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The quest for a reliable baby monitor

A baby monitor can be a life saver, especially if you need to be able to move around the house while the baby is sleeping. So, like many new parents in the modern age, I set out to find one that would suit our needs. So what are our needs? To put it simply, we need to know when the baby needs attention. We also wanted to have video, though I realize that is not a requirement to satisfy the main goal.

So, first up, is the #1 best seller on Amazon – Infant Optics DXR-5. It is a 2-unit solution, i.e. it comes with the camera and the monitor. At roughly $100, this seemed like a great deal. Unfortunately, we were unsatisfied with it, mainly because the audio volume was way too low, and if we were watching TV or having friends over we simply could not hear anything. I don’t know if we just happened to receive a defective unit, but owning this product also made me realize something else – this is yet another device that I need to remember to charge periodically and carry around the house with me. I already have a device that I do just that with – my smartphone. So with that realization in mind, I set out to find an IP (network) camera.

Dropcam Pro

I know what you’re thinking. Spending $200 on a camera is crazy. My wife thought the same thing when I brought it home. But I was drawn by the Apple-Esque design and quality of the product that I felt it may be worth the investment. Set up was a breeze, you don’t need to be technical at all. Video and audio quality is excellent. But unfortunately, that wasn’t enough. There is one major flaw with Dropcam’s design – the video feed always goes through Dropcam’s servers and downloaded back to your device, even when you’re at home. In other words, instead of the camera broadcasting the video directly to your phone/tablet/computer, it makes a roundtrip through the internet.
There are several problems with this approach. First, it adds significant latency (delay), anywhere between 3-10 seconds depending on your connection. Second, it makes the product dependent on your internet connection. That is, if your internet goes down, so does the baby monitor. But it can get even worse – if you have other devices utilizing your upload bandwidth, which happens to be limited on most connections, those devices will compete for bandwidth. This can happen, for example, if your iPhone is running an iCloud backup. Sure, this can be solved with QoS but most people wouldn’t know how to set that up, not to mention many home routers don’t even support it. Dropcam could have easily solved these issues by supporting local streaming, but they’ve been ignoring this request for years now. You can read all about it here. It seems that Dropcam is designed more for external viewing. Unlike other activities though, many parents view baby video feeds from home. That’s why most consumer monitors available today don’t even operate over WiFi – it’s simply not a requirement for most parents.
But that’s just one issue I had with Dropcam. The other problem, is their app does not support background audio. So if you get message and want to respond, or even a pop-up telling you your battery is running low, the app will pause.
I really wanted to love the Dropcam. They managed to put an amazing camera into a tiny package. But for all the reasons stated above, it simply isn’t reliable as a baby monitor.

Foscam

Next up, was Foscam. I have a friend who owns one for the same use and has been very happy with it. Foscam has their own apps in the App Store, but because of its popularity there are quite a few third party apps that support it as well. The one I was most impressed with is Tinycam’s Baby Monitor (you can find an Android version as well). Foscam offers a variety of models. The one I chose to get is FI9831W which offered decent image quality.
The advantage of the Tinycam app is it’s actually designed to be a baby monitor. You can set thresholds for alerts so when the noise goes above a certain level the app will sound an alert that you definitely will not miss. I liked this a lot because this was the first set up where I didn’t actually have to constantly stare at the screen to know if there’s something going on.
Some of the things I didn’t like about the Foscam is the build quality felt very cheap, and the microphone sensitivity wasn’t as good as I’d like it to be. I also thought the Pan / Tilt / Zoom features added unnecessary bulk and aren’t needed for baby monitoring. It might be worth to check out their baby-oriented camera, the Fosbaby.

Hikvision

Last up is the Hikvision DS-2CD2432F-IW, also known as Cube. I have never heard of this company before and was skeptical at first. But after having done some research, I learned that this camera is highly rated, so I decided to check it out.
The Hikvision has almost the same, if not equivalent image quality to that of the Dropcam Pro. In fact, it is the only other camera I found that has a 3MP sensor. The audio quality was also excellent, and it has a small form factor that is easy to mount. Luckily, this camera was also supported by the Tinycam app. I am extremely happy with this camera and can highly recommend it.
Now the one thing you have to keep in mind with this camera, and this also applies to the Foscam, is that it takes a bit of technical knowledge to set up. Please don’t let this deter you though – if anything, at least give it a shot because once everything is up and running you’ll be extremely satisfied with the end result. Also, keep in mind that accessing these cameras from outside your home (i.e. when you’re not connected to the local network) requires additional set up, at the very least some port forwarding on your router. I am very technical so this was not an issue for me, but generally I think this is only a “nice to have” feature and not as important so even if you don’t get that aspect working you’ll still end up with a great baby monitor.

By Danny

Random geek living in a random city

One reply on “The quest for a reliable baby monitor”

Terrific post – thank you for sharing.

I already have the Hikvision camera for home security, and was going to try out the Dropcam Pro after reading about the great audio/video quality and ease of us, but why mess with a good thing? Plus I've read nothing but negative reviews since Nest took over.

The Hikvision is already doing an outstanding job, getting another one just makes sense.

Thanks again!

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