Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Webcam baby video monitor: There's an app for that

Although I was planning to hold out a little longer before reviewing our webcam-turned-baby-video-monitor set up, I've gotten so many requests to share our experience that I figured I'd go ahead and do so.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I knew I wanted the AngelCare motion sensor monitor because I knew I'd be crazy enough to want to know if our baby was breathing throughout the night, but I didn't want to go with the AngelCare monitors that include video capabilities because I'd read enough reviews stating the video quality was crap. Fortunately Matt is tech savvy enough that he knew about the trend of parents taking webcams and turning them into baby video monitors.

We didn't buy a webcam immediately, but once Natalie started sleeping for longer and longer stretches at night I was curious to know if she was truly asleep or simply not making noise. It turns out that having the webcam video monitor now is especially great because now that Natalie is four months old she is old enough to go back to sleep on her own even after waking in the middle of the night, and through the monitor when can read her cues to see if she's going back to sleep or truly needs us. Plus, she now moves around a ton in her sleep, so the video monitor helps us understand what's happening in the nursery while we're elsewhere.

We bought the Foscam FI8918W Pan/Tilt with 8 meter night vision and 3.6 mm lens. When we purchased it via Amazon we paid about $85, though in my experience Amazon prices constantly fluctuate (and as of this writing the cost is at $80.99). We downloaded the uFoscam iPhone/iPad app for $4.99 to allow us to access the video monitor's feed. When we set up the system, the app was capable of taking still photos, but the newly released 1.7 version of the app allows for video recording.


Overall, the pros of this system outweigh the cons, but here's the breakdown of our experience:

Pros:

  • Great image quality -- the camera operates in color, but almost all the time we're watching Natalie in black-and-white in her (mostly) dark nursery. The night vision quality is strong given the fact that almost all the time she's in complete darkness. 
  • Inexpensive -- compared to other baby video monitors producing images of similar quality, the Foscam system is significantly less expensive.
  • Fewer devices -- This is probably the aspect that makes us happiest. Because Matt and I live with our iPhones attached to us these days, being able to access our video monitor on our phones (or for Matt through his iPad) and not through an additional device has been great. It's just generally convenient to do almost everything electronic in our lives through our phones. We're all about reducing clutter, so this is just one small step in that direction.
  • Remote access -- not only can we view the app through our iPhones/iPad provided we're hooked up to wifi, but we can also log in to the camera anywhere we have internet access. So, Matt has been known to check in on a napping Natalie from his work computer.
  • Versatility -- when we've outgrown the baby monitor days this camera can serve as a security camera, regular old webcam, or -- perhaps more excitingly -- a dog cam so I can figure out whether it's Max or Doc that keeps eating all my throw pillows when we're gone. Other users have set up their Foscam as a nanny cam. The app allows for users to control 12 webcams, so if you're super into security you can go wild.
This next point is sort of a pro, sort of a con...
Dependability -- So far there have been two times when I've had to unplug the camera because the image got stuck or there was some other glitch. Considering I log in to the camera probably a couple dozen times a day, I think this is a pretty good track record. I expect technology to experience the occasional bugs, and while some other people might get annoyed that this system isn't perfect 100 percent of the time, I suppose to me that sort of perfection seems unrealistic, so I'll take what we've got here.

Cons:

  • No zoom -- while the camera lens itself is stationary, the app allows you to zoom in on the image just as you would anytime you're using your iPhone/iPad. I wish, though, that the camera itself would zoom because that would increase our camera mounting options. Right now the webcam is on top of the crib, and this is no doubt some kind of child safety hazard that will get more dangerous as Natalie grows, so we're planning to mount the camera on the wall directly above her crib using a small extension cord and the mounting set that came with the camera.
  • Difficulty setting up remote access -- Matt took a couple hours setting up our system. He says that setting up the camera and the app is quite simple, but if you want to be able to access the camera feed remotely that's when set up becomes much more difficult.
  • Connectivity issues -- because the app only operates when wifi is on, and because I sometimes forget to turn it on after being out of the house and other times my phone can't get the wifi signal, there have been times when I couldn't access the camera on my phone. I wonder, though, how much of this is an issue with the app/camera and how much of it has to do with our wifi signal.

The best part of this set up is that we can watch our baby sleep without disturbing her. Yes, my paranoid side can rest more easily when I zoom in to see her chest rising and falling with her breaths, but perhaps more importantly I get to capture these images for posterity:


Yes, that's right, we officially have a roller on our hands. Every night at bedtime and for every nap this little lady is placed in the middle of the crib, on her back, facing the camera, yet clearly over the course of her rest she manages to wiggle into different positions. At her four-month appointment last week Natalie's doctor told us that we can start placing her to bed on her stomach now that she's capable of rolling over. I'm hesitant to do this because Natalie has woken up screaming a few times when she's gotten herself onto her stomach. She rarely screams, and she basically never wakes up screaming. So, even if she can get herself out of the predicament, she doesn't do so consistently, and for the sake of her sleep and ours I'd rather keep her on her back for the time being.





12 comments:

  1. She is so precious! I can't believe she moves so much and can already roll! So cute!

    We bought some ikea picture ledges and have the camera on that so the cord is no where near the crib.

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  2. First of all...thank you for writing this post. You have helped me plan for the monitoring of my newborn baby (coming in early January). I do have one question before I hit the "Confirm Order" button on Amazon:

    Does this webcam (used with the uFoscam app) have a one-second delay, as similarly seen in other apps/devices, or is it a live feed with no drag?

    I look forward to your answer. Again...thank you!

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  3. Hi Chris,

    Congrats on your impending arrival! Early January babies are special :) After looking more closely at our monitor and consulting my husband, our family's tech guru, we're in agreement that our monitor and app do not appear to be on any time delays. This is useful because when I see my baby scream, I see it in real time. In all seriousness, though, even if it was on a slight delay I don't think it would matter, but when there is a noise in the nursery (a scream, a head banging into the crib slats, etc.) I get to hear it and witness it while it's happening. Hope this helps. I would highly recommend this monitor and app. We have not had any problems at all. Best wishes!

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  4. I bought it, and really appreciate your insight. It was 63$ (free shipping from Texas) on Amazon (as of Nov 28, 2012), and I have about 5 or 6 old SmartPhones we can use as monitors. Also, just an FYI for future readers, another app that can be used (probably not as good as the paid app) is "IP Cam Viewer". That's the one I tested out before purchase (therefore, I'm not sure if it's the reason I was seeing a one-second time delay or not). Anyway, I'm looking to delve into it once we receive it in the mail and set it up.

    Stephanie, thanks for your help, and for allowing this webpage to reside in the "Nursery Stuff" Folder of my Bookmarks for the last few weeks. Happy Parenting!

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  5. Stephanie,
    My husband and I are also interested in the webcam idea instead of a traditional baby monitor. I was wondering if you have traveled with the foscam and how much time/effort it takes to set it up away from home.
    Thanks :)

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    1. We have not traveled with the monitor, but according to my husband it would take 5-10 min to set it up, provided you have access to a wireless router and a laptop. This is in keeping with his thoughts regarding the initial set up. It's only setting up the camera to be viewed remotely that took him a long time (several hours) to figure out because there were lots of steps.

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  6. I'm thinking of doing this also, my only question is do you have any kind of alert when baby cries?

    That's the only thing I see missing from a webcam setup
    Thanks

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    Replies
    1. Good question! There is, in fact, volume on our camera. I think this became more obvious thanks to a recently updated version of the Foscam app. The downside to the sound feature is that to hear the sound you'd have to keep the app running on your phone. This will inevitably eat up your battery life. Of course, you could keep your phone charging to combat this problem. Our house is small enough and our toddler is now old enough that when she screams we hear her everywhere in the house, but if you're looking for a one-device option this one does at least contain sound features.

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  7. First off, thank you for all the information. I stumbled upon your blog via good ol' fashioned Google search. I had been looking toward using some sort of IP camera as a baby monitor for some time now. I was just unsure of how to actually implement my plan. I was already in possession of two cameras that look exactly like the one you used for your monitor. I have been using them as general home security cameras with a nice little program called iSpy. It is free and works well. One of the cameras I was using for my front door was a Loftek CSX 2200 that I picked up on Newegg.com for $58.99 shipped. I decided to get a proper outdoor camera for the front door and repurpose the Loftek for the nursery. I use the app that Chris posted about late last year. "IP Cam Viewer" works great. My wife and I used it for the first time last night. We left our 9 day old in the crib for a few hours, then moved her to her swing. For better connectivity, I ran an ethernet cable into the nursery to hardwire the camera into my network.

    Pros: I can now roam about the house or back yard and not only hear, but also see my infant day or night. The camera allows for multiple viewers at the same time. The Pan/Tilt feature of the IP Cam Viewer app works well. I can map a port through my router to view my daughter from outside of my home. I would recommend using IP Cam Viewer because then you can get any one of 1214 cameras this app will work with.

    Cons: The app looses connection every once in a while (for only just a second or two, but repairs itself automatically). It will also start to distort the audio after a few hours (this is easily fixed by turning the audio off then back on again, but still annoying none the less). The app is a battery killer, but chargers all throughout the house make it easy to stay connected.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experience, and congrats on your newborn! I'm glad to hear about other systems that are working, and I'm sure other parents appreciate it, too. Yes, our app is a major battery killer, but not having to use a separate monitor and getting to monitor our baby when we're away is also a nice bonus of these systems. Best wishes!

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  8. Hi, thank you for this post! I have been wanting to switch to a video monitor since our first little boy was a baby, but decided to wait until the second one came around. Now that we're getting ready for that, these web cams seem like a great alternative. Here's my only concern - at night especially, I'm only alerted to the baby's needs by sound he makes. With an audio monitor that's no big deal, because it's always on and monitoring noise in the baby's room is it's only function. If I'm using my phone for something else, or if the phone screen goes to sleep during the night, am I still going to get audio from the camera, to know if the baby needs attention? I'm not sure if I'm making any sense, but I feel like the one advantage to a traditional baby monitor (or even video monitor) is that as long as it's turned on you're always going to hear what's going on in the baby's room.

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    1. Hi Molly! Good questions. The latest versions of the web came app have a sound feature. If you keep the app turned on and the sound turned on, even if the screen goes to sleep, you'll still hear the sound. Now, here's the catch: the sound isn't awesome, but you will definitely hear crying over the sound part of the cam/app. If you need the sound feature continuously running at night (we do not) you could just keep your phone plugged in next to your bed. My husband recently bought me a long iPhone cord for this purpose. I keep my phone plugged in some nights when our second baby is being particularly fussy and I need to check him often on the monitor. Hope this helps!

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