to keep tabs on your baby without obsessing about every move and sound.

In our research, we found the biggest decision a buyer needs to make is this: Are you willing to use your smartphone to watch the video feed? Or would you prefer a more traditional standalone monitor?

Most smartphone-based cameras give you the option to watch video and audio live or receive notification alerts when the camera notices a distinct change in noise levels or motion. This is an effective way to allow you to keep tabs on the little one with the constant tax to your nerves. After you receive the notification, you load the app to listen in on exactly what your camera heard. This takes just moments. In our testing, small noises, like a cough or grunt, didn’t generally set off the noise sensor, while cries did. But false positives can and do happen.

The Withings Home app takes usability a step further by allowing you to listen to the audio in the background on your smartphone if you’re looking for an experience closer to standalone video or audio monitors. The experience is so similar that Withings calls it the “Baby Monitor Mode.” It also has a slider setting to adjust notification sensitivity. It took some fine tuning to get the its alerts to pick up the baby crying, but not the air conditioner firing up outside.

Meanwhile, for standalone monitors, we found that two features were nice to have: The first is VOX, which mutes the ambient sounds in a room entirely, activating the speaker (and often the video) only when significant sound is recognized. The second feature we appreciated were LED sound meters. These are an excellent, rare feature to keep constant tabs on a baby while muting a monitor and turning the video off. (Consumer Reports appreciates these LEDs, too.)

Surprisingly, we found battery life to be largely irrelevant. While every monitor we tested was optimized to extend its battery for several hours (often turning off the screen in the process), standalone video monitors tend to burn through battery so quickly that you’ll want to plug them in when you go to sleep anyway.

You can acquire a perfectly functional, but fuzzy video monitor for $100. For $200, you can buy something that connects to your phone and streams HD. (There’s no financial savings in buying a camera without a standalone screen.) And you can add on extra cameras that can be viewed from a single smartphone app.

One thing to note: Most monitors operate on the same 2.4Ghz spectrum used by Wi-Fi (that’s true even for those that don’t connect to the internet). Interference with or from your home network is always a possibility. Having combed through countless real-world user reviews, depending on your (and your neighbors’) exact hardware setup, interference may happen. Buying from somewhere with a good return policy may be worth a few extra bucks on the purchase price.

How We Tested

We swapped in and out more than a dozen different video cameras in front of a Graco Pack ‘N Play, and we monitored a 3-month-old baby for weeks, filming through the mesh, spying during daytime naps, and watching in the pitch black of night. When applicable, we’d take the base units out of the test apartment, down flights of stairs, to check their range.

Our Pick

Specifications

  • Dimensions: 3 x 3 x 3.2 inches
  • Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Video: H.264 encoding, up to 1080p at 30 frames per second
  • Field of View: 135° wide angle, plus Zoom and Night Vision
  • Restrictions: Wi-Fi or Ethernet Required
  • Power: 5V 2A Micro-USB power supply unit
  • Audio: speaker and microphones
  • Warranty: 1 year; Limited

After three weeks of head-to-head testing, the $200 Withings Home narrowly beat out the previous NightLight pick Dropcam Pro because of its greater features and much better app.

Note: The Dropcam Pro refresh, the Nest Cam, has been unavailable for review at the time of the update. However, the updated application was available for testing with the previous NightLight pick, the Dropcam Pro.

Rather than requiring an independent video display, the Withings Home sends footage via the cloud to your iOS device (phone or tablet). Its HD video is sharp, colorful and on par with or better than any other camera in its class. And it’s loaded with useful features that feel like the future, like push notifications when your baby makes noise or moves, and the ability to monitor your baby with unlimited range through your smartphone’s data plan. And it was the only smartphone-based camera tested to have background-audio monitoring. (Most importantly, these features aren’t just features. They really work every bit as well as advertised!)

The controls, too, are superb. While most video monitors have esoteric menu systems that necessitate thick, old-school instruction manuals, the Home installs as easily as any app on your phone, and affords you familiar controls like pinch-to-zoom.

The camera, which is the most elegant looking of the testing group, sits on a magnetic base that unfortunately cannot be mounted on the wall and must sit on a surface. The camera itself cannot be tilted or panned. It can only be adjusted manually within the concave base—meaning it can be pointed downward, at least a little bit, but its wide-angle lens lessens the needs for dramatic angle adjustments. The unit also include a “privacy mode” where the decorative cover can be rotated to block the camera and signal it to not record any audio or video.

The camera angle is 135-degrees (5 nominal degrees wider than the competition), which makes it wide enough to view the length of a play yard from just 2 feet away and see your whole child. (From the same vantage point, other cameras would crop our crib.) And as they grow, you can reposition the camera to easily film a whole room, so you can watch them, not just toss and turn, but run around and cause havoc.

The Withings Home app is what makes this device stand out among its best competition and our former pick: the Dropcam Pro (and its successor, the Nest Cam) and its Nest Home app. Both apps have premium ($7-$10 per month) optional cloud recording functionality (think DVR). Unlike the Nest Home app, the Withings Home app gives you a taste of the past for free. It stores two-days of snapshots (think animated gifs) of events that triggered a notifications. It also gives you a 24-hour snapshot of everything from the camera whenever you want. The Nest Cam won’t give a hint of the past without paying a monthly fee.

Other Withings Home features include an air quality monitor, a 2W speaker to play lullabies and talk to the baby and a subtle glowing nightlight. Its baby monitor notifications mode enables the camera’s audio with the app operating in the background.

Although it’s very nerdy and of only limited utility, we also got a kick out of the Withings Home’s Apple Watch support, which not allows you to get noise and other alert notifications, but even supports a live video stream directly to your wrist.

withings_home_appThe air-quality feature monitors Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) levels. These are organic chemicals like acetone or benzene. The EPA says these chemicals are found in paints, paint strippers, aerosols, cleaners, disinfectants, solvents, etc and can cause serious health issues including eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system and even cancer. The Home will alert you to high VOC levels, which indicates it may be time to open a window or increase air circulation in your house. It does not monitor carbon monoxide.

The Home has built in lullabies and a colored nightlight that can be turned on and set to a timer with a quick button push from the app. The lullaby volume and nightlight brightness and color (a Harvard study says red lights can aide going to sleep) can be adjusted remotely from the app as well.

But every camera in this space comes with a compromise, and the Withings Home has a few catches.
The push notifications were a great way to keep tabs on the little one but not perfect. False alerts happened (e.g., shifting sunlight through the blinds dinged be a motion alert), but that was consistent with all of the smartphone-based monitors. Push notifications can sometimes make a parent feel blasé, but in practice, they make you no less attentive.

And, because of its unique video compression, even though the image is razor sharp, you sometimes lose the critical subtlety of breathing movement.

There’s no option to view the feed from a web browser, which could be a dealbreaker for the work-from-home types wanted to keep the feed open in the home office. The Withings Home app support is limited to iOS, but Withings says the Android is in development. Android users: The Nest Cam is a good alternative for the time being.

And lastly, the mount/stand leaves a lot to be desired. The Home gives you one option: Set it on a shelf or possibly nightstand while many others in the market provide wall-mounting capabilities or better (like the Nest Cam, which includes wall-, tripod- and magnetic-mounting capabilities).

who else likes it

Britta O’Boyle at Pocket-Lint says: “The Withings Home is a lot more than just a smart camera – it’s the complete home solution it claims to be.” Megan Wollerton at CNET loves all of the extra features that the Home offers, although she doesn’t like its lack of a web-based interface and other features that make it less optimal as a security camera.

Other reviewers ding the Home for issues like overly sensitive push alerts, but that issue had been corrected at the time of testing with the notifications sensitivity sliders.

On Amazon, the Home scores 3.4 out of 5.0 with 73 reviews. One customer writes: “This Camera is AWESOME! I tried several other internet cameras over the years and this smokes them all! Picture quality is first rate, hook up is quick and simple & the app works well.”

THE BEST BAREBONES ALTERNATIVE

Infant Optics DXR-5

For just less than $100 ($99 on Amazon at the time of this article), the Infant Optics DXR-5 provides no-frills, high frame-rate video that can see legibly in the dark. It sees as well (or better) than some units we tested that cost twice as much. It also features VOX, which silences the speaker (and turns off the video monitor) until it hears a sound, and DECT, which keeps the transmission secure.

The build quality is cheap. And in our own testing, we found its transmission interfered with our own Wi-Fi network, and even some of the other baby monitors we had running! (Many Amazon users encountered this same problem.)

Even still, for most people who just want to peek in on their baby in the dark, it’s the best low-end video solution on the market—which is why it’s the titan video baby monitor of Amazon, with more than 2,600 reviews, averaging 4 out of 5 stars. Just make sure that you can return it if, like us, you find its radio footprint doesn’t play nicely with others.

The Luxury Standalone

Motorola MBP36

While we chose the Withings Home as our top pick, we know that not everyone wants a camera that connects to their phone. One expensive alternative that we grew to love was the Motorola MBP36 ($230). Its video sharpness doesn’t compete with the Withings Home, nor can it see nearly as wide, but the 3.5-inch screen still captured subtle movements, and you can change the camera angle remotely. Oddly enough, though, our absolute favorite feature was the design of its LED audio monitor. Both clear and soothing (the LEDs aren’t blinding, they’re just gentle, subtle lights), we kept it running long after formal testing was complete. We also found its range to be above average, as we were able to sneak down two flights of stairs in an old brick building and maintain signal. Three flights down, outside our building, we found the connection to mostly freeze, but the monitor never gives up—it keeps scanning for hints of frequency to give you audio and video updates. As a company, Motorola is a long-time pro at juggling radio frequencies across their products. Here, it shows.

Also GOOD

Infant Optics DXR-8

The Infant Optics DXR-8 has some great benefits over the Motorola MBP36 as a luxury standalone. It has super sharp image and includes the ability to change lens. This one-of-a-kind feature could become especially useful when your little one gets more mobile and a wide-angle lens (sold separately for $12) is necessary. Unfortunately, some interference problems and poor range kept it from topping the Motorola MBP36 for our top luxury standalone.

The Competition

We considered these alternatives from many manufacturers but can’t recommend them.

  • Philips Avent Digital Video Monitor ($145) — The tiny 2.4-inch screen is illegibly murky, especially at night.
  • Motorola MBP18 ($100) —Tiniest screen, unusably bad video at times. We hoped it’d be a good deal, but it wasn’t.
  • Samsung SmartCam HD Pro ($190) — We couldn’t get our preproduction prototype working, even with Samsung’s support. *Update: A second go-around with this model functioned, but the image quality couldn’t compete and the app’s push alerts were entirely too sensitive and unable to fine-tune.
  • Levana Jena ($100) — This budget camera has solid extras (like an LED audio monitor) and a nice build quality. But its camera just isn’t very good. Not a horrible half step up from an audio monitor, though, especially if you find a deal.
  • Levana Ovia PTZ ($220) — Lavena’s high end camera was generally mediocre compared to competitors.
  • Levana Stella ($173) — This standalone monitor had the biggest screen at 4.3 inches, but it lacks in image quality and operation.
  • D-Link Wi-Fi Baby Camera DCS-825L ($180) — We liked this smartphone-based camera, but in just about every way, it’s not quite the entire experience quality of the Withings Home. Plus, its eyeball-shaped camera is strange to mount on a wall. Notably, though, you can run the D-Link without the cloud, on your local area network only. This might be very attractive for those worried about bandwidth, or those who don’t trust any online security in the post-Snowden era.
  • Dropcam Pro ($200) — The Dropcam Pro was The Nightlight’s first top pick, but was bumped down due to its limited app functionality. If you’re an Android user, or interested in ponying up for the Nest Aware service (prices begin at $10 per month), this is a very good alternative pick and includes one feature the Withings Home lacks: zoned alerts (where you can just receive alerts for the crib, for example).
  • We also excluded reviews of parental mainstay companies Angelcare and Summer Infant, as their video monitors tended to receive lower and less average reviews than the video monitors by major electronics companies. Foscam was excluded as well, following a series of frightening hacks that was handled poorly by the company.

Care, Use, Maintenance, and Repair

The Withings Home’s glass lens provides sharp pictures, but it may be prone to collect dust over time. Wipe gently with a soft cloth once a month. As with all lenses, wipe from the center outward, rather than in circular motions. More damage is often done cleaning lenses than anything else, so refrain from getting too obsessed.

If you’d like to expand the system, additional Withings Homes can be purchased for $200.

Because the Withings Home sends information out through the internet—and by “information” we mean video from within your household—it’s very important to follow best personal tech security practices to keep your privacy safe.

What To Look Forward To

The NightLight’s previous pick, The Dropcam Pro, was refreshed as the Nest Cam. This monitor includes a bump in image quality and an enhanced mount that supports camera tripod and magnetic surfaces. At the time of the update, Nest Cam review units were unavailable, but we were able to test the updated Nest app (Nest Home) with our Dropcam Pro review unit. It was based on those results we chose the Withings Home as our pick. We will be fully evaluating the Nest Cam when review units become available.

Your Guide: Travis Hudson

Travis Hudson is a Dallas-based freelance writer and digital communications specialist. He has one son and dreams of owning frisbee dogs and being a professional woodworker.

Sources

  1. Infant Optics DXR-8 Review, KidSafetyFirst.com, February 5th, 2014
  2. Kit Eaton, Keep an Eye on Children, or Other Valuables, New York Times, December 11, 2013
  3. Peter Ha, The Best Wireless IP Camera, TheWirecutter.com, February 11th, 2014
  4. Marguerite Reardon, Comcast Ditches 250GB Data Cap, Tests Tiered Pricing, CNET.com, May 17th, 2012
  5. Baby Monitor Buying Guide, Consumer Reports, updated April, 2014
  6. Baby Monitors, Parents.com
  7. RJ Spurrier, How to Choose the Best Baby Monitor for You, Baby Gear Lab, November 15th, 2012., RJ Spurrier, “How to Choose the Best Baby Monitor for You,” Baby Gear Lab, November 15th, 2012.

Expecting? We’ve made it easy:

Add All (Or Some) to Cart