Baby monitors: 4 things to know before you buy

Consumer Reports News: March 06, 2009 05:21 PM

1. Know…yourself and the level of surveillance you can handle. Some parents feel reassured knowing they can see their baby at all times with an audio/video baby monitor. Others find it nerve-racking and feel like they have to be hypervigilant. Decide which category you fall into before you go shopping. If you sense that an audio/video monitor will be overwhelming, go with just an audio monitor instead. Having a monitor should make life easier, not be a constant source of worry.

2. Know…your neighbors. If you have nearby neighbors with babies, consider a digital monitor. If you want to be sure the images and sounds transmitted by your monitor are heard and seen only by you and not by neighbors who might have a similar model (or a cordless phone using the same frequency band), go with a digital monitor, not an analog one. Choosing digital will also ensure that the sounds and images you see and hear are coming from your baby and not the neighbor's.

Analog monitors operate on a particular frequency band—typically 900-megahertz (MHz) or 2.4-gigahertz (GHz)—much like a radio, sending signals from monitor to receiver in a straight shot. Digital monitors also operate on specific frequency bands, but they encode the signal as it travels between the monitor and the receiver, making it nearly impossible for the sounds to be heard by others. Digital also reduces the possibility of running into interference from other electronic devices. Though they may look high-tech, many monitors are still analog. To find a digital monitor, look for "digital" somewhere on the packaging.

3. Know…your phone and the other wireless devices in your home. To minimize the possibility of interference, select a monitor (either digital or analog) that operates on a different frequency band from other wireless products in your home. Besides baby monitors, many wireless products—including cordless phones, home networks, and Bluetooth devices—share the 2.4-gigahertz (GHz) radio frequency bands. As a result, they're likely to interfere with each other. As we mentioned, interference can cause static on a baby monitor, a cordless phone, or wireless speakers; it can also disrupt a wireless computer network or the video on a home security system or baby monitor.

If you buy a monitor and interference is a problem, try changing the channel. Most wireless products, baby monitors included, allow you to change their channels to solve interference problems, which is as easy as pushing a button. If that doesn't work, and you can't take the monitor back (more on that below), try keeping conflicting devices as far away from each other as possible; for example, keep your cordless phone and your baby monitor in different rooms.

4. Know…the return policy. Before buying or registering for any wireless product, such as a baby monitor, be sure the store or online vendor will let you return or exchange it, in case you can't get rid of interference or other problems. If you receive a monitor as a baby shower gift and know where it was purchased, try it before the retailer's return period. Return policies are often spelled out on store receipts, on a sign near the register, or on the merchant's Web site.

You'll need to return the item before the retailer's return period runs out (usually 30 to 45 days from the date of purchase). But if the return clock has run out, don't feel defeated. Persistence and politeness will often get you into overtime. Keep the receipt and the original packaging.

Learn more about nursery, crib and play yard safety in our Safety blog post.

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