Review: Philips In.Sight Wireless HD Baby Monitor for iPhone/iPad
Compatible: All iPads, iPhone 3GS/4/4S/5, iPod touch 4G/5G
iOS-compatible home video monitoring solutions have become increasingly common over the past two years, as previously computer-dependent Wi-Fi cameras have evolved with hardware and software to stand alone -- these days, you plug one into a wall outlet, connect it to a home wireless network, and access its video either locally or over the Internet. Philips has recently joined the pack with the In.Sight Wireless HD Baby Monitor ($170, aka B120), which competes against similar earlier products such as Stem Innovation's iZon, iHealth Lab's iBaby Monitor, and Netgear/Avaak's VueZone, albeit with a particular focus on child monitoring. Overall, In.Sight sits in the middle of the pack in both pricing and features, though it has a couple of major assets, including unusually high-resolution video and the ability to communicate intermittently with monitored children.
With a 2.5”-diameter base and attractive translucent white body that tapers to a less than two-inch rounded triangular shape, the In.Sight Wireless HD Baby Monitor stands around four inches tall with an aqua blue top, circular black camera face, and single white rear cable as its most obvious features. All but hidden in the unit are an ambient light sensor, invisible Infrared night lighting for 12-foot distances, a small speaker, and a microphone; the always design-conscious Philips has substantially blended these elements into the unit rather than making them stick out like sore thumbs. If it wasn’t for the rear cable, which needs to be connected to a second included USB cable and wall adapter for power, the In.Sight Wireless HD Baby Monitor would be nearly inconspicuous in a child’s room.
Though the In.Sight Wireless HD Baby Monitor is designed to be placed on a dresser and pivoted to remain in your choice of positions, Philips includes a simple screw and post as optional wall mounting hardware, as well as a J-shaped tube that can be used to add 90 degrees to the camera’s angle on the wall mount. On a positive note, the included components enable the camera to be easily turned and angled in your choice of fixed positions in a child’s room; however, the most sophisticated baby cameras we’ve tested actually include quiet motorized mechanisms capable of remotely adjusting the viewing angle upwards, downwards, or from side to side as needed. With the In.Sight Wireless HD Baby Monitor, you’re locked into whatever single position you leave the camera in, with a viewing angle that’s in the 30mm equivalent range—not ultra-wide.
Despite Philips’ efforts, setting up the In.Sight Wireless HD Baby Monitor isn’t as easy as the company’s marketing materials would suggest. You’re supposed to use your iPhone to download a free Philips In.Sight app, confirm the selection of a wi-fi network, and then use the Baby Monitor’s camera to scan an app-generated QR code to complete the setup process. A light on the Baby Monitor is then supposed to switch from amber to green to signal that it has properly scanned the code, and finish the setup process. In concept, this is a cool idea, but we found that the light’s coloration didn’t change enough between states to effectively signal QR code recognition, and that the initial Wi-Fi network wasn’t one that both the iPhone and Baby Monitor could join—Philips’ specs alternate between calling the camera “802.11n” and “802.11a/b/n” compatible, for whatever that’s worth. Once we resolved these issues by picking a mutually compatible Wi-Fi network for the app and camera, everything became fairly straightforward, but user complaints of initial setup problems suggest that Philips needs to further streamline this process.
Perhaps the single best feature of the In.Sight Wireless HD Baby Monitor is the quality of the video it streams—Philips calls it “HD” on the packaging, and it’s actually 1280 x 720 (720p), with a promised 30 FPS frame rate. By comparison with other video monitors we’ve tested, the video looks great: whether you’re viewing the stream on an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad mini, there’s enough detail and brightness to let you see everything that’s going on, with minimal compression artifacts; the quality is discernibly superior to rival cameras that were built with older, lower-resolution sensors. That said, even under the best circumstances, we never saw anything close to a 30 FPS frame rate on streaming video: it’s closer to 4 frames per second, possibly lower. By the standards of classic baby monitors, In.Sight is a big step forward, but it’s not quite as remarkable by contemporary standards as the specs might lead you to believe.
Philips’ In.Sight app is good enough to do what it’s expected to do, generally, but could still use additional polish. It has both iPhone/iPod and iPad interfaces, mostly making good use of each device’s screen, though its tendency to fade controls and indicators out in favor of a full-screen video display sometimes deprives the user of access to features that could be useful. Further, while it’s great that the Baby Monitor includes audio features, Philips takes an unusual approach to streaming sound, forcing the user to press a microphone button multiple times to start and stop communicating with the monitored child. Many parents will be perplexed just learning to use the microphone button properly; combined with the app’s half-duplex stopping of incoming audio to enable outgoing audio, and some confusing settings for consistent or on-demand audio monitoring, it’s clear that the software could benefit from further simplification.
These problems generally appear to originate from a good place, namely an abundance of hardware features inside the In.Sight camera than Philips’ app designers could simplify on this pass through the software. The camera includes temperature, humidity, motion, and noise sensors, the latter of which can trigger alerts and activate monitoring automatically based on user preferences. Though we could debate their necessity, very few monitors we’ve seen have all of these features. Additionally, you can have 16 total Baby Monitors and other In.Sight cameras on the same user account, checking them all from one or multiple iOS devices without complaint. Unlike some rival products, monitoring can be done over cellular or Wi-Fi networks, since all of the camera’s video gets fed to a Philips server for processing—something that causes a several-second lag between real life and what you’re seeing.
If there’s any further room for complaint with the app, it’s solely in the presence of an upgrade feature that attempts to charge $25 per year for additional monitoring capabilities: up to two hours of live video and audio streaming per “session,” the ability to share the monitor’s feed with up to 10 other people, and more sophisticated alert history storage. In practice, these features are so truly optional that their absence really doesn’t limit normal use and enjoyment of the Baby Monitor; three people can use the app for free, with live video streaming capped at a reasonable 5 minutes per session, and no cap on starting new sessions. There’s also unlimited audio streaming per Wi-Fi session, or 30 minutes of audio per cellular session. As with other web-dependent monitoring devices, the biggest threat with In.Sight is that Philips could shut down its video servers without providing a point-to-point monitoring solution for existing users.
Overall, the In.Sight Wireless HD Baby Monitor is a very good video and audio solution for watching kids, held back from greatness primarily by a collection of small issues that are neither trivial nor fatal. It’s priced reasonably, equipped with atypically impressive video resolution and audio capabilities, and attractively designed—all reasons parents should give it serious consideration. That said, setup, app usage, and audio streaming performance could all stand to be simplified, and between the lack of motorization and the camera’s less than wide viewing angle, choosing the right initial location and position will be important for maximizing the experience. Hopefully, Philips will continue to iterate on this idea with new software and hardware, because this is a strong first option and could easily become even better over time.