Since my review of the Dash Cam Dually in 2010, I’ve had my eyes open for a quality in-car video recorder that wasn’t so large. The Pittasoft BlackVue DR500GW-HD car camera is a tube-shaped device that promises to be just that, and it’s packed with some interesting features.
(Click on any image for larger size)
I’ve been in hit-and-run accidents before, so I’ve always kept my eye on dash cams for the car. I’ve tried two different GoPro cameras, including the newest Hero 3 models, but despite the stunning image quality, they won’t start recording by themselves; you must manually press a button on the camera or via remote.
The DR500GW-HD boasts full-HD recording (1920 x 1020p, 30fps), a 156-degree viewing angle, 2MP CMOS sensor, and a 3-axis G-sensor. It also comes with a 16GB microSD card, Class 10. (Click specs below for enlarged view).
The DR500GW-HD comes in a handsome white box that reminded me of some Apple products, minus the tiny cardboard tear inside the Blackvue packaging.
In addition to the camera, you’ll find the instructions, cables, a microSD card, USB reader, and cable clips.
I was also sent the Power Magic Pro device. When installed, it will provide power from your car to the camera to allow recording to continue for a programmed duration after the vehicle is turned off – “6 hrs to infinity”, according to the website. The printed instructions were in Korean so I couldn’t read them to confirm the time.
It comes with a 12V power receptacle. You plug in your dash cam here.
I had no use for this device, since I wasn’t interested in recording video after I parked. But I did notice that out of the box, the Power Magic Pro was missing some “teeth” on the DIP switches that are used to select how long you want power sent to the camera.
Now, back to the camera itself. Here it is, in the hand.
The camera comes with a little lens cap. I like to slide it on when I’m carrying the camera to and from the car.
Lens cap removed. Note the chrome lens surround. I wish it was blacked out to make the camera less noticeable.
Rear view of the camera. There’s not a lot of branding. What little there is seems fairly tasteful.
Closeup of the rear. The slot is the speaker vent for alert sounds.
The top side of the camera features a double row of vent holes. I’ve read on on-line camera forums that the previous version of this camera suffered from heating issues. Note the lock button on the mount.
The bottom looks much like the top. There’s a tiny white LED under the camera lens.
Remember that lock button? This releases the camera from the rotating mount. Note the grooves on the camera. These detents determine the angle which the camera is pointed. Think of the detents on a scrolling mouse wheel.
On one end you’ll find a cover that pops off to reveal the power, WiFi toggle button, microSD card slot, and reset button.
You may be wondering why they used the cylinder shape for a car camera? I love it. It allows for a lower profile mount, since the only adjustment you’ll need to make is vertical (up and down) aiming. Here the camera is mounted behind the rear view mirror near my radar detector. The slight purple reflection on the camera is the touch sensor, which toggles in-car audio recording on and off. I don’t know why they went with this kind of switch instead of a mechanical one.
Installed view from the other side. I’ve removed the round end cap for convenience.
Let’s get right to what you’re probably waiting for: How does the video look? Here are two samples:
(Note: Audio is muted on purpose. You don’t want to hear me singing along to a cover of “Call me Maybe” sung by Corgis. You’re welcome.)
There are two video quality settings. The highest quality you can get out of this firmware (1.005) is about 7.5 kbps. This is far lower than say, a GoPro camera. You’ll notice some motion artifacts that make reading fine detail difficult, such as reading a license plate. The low-ish bitrate conserves video file size, and most likely keeps processor load down to manage thermal issues.
There’s also a free iOS (and Android, not tested) app that lets you adjust settings, download video, and most impressively, a video viewfinder feature via WiFi. If the WiFi is enabled on the camera, you can “connect” to it and aim your camera.
You can download the video files directly off the microSD card, or you can use the included viewing software (comes in Mac and PC versions).
With the app, you can view individual video files and read GPS information overlaid on Google Maps. From the setup menu, you can also set up motion sensor trigger levels, audio alerts, volume, LED indicators, and more.
The preference pane shows you all the tweaks you’d ever want (click for full size).
Other things I noticed:
- The DR500GW-HD starts recording when it gets power, and stops when power is removed. There is a large capacitor inside the camera that keeps the power going for a few moments afterwards to finish writing the file.
- Glare from dashboard: If your dashboard top is a lighter color or reflective, you can see the glare recorded on the camera. I found that a black dashboard or a “dash mat” (carpet) helps. In the past, I’ve tried polarizing filters on GoPro cameras with mixed results.
- The smartphone app video preview is good for aiming, but there’s a slight lag. Don’t be alarmed!
- The Mac viewing software only has a few Asian countries for timezone settings. The iOS and PC app have a complete list.
- For a while I could not get the time stamp working correctly. Then one day, it did. I’m not sure why.
- The included software does not have an option to remove the “DR500GW-HD” stamp in the lower-right of recorded images.
- If you leave the WiFi turned on during power up, your phone may switch over to that when you drive. My iPhone 5 (Verizon) was off the network during that time and not getting emails, as it had detected the camera instead. I left the auto WiFi turned off, and I simply press the camera’s round WiFi button only when I need it.
- There is no iOS app for the iPad at the time of this writing.
- Camera writes in .mp4 files, saved in a folder on the microSD card.
- In the PC software, you can right click on the video list and delete individual video clips. You can’t do that in the Mac version.
The Pittasoft BlackView DR500GW-HD is a well-built dash cam that worked every time it powered up for me. The GPS and adjustable motion features are a nice touch. Although the camera lacks an LCD screen, the smartphone app is far more useful for added functionality and keeping the size down. It may not be GoPro quality, but this camera has found a home in my car.