Q: I'm thinking about getting a nanny cam, but I don't know what I should be looking for. Thoughts?
— Lucy, Niles
A: Most people buying a nanny cam are looking for peace of mind. Is the sitter treating my child well? Is my house OK while I'm on vacation? What's my cute new puppy up to?
Relatively inexpensive hidden — or not-so-hidden — nanny cameras range from a stand-alone device (RedAlert; around $200; swann.com.au) that records video or snapshots to a memory card, which you can slip into your computer for viewing later; to a Web cam (Cisco-Linksys WVC54GCA Webcam; around $175; linksys.com) that can record to your computer's hard drive when it detects motion.
With the latter camera, you'll have a window into your home no matter where in the world you are, as long as you're near a fast Internet connection.
While the decision is yours, it's a good idea to tell the sitter you're using a nanny cam — this is one relationship you don't want to build on mistrust. Besides, in some states, it's illegal to audio-record a person without that person's consent.
Specs to look for:
A camera that has a wide — 70 degrees or more — viewing range. A basic camera has a 45-degree viewing range, which may be all you need, but a wider range will show you more of a room at a glance. Black-and-white cameras are cheaper, but color cameras show more detail. Wired cameras are cheaper but leave you with the aesthetic problem of hiding the cable that connects the camera to the computer.
Connecting to a computer? This is a good option if you're buying a new computer because you can use your old model to record video. Make sure your hard drive has 50 gigabytes of storage per camera if you plan to record a week of continuous video. You'll need much less disk space if you set your system to record only when a camera detects motion — 1 gigabyte of storage could hold a month's worth of video, depending on how much motion occurs in the camera's viewing range.
As a dad, I see the appeal of being able to check in visually, as well as with a call.