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I am looking at video baby monitors and they are not cheap!

As a technologist I am having a hard time accepting that a couple of a webcams and an LCD screen cost 200+ dollars.

I can get a pretty decent in home security system for that price that would give me baby monitoring capabilities in every room and increase my homes value.

I can also get a couple of wireless webcams and set them up to stream to the internet and use my phone for video monitoring, or set up a dedicated monitor on a raspberry pi.

There are so many possibilities, but a part of me (and my wife) tells me that this isn't a good idea.


Edit (a year later, with a baby):

Some features that I didn't think as very important, but really they are the most important:

  • Handheld monitor you can take from room to room, and one that my parents can easily use
  • A webcam that you can pan and zoom from the monitor
  • Ability to take the whole system to another house, which means quick assembly and disassembly
  • Baby proof!!!

In hindsight I am glad that I shelled out 200 bucks for a crappy RF webcam/monitor that does all of the above really well.

The last thing I want to do right now is deal with electronics!

Is a Do-It-Yourself baby monitor a bad idea? YES!!!

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could you describe, what the considered product does/promises in detail and/or add a link to a data sheet or feature list? I've never heard about that "DYI baby monitor" yet. –  BBM Oct 19 '13 at 21:24
    
It's understandable that you are paranoid about DIY when it comes to your new baby. I don't think you need to worry though, if it makes you happy, do it. I bought a monitor, it's nice, but I wouldn't mind doing what you have outlined. I have a hard time believing it would be cheaper though! –  David Houde Oct 20 '13 at 10:19
    
DIY or wireless webcams could perhaps be a better idea because (I'm assuming) you'd be able to use SSL or other encryption to encrypt the signal, thus deterring any prying eyes. Not sure if commercial babycams have encryption or not. –  Kevin P. Kilburn Oct 21 '13 at 19:09
    
Do you have a cordless land-line phone system in your house? If so, it probably has an intercom/room monitor feature on it and you have a zero cost audio system already. Video monitor is, IMHO, completely unnecessary. –  Kevin Oct 30 '13 at 20:33
2  
It was a great question before, but with your update it's terrific :) –  Erica Nov 17 at 23:37

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Having used a Summer video monitor for the last 10 months with our kid my answer would be "no, but recognize what you are giving up."

The biggest two things are these: (1) the "just works" nature of an off the shelf solution and (2) the value of a dedicated device.

The just works is offset a little by the fact that these things aren't the best engineered gadgets I have ever used, but consider what I get with this Summer: for $220 from Amazon I have a device that includes a pan and tilt camera with excellent IR, a battery-operated monitor (with support for multiple cameras if I wanted to buy more), both wall warts, a battery holder base for the camera to use it elsewhere, and a recharging cradle for the monitor. The camera is already in a casing with mounting no more complicated than putting a picture on the wall, and it was functioning within 5 minutes of taking it out of the box. It never needed me to debug anything or patch any of the software. I can't alter some of its annoying behavior - a non-configurable power-saving screen darkening, for example - but it never fails to do what it is supposed to or requires my involvement if, say, my wife were to have an issue with it.

The dedicated device is a bigger plus than I would have initially realized. I don't have to stop what I am doing with my phone or a tablet or change windows on my pc to view the sleeping boy. I look to my left where I am right now and the screen is up. I don't have to worry about whether the lack of sound I hear is because he's really asleep or because the app has timed out or lost audio control to another application or whatever. It is always doing exactly what I need it to and nothing else is running down the battery (if I don't have it on its cradle) or taking focus away.

Those two things are, in my opinion, an excellent reason you should not do this. If your life or relationship organization is such that the time investment of making your solution work well won't be an issue and you have hardware to devote to it, maybe this is not a concern for you. But I would suggest you at the very least consider where the camera will need to go and how you'll keep it there... and keep it there once the toddler is yanking things that are accessible. In my experience the cameras you'd use to solve this problem will be more expensive than the baby devices which have their prices depressed by the fact that so many of them are sold.

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If you're confident in your ability to get something working, and don't wind up spending money on time only to wind up buying a pre-made solution, I'd say go for it!

As long as what you build is reliable, and provides at least basic audio capabilities to whichever rooms you need it to work in, you should be fine.

Keep in mind that we made do without baby monitors until the past few decades, and I don't believe that video feed is even necessary (unless there's a specific health concern your baby has that merits extra attention).

We used just an audio monitor, and it was perfectly sufficient for our needs.

When planning what you want to build, here is a discussion that identifies some key features to consider.

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Is it a bad idea? On the face of it, I say no. I mean, I was THIS FAR from doing the same thing to make a reverse-cam on my van.

But, as I do around here, lets consider it from a different angle. As a technophile myself, let's think about it as if you were building a pc. I've done it I don't know how many times, so I can build a shopping list in my sleep.

There are likely plans somewhere on the interwebs about how to do it cheaply and just as good. So let's say that you get your shopping list. You build the thing, it works great, it was cheap, all that . . .

Then a part fails.

On a DIY PC (lets say it was the HD), you have to thoroughly troubleshoot the part and then play circus-freak doing all the calisthenics that the manufacturer requires before they give you an RMA#. Fastest I've managed to get a part between moment of failure and moment of reboot is probably 9-10 days. On a hand built baby monitor system, I can't imagine that it would be any different.

This example is meant to make a point that most people don't get: the price you pay for anything is for some kind of convenience.

For bread, you can buy the parts and make it yourself for way cheaper than $1.50/loaf. The convenience is time. For some kind of warranty, it's the convenience in the case of failure. For this item, you're paying for both conveniences. For a unit with screens, cams, low power modes, quiet alarms, etc etc, the $200 price tag is for the simplicity of operation AND for the 1 year (or however long) warranty. If something blows out, you'll have another one in your non-diaper holding hand probably as fast as UPS can get it there... 2-3 days. Complete unit, whole, working, in the plastic, pristene, all that. Imagine for a moment the rigamarole of what you'll have to deal with on a DYI setup.

On the other hand, from one technologist to another, here's a separate idea: Try local Salvation Armory or Goodwill. Our local places have, not just baby monitors, but 10 yr old laptops and cheap-ass net-books for what $30-50. It will have wifi and usb, and that's all you need. a $20 webcam and a low-resource configuration (ubuntu 11.04 anyone?) and you have not only a baby monitor, but something to play night-night music and do whatever else.

Bad idea? Abstractly, No. But it depends on how you do it as to whether or not it's a functionally bad idea.

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I'd say no, still, despite the OP's own answer. I don't agree that the ability to pan-and-zoom is necessary for a baby monitor, especially considering baby monitors used to only carry audio, not video.

These days, all you need to make a cheap baby monitor is an old smartphone you're not using anymore, but is still functional, and a second smartphone. They two phones have to be the same type of OS (Android & Android or iOS & iOS). (Note, they could also be a mix of phone/tablet).

  • On both phones, install the same baby monitor app. (These range from free to inexpensive, depending on the features you want).
  • Set up the old phone in the baby's room to act as the recording device.
  • Monitor the child with the second device.

Pros:

Many of these apps support multiple child devices, allowing you to place recording devices in the same room, or throughout the house. The only things you need are places to plug them in, so they keep power, and objects to prop the devices up if you don't have anything already.

While you can use your current smartphone or tablet as the viewing device, there's no reason it has to be your current model. You can use two old phones.

You can use data/Internet connections for the app, but it's not required. Some apps, like Dormi's Baby Monitor, allow you to use direct connections from nearby devices to do the monitoring.

If both devices are Internet connected, you can easily monitor your child from anywhere you have Internet/data. (A plus for nervous parents that have hired their first babysitter in a long time.)

They are extremely portable.

You don't have to use an old device. It just makes it more convenient to not use two actively used devices.

Cons:

You may need something to prop the recording devices up to your preferred viewing angle.

They may cause an LED to be on while the recording device is active. (This could be covered up with electrical tape)

Not all devices offer video streaming, or even picture taking capabilities.

There's no panning of the camera (if there is one). Zooming isn't likely, either.

Apps don't have consistent pricing, and may have hidden in-app purchases needed to activate all the features you desire, even if the app itself is free.

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