Dash Cam/In-Car Digital Video Recorder/Car Cam Buying Guide
We have all seen “dash cam” videos on Youtube and on TV. Previously only seen on some law enforcement unit, or security escort vehicles had them installed. But as dash cam prices have dropped, ordinary people like us have started installing them in their vehicles. In some countries, such as Russia, a large percentage of drivers have dash cams.
If you have ever wondered why you should purchase a dash cam, what you should look for in a dash cam and where to purchase, this article will help you answer these questions. We sincerely hope this Buying Guide will assist you when making a dash cam purchase.
What is a dash cam?
A dash cam is a video camera mounted in a vehicle. Most dash cams record both audio and video continuously. These cameras are more common to be known as Digital Video Recorders (DVRs) or In Car Cameras. The vast majority of dash cams are actually mounted on the windshield, not on the dash. Most of the cameras are forward facing but some dual lens cameras (front and back) are gaining popularity as well.
Why you need a dash cam?
There are a lot of reasons why a dash cam is a good idea. Here are just a few:
Evidence in case of an accident
When an accident happens, a dash cam will provide real proof of what took place. No need to worry about the other party changing their story when police arrive. The following video from Russia shows a simple accident where the person who caused the accident tried to blame the victim. Without the dash cam, the victim would have no way to defend himself.
There are some unscrupulous people who will purposely cause an accident then blame the other party. They may try to extort money from the victim or fake injuries to collect payment from insurance companies. The following video shows someone backing into another vehicle on a busy highway, then attempting to extort money from the victim.
Some dash cams offer a parking mode which records when your car is parked. If someone smashes into your car and drives away, you will have evidence of the hit and run. The dash cam must be hard wired into your vehicle for this to work. The following video shows a hit and run captured with a dash cam’s parking mode.
Vehicle Abuse and Misuse
Do you ever worry about other people driving your vehicle? When handing over your keys to a valet or mechanic at service centers, you will know exactly how your vehicle was treated. If your kids drive the car, you can track how they are driving. Dash cams with GPS will even provide the route and speed. Read this story of a Camaro owner who used an audio recorder to catch mechanics abusing his car.
Report Bad Drivers
With roads getting busier, it seems that the number of bad drivers keeps increasing. Video evidence from a dash cam can be used to report speeding buses and trucks, dangerous drivers and road rage incidents. The dash cam video provides real proof of what happened. The following video from Australia is a perfect example of an extreme road rage incident.
What Should I Look For in a Dash Cam?
There are so many dash cams on the market right now; it is often difficult to choose the best camera. Here is what you should look for:
This typically is the number 1 criteria for selecting a dash cam. When purchasing a dash cam, it is important to get one that shoots in high definition (720p or 1080p). You can get a decent HD camera for RM150 and FULL HD for RM250 above. If you spend less and get a non-HD camera, you will likely be disappointed with the quality. Some sellers are not truthful regarding video quality or are selling fakes and most likely have no product knowledge at all. Try asking them questions after you finished reading this Buying Guide!
When reviewing video quality here are some tips.
1. Watch videos in full screen at the highest resolution
2. Watch night videos rather than day videos. Most HD cameras, even the cheaper ones, perform well in the day. To see how well a dash cam really performs, you need to see how it performs in poor lighting conditions.
3. Watch videos from real users, not from the manufacturer. The manufacturer videos usually appear better than real user videos. They may be using a better lens on the camera. They may mount the camera on the outside of the windshield to minimize glare. They may be recording at a higher bit rate. They may record in perfect lighting conditions (night videos in well lit streets). Videos from Russian camera owners are more representative of the video quality than videos shot in Asia.
4. Be weary of videos from review sites, particularly if they are selling the camera. Some review sites get their cameras from the manufacturer. The manufacturer may have provided a “ringer”, a better camera than what is available to purchase.
5. Also look at how wide the recording angle of the video recording. Note that most manufacturers greatly exaggerate the viewing angle. When the real recording angle is known, we have included this information on our dash cam FAQ pages.
When it comes to dash cams, having a discreet camera is essential. This means a very small size, ideally that can be mounted behind the rear view mirror, with a reasonable sized and clear displaying TFT/LTPS LCD screen. Another factor is color. Black is the least noticeable color for a dash cam and often blends in with the rear view mirror.
The smallest dash cams usually don’t have screens; this will be a major issue for instant playback. Not everyone will bring along their laptop or video connection kit along every day.
We are starting to see rear view mirror dash cams. This idea is great and discreet; unfortunately video quality and reliability have not been best. As technology improves, this might be the ideal dash cam design.
Another important factor to consider is reliability. In Malaysia’s scorching hot weather, look for cameras that can withstand high temperatures, especially if you will be hard wiring the dash cam to your car battery.
Many dash cams advertise what processor the camera is based on. The processor is the CPU of the camera.
The 5 most popular processor manufacturers for dash cams are Novatek, CSR-Zoran, Ambarella, Texas Instruments, and Allwinner Technology. If you own a dash cam, it is very likely that it has a processor from one of these 5 companies. While the processor is important, the quality of the CMOS sensor and lens are key as well. This is why different dash cams with the same processor can have dramatically different video quality.
Other Things to Look For
There are a few other things to look for when purchasing a dash cam.
Power adapter length of 3.5M / 11FT or greater. This will allow you to install the wire around the windshield rather than hanging straight down.
Auto start and auto stop. Make sure the camera you are purchasing has auto start and auto stop capabilities. Manually turning the camera on and off is not convenient.
Continuous looping / cycle function. When the memory card fills up, the camera will delete the oldest file and continue recording.
No gaps (lost of seconds of video being recorded) between video files. Because accident happen in a flick of an eye, gaps by 1 or 2 seconds makes huge difference. Buying a Dash Cam with a 256MB build in Internal Memory will 100% eliminate gaps problem, as video files go through internal memory before saving into Micro SD storage.
Many dash cams come with LED lights. Vendors claim the LED lights improve night recording performance. Unfortunately, these LED lights do not improve night recording because they are not powerful enough. They may even cause additional glare from the windshield. If you have LED lights on your dash cam, you are better off keeping the lights off. After all, car‘s headlamp is much more brighter than 6 White LEDs put together.
G-sensor is a sensor which locks a video file when sensor detects gravity force exceeds or performed a sudden spike reading, such as in the event of an accident. Video recorded before and after an impact will automatically saved and locked. Loop/cycle recording will not delete the file unless performed manually.
Dash Cam Software
Most dash cams will save the videos in either .AVI or .MOV format. Most video players such as Windows Media Player or VLC Media Player can play these files. For dash cams with GPS and G-sensor capabilities, mapping software usually comes with the dash cam.
A great freeware program called Registrator Viewer is designed for dash cams. This software automatically groups the clips and you can save a grouped clip easily. It also has GPS mapping and G-sensor support included. If you are not happy with the viewer that came with your dash cam, you might want to try Registrator Viewer out.
To edit your video files, Windows Movie Maker is a decent solution. If you are having trouble with .MOV files consider the following freeware software solutions:
AviDemux – can import and edit the .MOV files
Free Video Converter – can convert a .MOV file to another format such as AVI but also allows you to do simple editing such as cutting and joining
mp4cam2avi – can convert .MOV files to AVI. You can then use any free AVI editor such asVirtual Dub to edit.
Our Buying Guide is a “living” document and will be updated on a frequent basis as new information and innovations are released. Thank you for reading. Cheers!