Korea-based Pittasoft Co. Ltd, manufacturer of the BlackVue line of dashcams, kindly provided a DR650S-2CH and a Power Magic Battery Pack so I could get some hands-on experience. This model includes both front and rear-facing cameras, and can optionally connect to the vendor’s cloud service via WiFi.
Front installation of the DR650S-2CH
Installation was straightforward and took about an hour and a half, although much of that time was spent routing the rear camera cable through the rubber boot between the body and rear hatch of an SUV. Installation in a car should take less than half an hour. Cameras mount to windshields using supplied adhesive tape. One cable runs from the front camera to power, and a second from the front to rear camera. The cables are thin, sturdy, and easily pressed behind moulding.
Rear installation of the DR650S-2CH
The dashcam functions as a wireless access point, allowing it to be configured using a mobile phone. The WiFi password (technically WPA2 PSK) is easily changed; the application advises the user to do so when first connecting. The BlackView mobile app allows live view of the cameras, as well as the ability to view and download videos. The mobile app also allows queuing videos for upload to the cloud, and viewing videos from the cloud.
Most dashcams plug into a 12v Accessory Power Outlet and record only when the car engine is running. To facilitate cloud access and recording incidents while parked, Pittasoft also offers the Power Magic Battery Pack that is connected between the car and the dashcam. With the dual-camera configuration, it lasts 8 to 9 hours provided that the engine has run long enough (about an hour) to fully charge the battery pack.
Power Magic Battery Pack
It is possible to configure the device for manual recording only, but to be useful it records video at all times while driving, saving separate minute-long mp4 files from the 1080p front camera and 720p rear camera. While parked, the camera can be configured to record on video motion detection or only when sensors detect an impact event.
The DR650S-2CH includes a three axis accelerometer and GPS, the full power of which is not recognized until the MicroSD card is removed from the camera and inserted into a PC or Mac. BlackVue viewer combines the front and rear video, vehicle speed, accelerometer data, and moving map display on a single screen in real time.
Cloud-based services often invoke security and privacy concerns, and while Pittasoft’s cloud service is still evolving, they started on the right foot: By default, the only way to view videos from the camera is to connect via WiFi using a mobile phone or physically remove the SD card and insert it into a PC.
If the customer chooses to activate the cloud functionality, the dashcam can be configured to connect to three wireless networks, in a specified order. This allows it to preferentially connect to a home or office network before using a wireless hotspot. When the camera is connected to the Internet, cloud functionality in the mobile or desktop app can be used to download video from the camera. The camera can be instructed to upload files to a cloud service; but does so only on request.
Overall, I was impressed by the clear and fluid video. The company recommends using their SD cards; I had no problems with the 32gb card shipped with the camera. I did try a third-party 128gb card and experienced performance issues.
Configuration was simple, but a few settings are not obvious. For example, the camera has the ability to also record audio, and a proximity sensor on the left end of the camera allows audio recording to be turned on and off. I activated what I understood was the audio recording feature, and was surprised to find that even with audio recording turned off using the proximity sensor, it began again any time the camera rebooted. This happens every time the vehicle is parked longer than the battery pack can power the camera. As a result, I inadvertently bugged my own car.
Pittasoft support promptly clarified that the camera setting does not enable and disable audio recording capability, but instead sets the default. Turning audio recording off in the camera settings results in audio recording remaining off until the user manually activates it using the proximity sensor. While an option to disable audio recording altogether would be prudent, many users will like the option of on-demand audio recording.
Businesses contemplating dashcams should carefully consider four issues:
Dashcams have wide angle lenses. 1080p might seem extravagant, but the PT Cruiser that spun out a reasonably safe distance in front of me was about the size of a pea on an iPhone screen. 1080p front-facing video and the ability to view it on a decent size monitor is a hard requirement. 720p rear video is a reasonable compromise.
Even the best cameras will not capture all details in all conditions. I was impressed with the BlackVue’s performance at night, but like any camera, it is not magic. For example, when stopping directly behind another vehicle, headlights reflecting off a licence plate at night may make it impossible to read.
While it may be tempting to save money by installing only a front-facing camera, the rear-facing camera adds important context. In the event of a collision, it may capture important evidence. For example, if a camera-equipped vehicle is struck from behind, was the other driver cut off, or were they holding a phone?
Finally, as with any other video system, businesses need to consider privacy and data retention. Dashcams such as the BlackVue line appear ideal for spot checks and reviewing incidents, but it is not practical to download and archive all video. It is essential that employees understand how camera data will be used and retained, and that appropriate policies are in place.
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