There is nothing that gets the parents of very young children more excited than the prospect of a piece of technology that will help with those very exhausting first couple years. This excitement doubles if you are a geek parent. We had the opportunity to test out the Home & Away Portable Digital Video Monitor from The First Years. Based on our experience I would say our results are mixed but, overall, positive.
Let me preface this by saying that this is the third video monitor system we have used in our GeekDad/GeekMom household. The First Years provided this system to us for review. We have another system already in place and that system replaced a different camera system that we had before. Needless to say, we are becoming fairly versed in options and features for this type of system just in time for our kids to start aging out. Here is a rundown of the features for the Home & Away system:
- Parent unit has a large 3.5 inch color display.
- Capable of capturing both still pictures and video
- A range of 650 feet
- Monitor unit has a night light
- Ability to talk back into the baby’s room over the monitor
- Monitor remotely via Skype
- Ability to add up to three additional cameras
I am going to start with the negatives we found. The first big negative for us was never being able to test the Skype feature. The Skype feature was something we were really looking forward to trying but, unfortunately, the system requires Windows XP or higher. These system requirements were not readily visible on the homepage for the monitor and you actually have to follow the link for help on the device to find the system requirements. If you are an Apple, Linux, or other OS household you are out of luck unless you run Windows in a VM, through Bootcamp, or some other means. The Skype feature works by installing software on your PC and then plugging the Parent Unit in to the PC via USB.
We also had an issue with the white noise machine in our son’s bedroom. There is something in the sampling on the monitor unit that turned the white noise coming over the monitor into a beat frequency. However, when our children were talking or crying the sounds they made came through very clear over the noise. I would note here that our white noise machine isn’t really a white noise machine but, like most that are used to help with sleeping, actually produces closer to a Brownian noise.
Now for the positives. The system is dead simple to set up and highly portable. Most of the effort was in getting the camera set-up and pointed correctly, just like any other camera system. It was ready to go out of the box with the exception of the need to charge the batteries in the Parent Unit. The display is huge compared to other video monitor systems we have used and produces a fairly crisp color picture. The camera is sensitive to the near-IR and has built-in near-IR LEDs that provide excellent nighttime capabilities. The camera also has a level of digital zoom that we found particularly useful. The system operates in the 2.4 GHz spectrum like half of the other stuff in your house so be sure to check against interference. The signal is secure and not just an open video signal like many other video monitor systems. This is definitely becoming more of a standard as parents become more aware of, and demand, security precautions.
The parent unit is rechargeable and the camera unit has the ability of running on batteries as well. This is a nice feature for travel or just as backup in the event of a power failure. The camera unit has a nightlight that we found to be very bright but this may be a standard brightness. We have never used night lights so it wasn’t an important feature for our use.
Overall, I give the Home & Away Portable Digital Video Monitor high marks. If you already have a system in place that you are comfortable and happy with I wouldn’t recommend sending it to electronics recycling and running out to replace your system but if you are looking to purchase a new system or upgrade from an audio only system I would definitely recommend you look into buying this system. The secured camera signal and built-in near-IR alone makes this head-and-shoulders above many competitors.