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I want to buy a baby monitor but I am overwhelmed by all the different options. based on your experience, what are the most important features to look for in a baby monitor? Please explain the reasons for your preference.

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The most important feature is that it makes you trust it so you feel less worried. I'd say everything else is pretty much irrelevant, as that's the whole point of the baby monitor. :-) –  Lennart Regebro Aug 12 '11 at 14:16
    
@Lennart +1 ... I don't really get the point of a baby monitor ... if the kid isn't making enough noise to be heard beyond the room, mom and dad don't really need to know about it. –  tomjedrz Aug 25 '11 at 23:21
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5 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Most important to us is portability and good battery life, because it's difficult to keep the receiver plugged into just one place. I would next check for clear reception. Hearing static all the time can get annoying. Digital is better for this in general, but there are good analog ones too. As a rule of thumb, higher GHz numbers traditionally have better immunity to interference, but depending on what gadgets you and your neighbors have this isn't always the case. Don't be afraid to return one if the static is just too annoying at your house.

I personally would take video off the list unless price isn't an issue, because you usually use the monitor when you're sleeping or otherwise engaged. New parents will always go into the baby's room when he's fussing anyway, and experienced parents know what sounds to ignore without video. Video monitors also use more bandwidth, so it's harder to find one that doesn't cause or be affected by interference.

Also off my personal must have list is encryption unless it doesn't cost extra. The signal doesn't go much past the end of your driveway, and if someone is camped out there listening to your baby sleep I think you have bigger privacy issues than your baby monitor.

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+1 for portability –  Tim H May 13 '11 at 6:20
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Be aware that if you live in a big old Stone building, like a Barn, as I do, that you'll need to boost the signal as well, as it sometimes will simply not get through the walls. –  Hairy May 13 '11 at 10:18
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As Karl says, "New parents will always go into the baby's room when he's fussing anyway, and experienced parents know what sounds to ignore without video."

But... I think the video feature (with 'night vision') is very usefull for comfortably making the transition from being a new parent to being an experienced parent. In between those stages, you'll hear a sound, look at the video, see whether they are fully awake or just having little "baby nightmares" and overtime learn to tell the difference just by sound. Going into the room to observe whether they need your attention tends to be ineffective since the act of going into the room will often wake them up or excite them if they are partially awake.

The ability to push a button to remotely play music or toggle lights is a common thing on these gadgets but we found them totally useless.

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As new parents, my wife and I specifically avoided the video features based on feedback from a number of other parents. We were advised that the video feature would prevent us from getting any sleep, as we'd constantly be staring at the screen. It seemed reasonable to us, and we were happy with our decision. We were still up with every single noise the first couple of nights, but it got progressively easier for us to wait, listen, and evaluate whether each noise required followup. I think it would have been more difficult to wean ourselves off of obsessive video monitoring. –  Beofett May 13 '11 at 13:46
    
Beofett, we love the video feature in our baby monitor. During our sleep time there's a button which turns off the screen unless the baby makes some noise, so you don't have the screen on all the time. Plus, even if its on, the staring at the screen effect will wear off fairly quickly. I highly recommend the video feature. –  molgar Aug 11 '11 at 12:59
    
@Beofett .. out of curiosity, what sounds, beyond significant crying that lasts longer than a minute or two, do you not ignore? –  tomjedrz Aug 25 '11 at 23:31
    
@Tom during the first few days? We checked on pretty much every noise. We also didn't wait a couple of minutes after he started crying to check on him. Those first few days tend to be pretty nerve wracking for first-time parents. –  Beofett Aug 26 '11 at 1:54
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I'd say that these factors are relevant to consider:

Do you need...

  • Bidirectional sound? All monitors can transmit TO the parent unit. Mine can't send sound back to the child; I don't miss it.
  • Music? My unit can't play soothing music. I don't miss the ability to remotely select to play something now, or what to play. I sometimes do miss the ability to just have soothing background sound -- my son is soothed by the sound of rain. I have another device to play that.
  • Video? I don't miss being able to see the child. I'm always near enough and it's not a big bother to get up and peek into the room, even without turning on the light. More technically-minded people might like a night-vision camera feature; I just don't care personally.
  • Clear signal? I'd say you should definitely choose a DECT (digital) system. You avoid radio static and interference from other monitors and from other kinds of devices.
  • Range? My unit has no range problem in a normal house, even across one floor level. It does not reach from a hotel room to the restaurant; I don't think any product will reliably do that. If you don't have special range requirements, ignore this.
  • Portability? The parent unit must have batteries, and a simple drop-in charging station. The baby unit doesn't need it but it can be convenient for traveling.
  • Temperature/humidity measurement? I don't miss these features. I wouldn't easily be able to change those conditions anyway.

You can find lots of variety on your local Amazon site.

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Apparently the selection at the store we shopped at was poor... I didn't even know that temperature/humidity measurement was an option! Not that we would have wanted it.... –  Beofett May 13 '11 at 13:49
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Aside from all the above, which are great features, you may want the baby monitor to not interfere with your Wifi signal at home. It's something that's not always clearly stated.

Many baby monitors operate on the same frequency as most wireless routers (2.4 Ghz) and use a (too) wide band of channels.

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This list of features from Consumer Reports is helpful: a link

I prefer a video monitor because it means that a baby does not need to cry to get the attention of parents.

Parents of more than one baby/toddler should consider a system that they can add on a 2nd camera to. And it is helpful if that camera can be remotely controlled since babies more a lot in their sleep.

Range is another important consideration. Do you want to be able to take the monitor to the backyard? Down into the basement? Or do you live on a single floor?

There are audio monitors that will not transmit the base level of noise. It's helpful to play white noise for babies, but then you will always have noise coming through your monitor unless you get a monitor that will not transmit that base level.

Many new parents find the sensor pads that come with some monitors (Angel Care) an important piece of mind. It might be irrational, but there are times in those early weeks that you'll wonder if your baby is still breathing, and then wake baby up trying to check. Having a sensor pad would help if you're prone to worry.

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Thanks for linking to the Consumer Reports article. It summarizes many of the previous answers. –  Jaime Soto Aug 20 '11 at 16:17
    
You should include something of that article here (at least just the headings), so that your answer remains valid even if the hyperlink breaks. –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Aug 22 '11 at 7:15
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