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The $19 dashcam from TMart

posted Dec 27, 2016, 1:09 AM by Jason Gibson   [ updated Dec 27, 2016, 1:56 AM ]

TMart provided me with a review unit of an entry-level $19 dashcam - on sale for $11.99 till December 31, 2016.  I didn't expect much, and I didn't get much, either.  I once heard someone say "You don't get what you don't pay for." This is definitely the case here.  At this price point, you're only getting the bare essentials in a dashcam, and nothing more.  That said, I was surprised with what I did get.

Here are the advertised specs:
  • 2.4" screen
  • 100 A+ ultra wide angle lens
  • AVI file format
  • 1080p resolution
  • M-JPEG video format
  • seamless loop video
  • up to 32gb TF (microSD) card support
  • 50/60hz switching
  • built-in 200mAh battery
Most of those specs are correct, but the two most important ones aren't even close.
The box was surprisingly NOT a generic "Car DVR" box or even a plain white/brown box.  The packaging has a spiffy line drawing of the actual camera and a list of "specs" on the sides.  I have the word "specs" in quotes like that because some of them are just flat wrong (more on that later) and others make no sense at all - what do they mean by "Years at midnight - support" or "Camera mode - 500M"?  


Inside the box was the usual stuff that comes with a dashcam: the camera, a cigarette lighter adapter with a long cable (so you can route/hide the cable under the dash, up the A-pillar and along the headliner to the dashcam), a suction cup mount, a short USB cable to connect to a PC (for copying files in case you don't have a card reader), and a simple instruction leaflet written in English, Russian, and Chinese. Like most dashcams, this camera does not come with a memory card - you need to provide your own.  According to the manual, it needs to be Class 4 or Class 6, and a maximum size of 32GB.  I used a 16GB Class 10 card for this review and had no problems.  

I don't know about the Russian or Chinese parts of the manual, but the English part isn't written very well.  For example, one item in the troubleshooting section lists "When the machine" as a problem/symptom with a solution of "When the short press the reset button after you restore restart." Uhh... What? Seriously - you can't make this stuff up. Thankfully, the manual isn't really necessary.

The camera itself is a small, lightweight unit with two big LEDs on the front, positioned on either side of the lens.  I never saw them light up - I'm guessing they are infrared and only come on when you press the power button to toggle the sun/moon icon at the top of the screen.  Either way, LEDs like this aren't necessary on a dashcam - there's no way a little LED or two can possibly provide more light than your car's headlights, even if they are infrared LEDs.  The camera attaches to the suction cup mount with a small friction-fit tongue-and-groove type fitting.  It held up just fine for my few days of testing, but if you remove it every time you park the car, it will probably wear out quickly.  I like how the camera is all flat black and does not have any chrome or brightwork/bling or big labels that would attract a thief's attention. IMHO, stealth is the way to go for dashcams, and makes it less necessary to remove the camera every time you park the car.

Construction is very simple and uses several adhesive pads, including one to attach the image sensor and lens assembly onto the front of the circuit board.  This is how they kept the price so low.  It also helps keep the weight down, which in turn helps minimize shaking and vibration on less than perfect roads.  


The suction cup mount seemed pretty solid and the suction cup pulls HARD on the glass, so I doubt it will fall down, even in the summer, as long as the glass is clean before you mount it.  Obviously, no suction cup will stick to dirty glass.  The mount was also fairly stable, and didn't shake very much even when hitting big potholes or big cracks in the road.  There's plenty of road construction going on near my neighborhood, so there's no shortage of rough roads.  

Setup was pretty easy. Menus are simple enough to navigate without needing the instructions, and seem pretty standard for a dashcam. The only thing you really need to set is the time/date and maybe your preferred language.  Other than that, the default settings will be fine for most people. There's no option to have the screen automatically turn off (screen saver) like other dashcams I've used, which was a little annoying at night, but not the end of the world.  The flashing record LED on the back was also a bit bright and distracting at night, but again, not the end of the world.  If the light from the screen and LED really bothered you, you could tape a piece of paper on the back of the camera to block most of the light at night but still be able to get to the camera settings if needed.

Like all dashcams, this one automatically turns on and starts recording as soon as it gets power from the lighter socket, and stops recording a few seconds after power is disconnected. Most cars today turn the lighter on or off when you turn the car on or off, so you can just leave the camera plugged in all the time, which makes the camera fully automatic - set & forget, just like it should be.  If your vehicle has a lighter socket that's on all the time, even with the car turned off (many Ford, Chevy and Dodge vehicles are this way), you will have trouble with ALL dashcams - not just this one - as they could potentially drain your battery while parked. In that case you might want to look into a hard-wire kit for dashcams, or maybe have a stereo shop re-wire your lighter socket to only be on when the key is in the ON position.  Either that or you'll have to remember to plug it in every time you go somewhere, and unplug it when you get there. I don't know about you, but I'd probably forget now and then, and with my luck, that would be the time I'd get in a wreck and then find out I hadn't plugged in the camera.  

Cycle recording worked as expected - that is, when the memory card got full, it automatically erased the oldest file when it needed to make a new file.  A 16GB card will hold about 2 hours of video.  Each 1-minute file was about 110-150MB in size during the day, and around 55-65MB at night, since the black sky compresses really well. In addition, there was no overlap, and no dropped frames between individual files - a nice surprise on such a cheap camera. Plenty of much more expensive dashcams don't get this right, but this cheap camera has it perfect.  If you queue up several clips in VLC and hit play, you can't tell when one clip ends and the next one starts unless you're watching the progress bar at the bottom.  I included a couple of consecutive clips in the downloadable samples so you can see this for yourself.

Now for the important part - video quality.  TMart's web page, the box, the instruction manual, and even the built-in menu all say this camera records at 1080p, but it does NOT.  Even when you select 1080p in the menu, it generates files of 1280x720 at 30 fps.  It does use MJPEG encoding and puts it in an AVI file, so that part is correct, but if you're looking for a 1080p camera, this is not it.  I didn't honestly expect to get real 1080p for only $19 so I wasn't surprised by this.  

What's MJPEG?

MJPEG is a video compression format that stands for Motion-JPEG - literally a bunch of JPEG photos lined up in order in one file. Essentially, the camera takes 30 photos every second, then strings them together in order to create a video. MJPEG isn't as sharp-looking and doesn't make files as small as the H.264 compression that more expensive dashcams use, but on the flip side, MJPEG doesn't require a powerful processor, which means the camera can be smaller, cheaper, and run cooler (an important factor in hot environments like Houston). Plus, on older/slower computers like Chromebooks or Netbooks, MJPEG videos will play just fine.  Playing H.264 videos usually requires a stronger processor than a chromebook/netbook has, and often also require you to install additional software (codec packs) just to be able to play them on a PC. MJPEG never requires additional software, so that helps keep things simpler and cheaper.

One thing I didn't expect to see was how NARROW the field of view is.  If this is what they call "ultra wide angle" I'd hate to see a non-wide angle lens!  Watching videos recorded from this camera feels like looking through a camera viewfinder that's zoomed way in.  You have zero peripheral vision and can only see what's immediately ahead of you.  Because it's so zoomed in, it sometimes looks like you're about to crash into the car in front of you when you're approaching a red light or stop sign, even though you're still a full car-length away.  Another problem with this narrow/zoom lens is that when you're stopped at a traffic light, you often can't see the traffic light in the video, even if you're a couple cars back in line!  Note in the screen capture below, you can see the little sign hanging from the left turn signal, but can't see the signal itself. For reference, I was about a car-length back from the white Rav4 in front of me, and that Rav4 was right at the stop line.  Those traffic lights are not abnormally tall, nor are they very close - they're mounted to a pole all the way across the intersection of a 4-lane road with a wide median. Here's that intersection on google street view.

Now before you go saying "well, duh, what did you expect from such a cheap camera..." it's not all bad.  There are good points to this camera.  And no, I'm not saying that just because they gave me a free camera.  I told them before they shipped the camera that I only do honest reviews and would not sugar-coat anything, and they were OK with that.

As for the actual video quality... Well, before I start on that, it's good to remember that even cheap little flip phone cameras can take decent photos and video outside in bright sunlight.  That tells me that it's easy to make a camera that does well during the day.  And as you can see above, this camera does just fine in daylight.  

The difficult part for any camera (cheap or not) is cloudy/rainy days and night time.  The first dashcam I ever bought (F70/i1000, which also advertises 1080p but only delivers 720p) was fine during the day, but completely useless at night - that old camera just had blurry blobs of light here and there, and about the only thing it could do well at night was tell whether a light was green or red - you couldn't even see my HID headlights shining on the street. 

So based on my previous experience, I honestly expected lousy night quality from this camera based on its price.  So I was genuinely surprised when I saw how much detail it captured at night, especially on poorly lit or completely unlit roads.  No, it's not studio quality, and you won't be capturing any license plate numbers at night, but plenty of much more expensive cameras struggle to capture plate numbers at night. Yes, I have HID headlights, but even without them I think it still would have done pretty good.  It's still way too zoomed-in and only 720p, but at least the video is good enough to function as evidence if needed.


As always, raw video files are available in the download section if you'd like to see the true quality of the camera, since YouTube compresses the video and makes it look worse than it actually is.  

Nothing is perfect though - this camera does have some faults.  My main complaints are the false resolution claims (1080p) and the narrow angle "zoomed-in" lens.  Even my smartphone has a wider angle than this.  Yes, it does create a 720p file, but even then it looks blocky - probably because it's actually 640x400 being scaled up to 1280x720.  The timestamp is huge and often covers up license plates when you're stopped behind another car at a red light, and since there's no border around the white text, you can't read it against a light/bright background such as the road surface on a sunny day. These things may not bother some people, and at this price point, it's really hard to complain, since otherwise the camera seems to work just fine.

In Summary:

Surprisingly decent video at night
Can capture license plate numbers, but only during the day, when stationary, and directly in front of you
All-black housing (good for stealth)
No gap or overlap between individual clips
Solid suction cup mount

NOT real 1080p - even in "1080p" mode, it only records at a blurry/blocky 720p
NOT wide angle - seems zoomed-in. View is so narrow, you often can't see traffic lights when stopped at an intersection
Huge timestamp sometimes covers up license plate numbers of other cars
Lack of border around timestamp text makes it unreadable on bright days and light colored roads
Screen is always on - distracting at night
Bright flashing recording LED - good during the day, annoying at night, and redundant since screen is always on
No Emergency/lock button to prevent a file from being overwritten - no G-sensor for the same purpose (but with a large memory card, this is less of a problem)

For an item that only costs $19 including shipping, you can't really complain too much. Are there better dashcams?  Of course! But they cost a lot more than $19. Heck, that F70/i1000 I had for my first dashcam had worse night quality than this, and it still sells for more than $19. TMart and other vendors sell lots of different dashcams, and since there are so many choices, reviews like mine can be found all over the internet to help people filter out the junk from the gems.  

So would I recommend this particular dashcam?  If you only had $25 to spend on a dashcam and a memory card (remember - most dashcams, including this one, don't come with memory cards) then this would be an OK choice, mostly because it has decent night quality.  There are lots of situations where having audio or video evidence could remove doubt and place blame where it's deserved.

The main thing to remember is, even an imperfect dashcam is better than no dashcam at all.  

This camera can be purchased here: http://www.tmart.com/sl/586232f36352b

Viofo A119 Dashcam (Pre-Production/BETA unit) Photos

posted Sep 19, 2016, 4:15 PM by Jason Gibson   [ updated Jan 2, 2017, 4:33 PM ]

Originally posted April 13, 2016

I received a pre-production A119 dashcam for review and beta-testing purposes.  This will be the successor to the popular A118 and A118C dashcam, and it's been upgraded in a lot of ways.  It has a larger screen, thinner profile, upgraded processor and image sensor, and the lens can now pivot left and right in addition to up and down.  GPS was not included in my pre-production test unit, but it will be integrated into the mounting base so that similar to the MINI 080x series, you can simply slide the camera onto the mount and go, leaving power and GPS basically permanently attached to the windshield.  That will be great for folks who take the camera out of the car every time they park.  Personally I think that's unnecessary unless you park in a high crime area regularly, but then honestly I'd be more worried about my CAR than a cheap little camera.

Anyway, I decided to take a few photos of the camera, inside and out to share with everyone.  The new processor is a Novatek 96660BG, and the image sensor is now an OV4689.  This means higher resolutions and higher frame rates, including 1080p@60fps - higher frame rates mean less motion blur and better chances of catching a license plate number.  Early tests by other beta users are showing much improved night quality, but currently there's an issue where daytime footage looks very blue, as if there were a blue filter over the lens.  It's something that'll likely be fixed in a firmware update pretty soon, but the video is still very usable and high quality.

So without further ado, here are the photos!

Exterior Photos - compared to original A118

The lens can now pivot left...

and it can pivot right

Left side - MicroSD slot, Reset button, Microphone hole and vent holes

Right side - Mini-USB port (power and data), AV out jack (4-conductor 3.5mm), more vent holes

The red emergency/lock button is raised a bit more than the others so should be easier to find by touch when it's hidden behind your mirror

A118 (top) vs A119 (bottom) - the mount slot looks similar but they are NOT interchangeable

A119 (top) vs A118 (bottom)

A119 (left) vs A118 (right) - note that the felt on the A118 was added by me to fix a rattle caused by the loose mount. Here you can plainly see where the power and GPS connector will be on the mount of the A119

A119 (front) vs A118 (rear) showing thickness difference

Interior photos

"Clicker" for lens vertical adjustment is now plastic instead of metal - but also much more difficult to reassemble.  Also note the supercapacitors - no battery other than the tiny little round one on the right for keeping date/time/settings.

Novatek NT96660 processor.  gold plug on the right is the AV out jack, which as you can plainly see has 4 conductors. 

This empty ZIF socket will probably connect to the currently empty 4-pin connector on the mount area for GPS. That's the reset button on the left.

Overview of mainboard - yellow flex cable goes to imager assembly

With the yellow flex cable removed, you can plainly see "B60" printed on the bottom edge of the mainboard - this is relevant because the A118 was also known as the B40.  You can also see the tiny RTC battery, used to store date/time/settings. 

Backside of lens assembly with lens pivoted full right

...and full left

Lens assembly snaps apart and can only go back together one way

Imager board also has "B60" printed at the top

Also shows the image sensor to be an OV4698.  Lens is sealed all the way around with adhesive so there's no chance of it loosening and getting out of focus over time.

So there's a quick overview of the physical parts of the A119 (aka B60) dashcam, or at least, a pre-production version of it.  I'll be posting test videos in the future after I've installed it in my truck and given it a workout.  Raw video files will of course be available since YouTube reduces the quality quite a bit.

iTrue X3 Dashcam

posted Sep 19, 2016, 4:05 PM by Jason Gibson

Originally posted October 1, 2015

This is another post transferred from the DashCamTalk forums.  Future posts will be done directly on this site and linked to from the forums.  

iTrue offered me one of their new X3 dashcams for review. I hadn't heard of them before, so I thought I'd give them a try.

Here's the video review, but if you want more detail or prefer to read, well, you're in the right place.  :)

The iTrue X3 is a medium sized dashcam with a large screen in back, and large lens housing on the front. Fit and finish is great – the chrome ring around the body is actually a metal frame, and the black parts are simulated stitched leather texture with a thin rubberized coating. This makes it feel more classy than just a plain black plastic case. It reminds me of some of the new smartphone styles that have come out recently – chrome and leather.

Basic Specs:

  • Novatek 96650 CPU
  • Aptina AR0330 sensor
  • Glass lenses
  • Li-Ion battery for use while unplugged
  • 1080p@30fps
  • 720p@60fps
  • Large LCD screen on back
  • Mini-HDMI port
  • AV out jack (3.5mm)
  • GPS input port (3.5mm) – GPS antenna not available at time of review
  • Mini-USB power input
  • Uses MicroSD cards up to 32gb

In the box:

  • iTrue X3 Camera
  • Car power cord (approx 12 ft. or 3.7m) - 1.5 amps
  • Mini-USB cable
  • Suction cup mount

Note - the unboxing pic above shows an SD card, but I don't know what capacity iTrue will ship with the camera.  They sent me a 16GB card for the review.

Obviously the first thing you'll notice about this camera is the gigantic lens trim ring on the front, and the LED in the upper corner of the camera. There's no mistaking this thing as anything other than a camera. Personally, I don't care for all the chrome on this camera. I can deal with the LED, the iTrue logo and the small chrome piece around the speaker opening, but the lens trim and chrome around the body is just too much for me. If you're inclined, it's about 10 screws to remove the chrome lens trim and its supports (it's all one piece), but then you'd be left with an ugly opening around the lens.

The mount bracket on top of the camera is actually made out of metal – it's not just chrome-plated plastic. So it ought to be more durable than the suction cup mount it attaches to. The suction cup mount CAN rotate left and right, but it's not intended to be rotated very often. It seems like it's basically only meant to be rotated once to compensate for the angle of the windshield where it might be mounted. The second time I rotated it while in the car, it fell off the mount. That's partially because this is only a friction fit mount with no clips or detents. During normal driving where I wasn't moving the camera, I had no issues with shaking or the camera coming loose. It was also very easy to take the camera down and put it back up for each trip. I didn't want to leave it in my car while parked – all that chrome is too much of a theft risk. The fore/aft pivot adjustment on the mount has teeth in it so that once you set it where you want it and tighten the screw, it's not going anywhere. Even slamming on the brakes or dropping the clutch and accelerating hard did not make the camera tilt up or down.

One minor nit-pick about the camera is that the MicroSD card slot is a bit recessed. Even with my fingernails a little long and needing a trim, I still had a hard time inserting or removing the microSD card. This is fairly minor though – they did put a big bevel around the slot so you don't need a special tool to try and get the card in or out like you do with some other cameras.

Speaking of SD cards, one of the first things I did was try to use a 64gb card in the camera, even though the manufacturer specifies 32gb as the max. If the 64gb card is formatted in exfat, which is the standard format for anything over 32gb, it won't work. The camera cannot format an exfat card in the camera itself. However, if you format the 64gb card as FAT32 in your computer or other device (remember, Windows can't do that by itself – you need a special app), a 64gb card WILL work just fine in this camera. Just keep in mind that if you ever need to format your 64gb card, you can't do it in this camera.

One other small problem I discovered while using the camera – because the record LED is actually under the power button, and the buttons are clear, you cannot see the record light on a bright, sunny day – light from the sun washes out any LEDs under those buttons so they're effectively invisible. So when the screen is off you can't tell if it's still recording unless you cover the buttons with your hand to try and see the LED.

The Novatek/Aptina chipset/sensor combo this camera uses is becoming a very common since it was made popular by the G1W series as well as the A118/A118C and countless others. It's a pretty mature chipset with most of the bugs worked out, and is pretty reliable. 

The screen on the back of the X3 is a little over 2.5” or 6.7cm diagonal, so the menus are very easy to read, icons are clearly visible, and playback of video is actually usable on the camera. The clear buttons feel nice – they curve up on the right edge similar to old blackberry keyboards, only bigger. Each button is clearly labeled, and its alternate functions (depending on what mode the camera's in or if you hold it down) is labeled next to the button on the edge of the screen. Speaking of buttons – each one has more than one function. You'll need to read the owner's manual to find them all, especially concerning playing back videos. But on that note, the manual is one of the best dashcam manuals I've seen. It's actually pretty well written with lots of screenshots and explanations of the various functions.

Loop recording works as expected, with about 1 second of overlap in each file just like other Novatek cameras, so you'll never miss anything while it starts a new file. It also allows for loop segments of up to 10 minutes – I like that option. The LED on the front is super bright white and can only be turned on or off inside the menus – it's not automatic. I left it off, as there's no way it could possibly be better than my car's headlights, and besides, it would cause major glare inside the car at night. Like the one on the G1W series, this light serves no purpose and can safely be ignored.

Sound quality from the built-in mic is just OK. It seems to have a fairly decent range of sound, but it doesn't pick up sounds like the turn signals, and even voices are a bit muted. Music that was playing on the car stereo lacks highs and lows, but then, this isn't intended to be a studio-grade microphone. It should work fine for picking up car horns, emergency sirens, tire noise and other loud stuff that may be relevant in an accident.

When I took apart the camera to see how it's made, I was surprised to see a copper heat spreader plate attached to the back of the image sensor. This should help out a lot in hot environments, and help avoid focus shift. The lens can be adjusted, but they glued it all the way around (not just a few dots of glue like some manufacturers), so it'll take some real work to remove all that glue if you ever want to refocus the lens. Other than that, it looks good inside. No ugly solder joints, neat and tidy packaging, and fairly easy to take apart if you ever need to. No special tools required other than a small phillips screwdriver.

Image quality during the day is of course great, and isn't bad even driving straight into the sun. No camera will handle it perfectly, but this one does OK. The iTrue handles light transitions such as trees and bridges pretty good during the day, and doesn't have too much trouble with headlights and street lights at night. Night quality is surprisingly good even compared to the A118, which has the same chip and sensor, but different optics. Apparently the iTrue optics let in a lot more light, because even with exposure set at 0 and WDR enabled in both cameras, the iTrue is visibly brighter than the A118 at night in a side-by-side comparison.

Media Info:

Overall this seems to be a decent little camera. While the form factor isn't for everyone, no one dashcam is perfect for everyone. The most important thing is that this camera gives you good video quality both night and day - that's the reason we buy dashcams.

A118 vs A118C Dashcam Comparison/Review

posted Sep 19, 2016, 3:52 PM by Jason Gibson   [ updated Sep 19, 2016, 4:02 PM ]

Originally posted February 18, 2015

I finally finished putting together my first review video.  In it, I show the unboxing, compare the original battery-based A118 to the new A118C - particularly the time it takes for them to boot up and shut down, show a few sample videos, and give a quick rundown of pros and cons.  Let me know what you think!

Thanks again to GearBest for holding the giveaway where I won the A118C you see in this video!

Original thread on Dashcamtalk:


Installing a Blacksys CF-100 in a 2008 Toyota Sienna minivan

posted Sep 19, 2016, 3:51 PM by Jason Gibson

Originally posted November 1, 2014

I purchased a Blacksys CF-100 with 2 cameras and GPS and a battery discharge prevention kit to install into my wife's 2008 Toyota Sienna minivan. The camera/gps was purchased through amazon for $139 with free shipping, and the battery kit was via newegg for $35, also free ship. Both arrived within 2 days via USPS. This dual camera setup is replacing the single-channel A118. Here's a comparison pic.

They're both about the same width and height (A118 may be 1 cm shorter), but the A118 is noticeably thicker. However, because it mounts directly to the glass, I find that the A118 was much easier to install. Also, having all the wires come out the top of the A118 instead of the sides of the CF-100 meant that everything was much more tidy. To keep the wiring on the CF-100 neat, I had to sort of twist the rear camera wiring around and over to the right, where the power and GPS cables came out, so I could bundle the three wires together and feed them up into the headliner. Right now I have the three wires sort of loosely gathered together, coming straight up from the mirror's arm up into the headliner. I may try to find some small flat conduit to cover them and keep them together, to clean up the look a bit, but for now, it's fine.

Aiming the camera: my solution for the lack of screen was to turn on the camera, wait for it to start recording, then hold it up in a few potential mounting locations, then say out loud where it was, and how it was aimed, so that would be recorded in the video. Then I'd turn it off and pop the SD card into my laptop (sitting in the passenger seat) to see what worked. I had to try that about 3 times before I found the right spot. I wanted to mount it with the sticky pad up in the painted black dots on the windshield, but because of the steep angle of this windshield, that actually put the lens of the camera hanging BEHIND the rearview mirror, so that the lens was actually looking into the mirror glass! In the end I found a place that makes the camera hang in front of the mirror, and mounted it so that the blue LEDs and emergency button are just visible below the bottom of the mirror from the driver's position. Photo of completed install is in the next post.

I wanted to run the cable for the rear camera down along the carpet, tucked under the door sill trim so that it wouldn't be anywhere near the 3-row side curtain airbags, but the included USB cable was about 8 feet too short for that, and I didn't want to have to buy an extension cable. In the end I had to take apart a lot more trim to get it into the headliner, away from the curtain airbags. Even running thru the headliner, the cable was just BARELY long enough - i have about 3 inches of slack on each end. Yikes! Thankfully, I was able to run the cable through the OEM cable protection "hose" in the hinge in the back hatch, so that it's still water-tight, and I didn't have to drill any holes. I did this by taping the USB cable to a flat blade screwdriver, disconnecting both ends of the boot/hose from the body and door, then shoving the wire through. The camera is attached to the plastic trim around the back glass, so it goes up and down along with the hatch itself. this keeps it out of the way for loading/unloading cargo, and gives the best view out the back. I tried mounting it to the plastic trim at the back end of the headliner so I didn't have to deal with running it thru that hose, but the door comes down too far, and it blocked the top half of the video - rendering the rear camera almost completely useless.

The adhesive that came on the rear cam is clear 3m but it didn't work for me. It would have been fine if i was attaching it to glass, or if there hadn't been a lip on the plastic mounting bracket. I ended up sanding down the lip on the mounting bracket so i could press the foam tape I used down into the textured plastic trim above the back window. I probably could have also done something with magnets like I've seen others do, but i don't need to remove the rear camera, and opening and closing the back hatch may have messed with the aim of the camera, so I just used foam tape. Here's the rear cam's lip before and after sanding:

The front cam came with a piece of gray 3m adhesive which worked fine but it's highly visible from the outside since I had to mount it below the dotted area of the windshield. Funny part is that the hardwire kit came with a piece of clear 3m adhesive that was just slightly smaller than the gray tape for the front cam. I used the clear tape on the front camera and secured the hardwire kit with zipties like I usually secure wiring inside the dash. Tape never seems to work very long inside the dash for me, even on brand new cars. Zip-ties on the other hand, basically NEVER fall, so I don't have to worry about wiring suddenly falling down into the pedals. And besides - I was already using zip-ties to secure the excess wiring anyway, so what's one more to secure the box itself?

I used a permanent marker to black out the chrome trim on the front lens, as well as the logos and parking mode led. I used the BIC brand one in the picture, because it seems to go on thicker than a Sharpie. Shiny things are just a big invitation to thieves. I disabled the parking mode LED in settings, but it's still white even when it's off. I also used the marker to cover up the rear blue LEDs since they're too bright, especially at night. You can still tell whether they're on, but now they aren't another advertisement to thieves at night (or even during the day). Stock, the blue lights were OK during the day - nowhere near as distracting as the ones in my F70 (partially because the LEDs on the CF-100 don't flash), but at night they're pretty annoying, so I used the marker to blacken them as well. Now they're barely visible during the day, and are tolerable at night. Even if I wasn't concerned about theft, I would have blacked out the blue LEDs on the back. The flash from the camera actually makes the marker stand out. In natural light, it's all just black. The chrome ring is still shiny since it's not textured like the camera body, but it's basically invisible from outside the car unless you know right where to look.

The hardwire/battery protector kit is also obviously made in Korea since there's only Korean writing on it - no English. It came in a plain white box with no manufacturer info, and the small sticker with part number said OjoCam. It had a single piece of paper with well-written English instructions on it, but even without that, the markings on the box were enough for me to guess and set things how I wanted them: cutoff at 12.4v, and don't use a timeout of 24, 36 or 48 hours - just keep running till you hit 12.4v. Well, I got a chance to test it during the install. My test light said the 12v constant wire I'd tapped into was hot, but the green status LED on the hardwire kit would shut off when i turned off the key. I got out my handy dandy fluke meter and found that the battery was actually giving 12.47 volts. I set it to 12.2 instead of 12.4 and hey, now it stays on when i turn off the key.

Bonus material: I've been inside plenty of dashboards over my years installing accessories in different vehicles, ranging from stereos, DVDs, alarms, autodimming mirrors, side signal mirrors, etc etc... and I've never seen a rat's nest of wires like what there is on the driver's side of the 2004-2010 Toyota Sienna. This isn't even the engine/trans computer - that's behind the glovebox, and it actually has LESS wiring than this. This mess all has to do with interior/exterior lighting, climate control (3-zone heat/aircon), power sliding doors, power rear hatch, seats, mirrors, windows, etc - basically all the stuff you don't NEED to be able to drive the vehicle. one of the fuseboxes is located on the bottom of this mess and is accessible through the footwell.

Closeup after blacking out the rear blue LEDs:

Gray adhesive, camera not installed (bracket only) - the white square to the left is the toll road transponder:

Clear adhesive, camera installed and blacked out. Sorry for cloud reflections, but you basically can't see the camera unless you're looking in exactly the right spot. Unfortunately the bracket wasn't perfectly flat so there's a bubble in the adhesive.

Rear camera, as (not) seen from the outside. With the factory privacy (tinted) glass, you can't see the camera very easily, even when there's something bright like the garage door to silhouette the camera.

This is what you can see from the driver's seat during normal operation. You can also see the rear camera via the rearview mirror, at the top of the back window, just above the 2 kids playing in the street. This is before I blackened the blue LEDs. You can also see the wires, but it's not horrible. If my wife doesn't complain, I may just leave it as-is. There's about 1cm of space between the back of the mirror and the camera body, which is just enough to adjust the mirror without hitting the camera.

Mirror pulled aside, showing where it's mounted.

GPS antenna - this thing is tiny! I stuck it up in the black area, right up against the headliner, and it works fine. During my test drive, i had the GPS antenna simply dangling from the rearview by its cord and it still worked fine. Doesn't seem to matter which way is up for this unit, which is a good thing since the cable is only about one foot long (1/3 meter).

Lastly a word on safety. When routing cables in a vehicle with side curtain airbags, you have to be VERY careful. These two pictures show the rear camera's cable being routed over the driver's door into the A-pillar. In the first picture, you can see how the cable is coming out of the rubber weatherstrip/trim, and goes over the airbag (white fabric). This is what would happen if you simply tucked it into the weatherstrip, then into the top edge of the A-pillar trim, then in between the windshield and A-pillar trim. Basically this would bind the airbag and prevent it from deploying properly during a collision - obviously a Very Bad Thing. The second picture shows how I ran the cable BEHIND the airbag, and then in the factory clips near the windshield and factory wiring, so that the cable won't get in the way if the airbag ever goes off. It only took me an extra 5 minutes to unscrew the top of the A-pillar trim and snap the rest of it off, but it will pay off if the side airbags ever need to go off, because the wiring I added won't get in the way of the airbags.



I found some interesting facts about the setup after driving it around this weekend:

1) If you plug in the GPS unit and start driving, it will SAY "2 Channel recordings are getting started" but in actual fact it will NOT record anything until it gets a GPS fix several minutes later. Once it's got a GPS fix, it will start actually saving files. This is a rather odd and not good "feature" of this camera. Edit 5/27/2015: This is fixed with the M1.3 firmware - download the M1.3 (EN) firmware here: http://blacksys.co.kr/eng/support/download.php?field=title&search_word=cf-100&x=0&y=0

2) When wired up to constant 12v for parking mode, it has voice prompts for that, too: "Parking mode is getting started" and "Parking mode is ending" when you start moving again. First time my wife heard it, she said "why did it say the parking lot is empty? it's not even close to empty!"  ;)

3) Speed bumps (not the smooth ones in roads you can hit at 20 mph - the ones in parking lots that hurt at more than 2mph) can trigger the file lock when set at the default middle sensitivity, but only if you don't drive over them straight. There's a store near us where the speed bumps are intentionally set diagonally, so they really make the car rock when you drive over them, and that made the camera beep and record an "emergency" file. Certain steep driveways into other parking lots will set it off too. Guess I'll need to turn down the sensitivity.

4) it's annoying to have to take out the SD card, put it in the computer, then fire up an app just to change a setting like the accelerometer sensitivity.

5) The blacksys app for video playback and settings has some odd quirks.

-- a) It doesn't remember which drive is your SD card slot, so every time you open the app, you have to click the sd card button and confirm the drive letter before you can do anything.

-- b) The "zoom" button doesn't actually zoom in on the video, it works exactly like the stock Windows Magnifier tool - it enlarges the pixels already on your screen. So if your monitor is less than full HD resolution, the zoom button will not actually make it easier to see fine details (such as license plates) in the video. This is pretty crappy IMHO.

-- c) There's no way to resize the rear video window when playing back the video, so you can't tell whether it actually recorded a plate number or other fine detail. I need to install VLC on the laptop and try playing the videos there, as I understand it can handle multiple video streams within a single file.

6) GPS does NOT put the speed info into the text overlay. This is good IMHO. It does have the letters GPS down in the bottom right corner along with the firmware version (M1.2 if i remember right), so I suppose it's possible someone with an eye for detail might notice that and ask for the raw file rather than what i post to the web if it came down to brass tacks. I haven't dug into the files to see how GPS or accelerometer data is embedded. However, if I do end up needing to share accident footage with police or insurance, I would expect that putting it on youtube/vimeo/etc would strip all that when it gets re-encoded, so the hardest part would be extracting the rear camera video.

7) Parking mode - i'm not sure whether it records from the rear camera, but i don't think it does. when reviewing footage in the app, i found one tiny (like 2 seconds) file in the Parking tab, and it only showed the front camera. I really hope that's a fluke, because the second camera and parking mode were the two main reasons I bought this setup. Obviously this will take more testing to confirm. I can confirm that parking mode DOES record from both cameras, and does so quite well, even at night.

8) I like how the accelerometer data has such a high refresh rate. The graphs in the app are pretty neat to watch. You can see a sine wave as you go over a bump and the suspension compresses and rebounds, or watch it spike as you accelerate from a stop, or the spikes/planes it makes depending on how you apply the brakes. That kind of data would be neat to look at in a race car, but having to take out the SD card after every run and put it into an Sd card adapter and a windows laptop would be rather awkward and annoying. I'd have to turn the sensitivity way down (or off, if it has that option) in the race car too, because every track element would trigger the sensor and make a mess of locked files that may not join back together smoothly or easily. But since this isn't in the race car, i'm not real worried about that.  :)

9) because the lens is further away from the glass than the A118, it picks up a LOT more dashboard reflections. definitely going to look into making a polarizing filter for it. i wonder if i went to the movie theater and asked, if they'd just give me a set of 3d glasses for free... i haven't been to a 3d showing of a film in years, so i don't have a pair just laying around to hack up.


Here are some screengrabs from the camera during today's drives. These are NOT thumbnails so that you can see full detail. Sorry for the VLC title bars - i didn't feel like cropping them out of my screen grabs, so only did it where necessary (full rez front shot)

First up, a shot from the rear camera in parking mode, in a moderately lit parking lot. A mid-late 2000's Honda Odyssey van was backing out and when i paused it, the van was about 1/2 a car-length away, and you can easily read the license plate. keep in mind our van has privacy glass (tinted windows) in the back, so the camera not only has to deal with that, it has to deal with the fact that it's dark outside, and yet i think it did really well!

Next up, a mid-90s chevy truck with a few inches lift kit and a huge front bumper was behind us at a stop sign. Again, you can easily read his license plate even though the numbers are smaller and the plate is one of the new flat ones where the letters are only printed on rather than stamped in, like the older plate on the van above. Also nice how the headlights don't overpower the camera. His left lights only look odd because his turn signal is on.

Here's the front view taken at the same time as the above picture. Nothing special about it, other than a lack of washing out, and some good detail on the street, median and the fence in the distance. It's basically all I could see with the naked eye.

Last is another from the rear, but during the day. It was a partly cloudy day, and this was taken while parked. It's mostly to show clarity of video, but also just how wide the angle is that it can capture. The curved lines are the defroster/demister lines in the back glass - they show just how much of a fish-eye lens the rear cam has, since the lines are of course pretty straight. And don't forget about the privacy glass/tint (not film - it's a dye mixed into the glass itself) that the camera has to see through. Turns out the tint is not an issue for this rear camera.

Also, notice how some of the rear cam pics only have a VLC title bar, but this last one has the full controls and everything. For some reason, VLC will sometimes switch the feeds and show the main/front video channel in the secondary window. I don't think it's anything to do with the video files; it's a bug of some sort with VLC for Windows. Not real worried about it though.

Original thread on DCT: https://dashcamtalk.com/forum/threads/installing-a-cf-100-in-a-2008-toyota-sienna-van.8111/

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