Back when I was a kid, a “baby monitor” referred to grandma’s sixth sense. When I was about 5 years old, I remember playing with Legos or coloring while grandma putzed around the kitchen or watched The Price is Right and my baby brother took a nap in a remote bedroom. Invariably, using some sort of refined Grandma Radar, she’d detect his slightest stirring as if she’d been kicked in the shins.
By the time I became a father, we’d replaced grandma with a plug-in radio transmitter in my son’s room. It picked up his every snore and coo and broadcast them to a receiver elsewhere in the house, so we could tell when he was waking up. It was low-tech compared to today—you had to plug both units into the wall and the range was only about 50 feet or so—but at the time, it felt like we were living in The Future.
Now that The Future is here, my old baby monitor seems as chintzy as two cans and some string. Parents now have technology for spying on their kids that rivals what the military uses to spy on Al Qaeda. Consider the InfantOptics DXR-5 2.4 GHz Digital Video Monitor with Night Vision, which is loaded with more features than I could have ever imagined when I was a new father. It’s wireless, for one thing, broadcasting color images from a spycam to a handheld video monitor up to 800 feet in open areas or 150 feet indoors. The data is encrypted between transmission and reception points to prevent hackers from tapping into the feed; it’s voice activated, so it saves power when your little one is snoozing contentedly; and yes, it has night vision. Did your wife have quads? Great! InfantOptics supports up to four cameras simultaneously.
There’s a lot of competition in this category, with prices ranging from $99 on Amazon Prime for the InfantOptics system to around $250 for WiFi Baby, which is a virtual studio setup for those who are fixated with watching their kids around the clock from anywhere in the world. This set-up has a WiFi-capable camera and various apps and interfaces that make it possible to watch the stream on iPhone, Android, iPads and over the Internet. You can even record your kid’s slumber from any device.
Need more bells and whistles? The Motorola MBP36 allows you to zoom in and out. It also monitors the room temperature, plays electronic lullabies and allows two-way communication, so your kid can always hear your omniscient voice commanding them to go to sleep. The Summer Infant Complete Coverage Kit comes not only with the small hand-held video unit (with convenient belt holster so you can go full-nerd) but also a Kindle-sized LCD monitor on a tilting swivel stand so you can watch your kid-cam more comfortably. More? The Samsung Wireless Video Security Monitoring System comes with A/V cables so you can watch your kid on the 55-inch plasma screen in the den. Levana BabyView20 has a built-in nightlight. Several streaming-to-smartphone cameras are password protected for extra security against the stream being picked up by random passersby.
I have yet to find a baby monitor that cues the coffee maker when your about-to-awaken kid triggers a motion detector, but I bet it’s not far off. If the choices are overwhelming, take heed. All of this can be fun and useful, but it’s also not critically important — generations of people have grown up perfectly safe without them. And you can always go retro; just pick up the phone and call grandma. Or Skype her.