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My take on dashcams: why, how, and where

Discussion in 'Articles' started by KD_LA, Nov 23, 2018.

By KD_LA on Nov 23, 2018 at 9:38 PM
  1. [1] INTRODUCTION

    To paraphrase Admiral Stockdale (if you remember him): “Who am I? Why am I (writing) here?
    Over the past few months, I’ve come across many posts questioning various aspects of dash cams: from makes and models, to functionality, to how-to. I’ve answered a handful, some over and over. So I decided to compile all of my thoughts on the subject and compose this article. The last time I authored anything was the software instruction manual of an industrial control system – back in the early 90’s! So... fasten your reading glasses, it’s going to be a bumpy read.

    I’ve broken this into sections, hopefully for an easier read and for easy reference.

    While there are many articles on many other sites reviewing and comparing in detail various models of dashcams, this article is not intended to be any such research or product guide. I’m only writing this to cover several dashcam issues that, at least to me, seem basic yet significant issues and their logical solutions, as well as to explain my personal choices-- which are also my recommendations.


    [2] THE NEEDS - WHY DO I NEED A DASHCAM?

    Simple reason, CYA. Cover your arse in at least two distinct and very significant situations: traffic incidents, and what we have come to endearingly refer to as paxholes.

    About a year or so before I started rideshare, I got into an accident with, ironically, a Lyft driver on an active ping. I was at a red light on a single-lane side street, at a T intersection of a one-way road, about to turn right. This driver came up towards me from behind, and decided that the one and only lane I was in was actually two separate lanes: a right-turn lane which they wanted, and, apparently, a go-some-other-direction lane which they decided I was in (remember this is a T at a one-way). As I’m about to start making my right turn, this driver squeezed their smaller car from behind between my passenger side and the curb. As I start making my right turn, the corner of that car’s bumper made contact with my right side and scraped across my doors a few feet. No collision, no impact-- just enough surface to surface contact for a tall scrape of the paint that did not dent the body. The next day I find out from my insurance company that according to their statement, I “hit” that car so hard that their shoulder was bruised. Right. Pants on fire.

    That was my first indication, and the first reason for, having a dashcam -- most particularly in certain metropolitan areas like mine.

    The second reason is the incessant behavior of passengers being either fraudulent or ill-behaved. From false passenger claims of abuse or cancellation or discrimination, to passenger vandalism and technicolor yodels.

    Just a couple months after I started rideshare, I decided I have to get a good dashcam. And so began my long, arduous, and OCD research using my favorite tool: Microsoft Excel!

    Just a couple of weeks into my research, which included a search for funds too, I picked up the Chief Executive Shark of a Beverly Hills personal injury law firm. One of the very first things he said was that I must have a dashcam, and we spoke about that for a bit. Then he went on to suggest a second dashcam, installed in the back, to record traffic events behind the vehicle. That made absolute sense, based on the personal experience I mentioned earlier. So my research got more complicated.

    Some drivers insist on using some app on their phones to act as a dashcam. That’s their choice, but I don’t agree: it’s not necessarily a stable platform (you have other apps running), nor is the phone always in the right spot looking over the right view to keep watch over everything all the time. Not practical in my opinion.


    [3] THE LAW!

    Several important legal points to worry about. Different regions have their own different law(s) regarding dashcams, so make sure to research – AND obey -- those of your region. These laws can govern both the use and the physical location of dashcams. It’s important! Just keep in mind that if you hide your dashcam, and you're in an incident, your video evidence may likely be inadmissible. Not to mention, you might get sued and/or prosecuted.

    Here in California, we’re required to post a visible notice, clearly alerting passengers of both video and audio recording. Physical placement is also dictated in California. Per legalbeagle.com: “California law requires their placement outside the range of airbag deployment in a 7-inch-square area at the lower right-hand corner of the windshield, in the lower left-hand corner of the windshield in an area no larger than 5 square inches, or in a 5-inch square area on the upper center portion of the windshield.
    https://legalbeagle.com/12333580-legal-use-car-dash-camera-california.html

    I gave up trying to find a warning sign I liked. I Photoshoped my own and printed it on photo paper. Better safe than sorry, so I have one in the front, and one on the back of each front seat. Feel free to download and print (or modify), it’s formatted to fit 4x6 paper. There's blank space at the top of the sign, because for the front I have it folded and tucked in the crack of the glovebox door.
    image01.jpg

    The original Photoshop PSD file is at the bottom (in a zip) if you want to mess with it.

    A few weeks later, I found these nice small warning stickers on eBay. I put one on the inside of each rear window quarter glass, and one on each side at the 3rd row of seats. White printing on clear vinyl made them blend in. Unfortunately that eBay vendor doesn’t carry it anymore. This is the photo from the original eBay listing, but I can’t find any others like it that small.
    image02.jpg


    [4] PRODUCT REQUIREMENTS, MY RESEARCH, AND MY FINAL CHOICE

    Three of the more popular dashcam makes are BlackVue, Falcon Zero, and Vantrue. I have techno-OCD when it comes to researching or comparing certain things: I lay out all the details in an Excel spreadsheet so I can view and compare side by side, in one place.

    So I filled up my spreadsheet with those three, plus a few other different models from different brands, and started eliminating choices based on what became my requirements:
    • Compact size, for a smaller footprint on the windshield and a smaller blind spot.
    • Must must (repeat, must!) be dual-lens with wide-angle view: to record a front-view for traffic incidents in front of the vehicle, and to record an inside-view for passenger incidents inside the vehicle.
    • Good night-vision front-view, and even better night-vision for the inside view.
    • Support for high capacity memory cards, in order to get a longer video retention time.
    • Capable of adjustable loop recording.
    • Optional: support for recording GPS data with the video.
    • Good brand name with good feedback.
    • Not a cheapo Acme product, but functional and affordable in the long run.

    BlackVue’s dual-lens dashcams tend to be more expensive. There’s another article posted here (by a vendor, mind you) detailing a specific model that you can read. But what I didn’t like most about BlackVue: they have no screens for immediate access to the device, they are essentially glued to the windshield using an adhesive mount, and the inside lens is a totally separate unit that also mounts with adhesive, creating a cluttered windshield. Collectively, I don’t like that, so BlackVue got eliminated. The only major positive, for those of you already with BlackVue or planning to go with BlackVue, is a nifty (but expensive) metal bracket made by BlendMount that mounts the dashcam’s main piece behind the rearview mirror (second lens still mounts with adhesive). https://www.amazon.com/gp/search?ie...ive=9325&index=automotive&keywords=Blendmount dashcam mount blackvue

    One of the earliest models I was originally considering was the Falcon Zero 360 dashcam.
    https://www.falconzero.com/collecti...-dual-dash-camera-car-dvr?variant=14561335239
    It clips onto the rearview mirror and has two rotating lenses. For me it’s just far too bulky in every aspect! Its 2 cameras along with its panel of buttons block out too much of my view. I also don’t like the concept of strapping a pseudo-mirror over my rearview mirror, too many reviews complain they’re too dark. That’s just me. But the most important negative point is that it only supports 32GB memory cards, which is far far from enough. Needless to say, it got eliminated very early on.

    That left Vantrue, who only had two dual-lens units that fit my requirements: The “N2” and the “N2 Pro” models. Watch out for the new model T2, which looks almost identical to the N2, but unfortunately it’s only a single-lens dashcam.

    The difference between the N2 and N2 Pro: the N2 Pro has better night-vision for its interior view, with infrared LEDs to illuminate the inside night view.

    I went with the Vantrue N2 Pro, which at the time was on sale on Amazon. That was my choice based on my needs and my requirements, and if asked, it’s also my recommendation!

    image3.jpg

    (continue on to part 2)

    Part 2, continued

    [5] THE VANTRUE N2 PRO DASHCAM AND ITS CONSIDERATIONS

    For what I wanted/needed, and the Amazon sale, this was the best dashcam for me:
    • Single-piece unit with dual-lens.
    • Good night-vision capability with infrared LEDs lighting up inside the cabin.
    • Compact barrel case that can be partially tucked behind the rearview mirror. **
    • Doesn’t “glue” to the windshield (unless you really want it to **).
    • Simultaneously records 2 streams of full HD at 1080p.
    • 170 degree wide angle front view.
    • Supports 256GB memory cards (per the vendor) and reportedly also 512GB (I’ve not verified).
    • Optional suction-cup mounting bracket adds GPS data recording.
    • Good brand with good reviews and an okay price for what it offers.
    ** More on these in a bit.

    Memory card considerations
    What you also need to get is the right micro SD memory card. Vantrue recommends using Samsung’s orange colored EVO U3 class 10 cards. Samsung has several lines of lower-end cheaper cards, but their performance specs are not up to those of the recommended model. You may be tempted to get a cheaper card, even a card you may already have that works well in your video or SLR camera, but what is important is that this dashcam needs a higher performance card: the N2 Pro simultaneously records 2 separate 1080p HD video streams to the card, when your video or SLR camera is only recording a single stream at half the data-write speed. So, I recommend to go with what Vantrue recommends. I’m using the 128GB version of this card: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06XWM99NP/?tag=ubne0c-20, I have 2 so I can swap them out as necessary (more on this later).


    Mounting considerations
    The N2 Pro comes with a suction-cup mount. The dashcam snaps onto the mount, and the mount in turn suctions to the windshield. This lets you remove it from the windshield when necessary. While the dashcam’s body does have a power jack, the power cord (which has a mini-USB plug) can also be plugged into the mount. If you were inclined to stick it right on the glass, there’s also a separate adhesive mount option available: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07GPGTPGM/?tag=ubne0c-20

    I found a nifty and inexpensive plastic bracket that snaps onto the dashcam, and clamps onto the stem of the rearview mirror. This let me tuck the dashcam up behind the mirror, hanging down just enough for the interior lens to have my interior in its view. This allows for a smaller footprint on the windshield and less clutter as a blind spot. See front and side view photos below. To make this fine mess work, I could not use the included USB charger/cable since it’s not long enough to avoid more clutter on the windshield. I got a 10’ long USB cable (male USB A, to male mini-USB) from eBay, routed it from the dashcam underneath the trim all the way to the center console, where it plugs into a USB power port. This cable has a 90 degree mini-USB plug at one end, which plugs cleanly into the dashcam directly. The wire routing I implemented is admittedly flawed since it’s not the best route and not most efficient, I’m still working on reevaluating and rerouting it. Obviously with this manner of installation, I can’t use the optional GPS mount, which I felt I don’t need.

    The bracket I originally got is by AmorTek https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0102CK1BS/?tag=ubne0c-20 but now Vantrue has their own version https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07H3VQDZQ/?tag=ubne0c-20

    image04.jpg
    image05.jpg


    [6] VANTRUE N2 PRO SETUP CONSIDERATIONS

    Firmware version
    First and foremost, make sure you have the most recent version of the firmware. If you purchased yours a while ago, you will need to update the firmware in order to handle 256GB memory cards. Download the current update from here https://www.vantrue.net/Support/flleDlist/p_id/89.html (Firmware Update -VTN2Pro8F.V21.bin as of November 2018) and see the update instructions also linked on the same page.

    Basic configuration recommendations
    After working with this dashcam, I recommend certain specific settings to its configuration. First familiarize yourself with its buttons and menus to get used to it. See the manual for more details.

    Under Record Setup:
    • Resolution: obviously always have it on dual recording mode
    • IR Light: don’t rely on AUTO, leave it to ON
    • Loop recording: 3 minutes **
    • G-Sensor: OFF **
    • Audio recording: ON
    • HDR: ON
    ** The loop recording mode will over-write the oldest video footage in a cyclical loop that keeps on recording, since you don’t want it to stop recording when the memory card is full. A 128GB card with dual recording will yield around 11 hours of footage. 3 minutes is also a good size to have for the loop size, if you have to upload video evidence.
    ** The G-Sensor is a feature that detects a collision, and locks the current video file to prevent the loop recording mode from overwriting it. At first this sounds useful, but it’s not in the long run. The problem is that even at a low sensitivity setting, potholes and bumps trigger the sensor, which locks that moment’s video file. After a week of driving in most cities and their lovely bumps and potholes, the memory card gradually fills up with more locked video files, leaving less and less room for normal video files, which is just a bad situation. If I’m in an accident, I know enough to get the file off the dashcam when I get home, so I have no use for this feature.

    Under System Setup:
    • Time & Date, obviously set this up the first time, but once every few months and especially at daylight savings changes check on it to make sure the time is still accurate.
    • Auto LCD Off: set this to 1 minute. You don’t want the display to always be on because first it is distracting when you drive at night, and second it gets unwanted attention and comments from passengers.
    • Device Sound: leave this on so you can hear the dashcam turn on and off along with the ignition. It’s good to know it’s working by hearing its startup sound.
    • Flicker frequency is not terribly important, but set it to 60Hz.

    [7] VANTRUE N2 PRO USE AND OPERATION

    After you’ve set it up per above, play with it to get more familiar with the menus and the buttons, and also make sure to test the device by actually powering it up from scratch, recording a few seconds or more, shutting it off and extracting the video on your computer to review and verify proper operation. If you get a separate USB cable for it as I did, you can plug it into any USB charger at home and comfortably sit and play with it instead of being stuck in the car with it.

    By fiddling with the buttons, you can inadvertently make it stop recording. So watch out for a blinking blue light on the leftmost button, this indicates it is recording. If the light is blinking red and blue, it is recording and charging.

    As you continue to use the dashcam (or any dashcam for that matter) and especially if you’ve been to the carwash, verify it is still aimed correctly forward and inside. My carwash keeps knocking it off aim when they clean inside the windshield.

    Vantrue recommends formatting the memory card every 2 weeks (manual explains how), it helps maximize the card’s lifetime. It can also help maximize recording performance as the card’s file system structure gets too fragmented after long periods of use. This is one of the reasons I bought 2 cards: when it’s time to format, I pull out the card and keep it separately, I put the other card in and format it, and use it until it’s time to swap and format again.

    A word on continuous use of a dashcam. Some drivers advocate turning a dashcam on and off manually, to control when it records. Wrong! Never do that! The purpose of the dashcam is to continuously record any unknown passenger or traffic incident. If you turn it off because you don’t have a passenger, or because you’re parked on the side waiting for a ping, you will miss recording an accident and the whole reason for having your dashcam just got crushed with that accident.

    One final point of operation to bring up: archive and longer video retention. I’ve read too many horror stories of dishonest passengers filing fraudulent reports against drivers either out of spite or to get free rides. This can happen days after their ride, but by then your video evidence is overwritten by the loop recording mode. You still need the loop recording mode, unless you want to buy a dozen cards and swap them out every day (which is not a bad option, but is costly). What I’ve ended up doing is to archive each working shift’s video onto an external 2TB hard disk. This is a manual process done on a computer, and requires knowing file and folder management-- something far beyond the scope of this article. What I do:
    • At end of a shift when I get home, I remove the card from the dash and take it inside.
    • I plug it into my laptop along with the 2TB disk.
    • On the disk I make sure I have enough space (up to 64GB) for new files, if not I delete the oldest working shift, then I create a new folder named yyyy-mm-dd for the date of that shift.
    • I briefly fish through the files on the memory card, to find the starting file and the ending file of that working shift.
    • The video files are named using the date and the time, and appended with a 3 digit sequential number. Also appended to the file name is the letter A for front view video, and the letter B for inside view video. For example, file 2018_0517_025556_412B.MP4 is from 05/17/2018 starting at 2:55:56am, from the inside view. Since my loop mode is set to 3 minutes, the file's date stamp (when the 3 minute clip ends) is 3 minutes later (but will be a bit off if the dashcam's clock is a bit off).
    • I select only the inside-view video files (I don’t need the front-view) for that particular start/end range, and I copy only those to the newly created folder on the disk.
    • I put the card back in the dashcam next time I’m heading out.

    [8] ADDITIONAL SAFETY/CYA CONSIDERATIONS

    After the accident I mentioned earlier, and my encounter with a personal injury lawyer, I decided to get a second dashcam to cover my arse for non-pax traffic incidents happening behind my car, which the main dashcam will NOT cover even with its rear-facing lens. Better safe than sorry. Last year Santa got me a single-lens Vantrue dashcam. I mounted it dangling down from my cargo area’s dome light, pointing out the rear window. No need for most of the setup considerations detailed above, I only need this dashcam to record an accident event. It has nothing to do with pax and I don’t need any extra retention time for the video, so no need to archive it.
     

Comments

Discussion in 'Articles' started by KD_LA, Nov 23, 2018.

    1. EphLux
      EphLux
      I discovered my Falcon Zero would easily corrupt my SanDisk cards, and when I check the actual cards, video was not even being recorded! I think the faster Samsung cards such as Samsung Evo Select and Samsung Evo + are more reliable for dashcam videos recorders.
    2. KD_LA
      KD_LA
      Just like Vantrue recommends, it would be a good idea to periodically format the card in that dashcam too. If you already do, then yea the card is likely not a good fit.
    3. KenJ
      KenJ
      First of all, what a great thoroughly analyzed dashcam selection discussion and detailed usage advice! I’m too an OCD guy and had spent several weeks to complete my research and decided to buy the Vantrue N2 Pro in June 2018. But I haven’t started using it yet because of two reasons: (1) I mostly avoid working the weekend nights (the times when you definitely need to cover your arse) and even when I work sometimes I get off work around 11:00 PM (just before starting to see inebriated paxholes). I’ve another good quality front-veiw recording dashcam that comes with built-in GPS receiver and I’m using that currently; and (2) I got OCD-ed about the coolest video/audio recording warning stickers and my preliminary research on the Internet didn’t result in any satisfactory result. As the vehicle I’m driving is UberBLACK, color protocol for this class is best with black and chrome colors and therefore decided to design my own warning stickers in those two colors but didn’t get down to doing that yet.
      I haven’t seen any Photoshop PSD file of the warning sticker attached. Please attach.

      Wouldn’t it be nice to use the following hardwire for powering your Vantrue dashcam? It’ll do away with cable running from your dashboard up to the roof that’s a little unsightly. Besides, the kit provides low voltage protection.

      https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07G9WTWB9/?tag=ubne0c-20
    4. KD_LA
      KD_LA
      Thank you for your kind remarks! Took me long enough to write out just the outline (more of the OCD).

      I actually had thought about that same hardwire option plus an OBD2 plug variety, but I had a few issues against it:
      1) Cable routing from the camera down is essentially the same.
      2) I don't want constant power to the dashcam (although there are ways around it).
      3) With the power cable terminating in my center console, I can easily unplug it when I need to even while driving.

      On several occasions while driving (especially in the beginning) I kept questioning if the dashcam is running and in record mode (strong light from behind, can't see the blinking light). Unplugging it and plugging it back to see the startup screen was reassuring.

      In a discussion in another earlier thread we had actually discussed tapping into a power line behind the map light assembly, wiring up a 5V regulator and feeding the dashcam directly from there with a short-run feed. Has a few other considerations to worry about, but it's still in the back of my thoughts.

      I didn't notice the missing PSD... it somehow fell off when I posted the article. Not sure if it's an issue with supported file uploads, but here it is again in a ZIP. It's very rudimentary, formatted for 4x6 photo paper, and originally meant to have the top third bent 90° to tuck in at top of the glovebox door for front pax. In the back I have it attached to two seatback protectors where I also store charging cables.

      Attached Files:

    5. Snowblind
      Snowblind
      Great writeup!
      Nothing to add other than maybe that Vantrue is standing behind their Product 100%.
      I have two of their Cams, and had a problem with the Camera coming off the Windshield.
      They have sent me 2 (!) new Mounts with GPS for free.
      For all others, when purchasing the Camera, get the GPS enabled mount.
      Cheers,
    6. Grubhub513
      Grubhub513
      The prices for dash cams are way out of my undergraduate budget. Since Android allows background recording on phones, I found an app that does just that. I have a window shield phone mount and the camera records 2gb of footage before looping over it. I also have a phone charger in my car. It's a nice setup that makes me feel secure. Below is an image of the mount and what a picture would look like.
      IMG_20181210_174504.jpg
    7. KD_LA
      KD_LA
      Well, if you don't have the budget for it then you don't-- can't fault you for that. Hopefully you can work your way to it somehow.
      But I would never recommend such a setup for a variety of serious reasons if there was any budget to work with.
      Grubhub513 likes this.
    8. Wonkytonk
      Wonkytonk
      Seems like it might be a little cludgy but it's better than nothing.

      Considering the time of year you might want to start hinting around a vantrue would be a great present for you.

      They really aren't too bad during black Friday and the following Monday. They always go on deep discount then.

      Also don't forget to check Craigslist a lot of times you can get electronics there for cheap either new or used.

      Got my kindle that way.
      Grubhub513 likes this.

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