**Some of this review is taken from my BlackVue DR500GW review due to the similarities of the two devices**
Motor vehicle accidents are becoming more and more common in today’s busy society.
Often it’s not easy to lay blame on one particular party, and insurance companies will settle “knock for knock”, meaning both parties are deemed equally liable and as such, both parties premiums will be affected, even if it seems obvious to you, who was actually to blame.
Without credible witness accounts, there is little that can be done to combat this, that was, until the recent development of small, high quality video recording devices that can be fitted into your vehicle.
The Blackvue range of cameras, made by Pittasoft is exactly this. Small, discreet, easy to use and most of all, high quality. It’s like having your own witness, recording every event, there to protect you in the event of an accident. Pittasoft, a South Korean company, have been manufacturing similar devices since 2010 and are one of the leaders in the field.
In the past, I have owned numerous Blackvue models. Each new model has brought further development and features, along with increased image quality and user friendliness.
This latest model, the BlackVue DR550GW-2CH takes this development even further, with not only the addition of Wifi built into the camera taken from the DR500GW, but also now has a second rear facing camera that simultaneously records video along with the front facing camera.
The DR550GW-2CH front camera continues on from the DR500GW, with a design much the same, in fact there is little to distinguish the two cameras side by side. It comes in at 118.5mm long, 36mm in diameter and 120g in weight. Really the only distinguishing feature is a redesigned side panel to allow for the new coaxial cable connection for the rear camera.
The rear camera is surprisingly small, but it has no need to be any bigger, as all the storage and processing is done by the main camera.
Sizing up at just 67.4mm long and with a diameter of 27.6mm it really is quite compact, meaning the camera weighs only 30g. The only features of the rear camera are the lens, a small LED and the coaxial cable connection. This makes for a sleek and uncluttered device which can easily be hidden away at the rear of your vehicle.
The main camera body keeps the new security light on the front under the lens (which can be turned off), a neat light sensitive on/off button for audio recording and a large round button to turn the WiFi on and off. The device still uses micro SD cards, and the slot is now hidden behind a hinged door with a cut out for both the Wi-Fi button, the power in socket and of course the Coaxial cable for the rear camera.
Both cameras record in HD, the front keeps its 1920×1080 resolution at 30FPS, and the rear camera records at 1080×720 at 30FPS. With both cameras at full resolution you can expect to get about 4 hours of footage with the supplied 16GB card. By reducing the frame rate to 15 FPS, expect to gain an extra hour and 45 minutes, but of course loose the smoothness and detail of the higher frame rate.
A significant change from the DR500GW is the angle of view, which had been increased from its predecessor the DR400G. The DR550GW, now sits in the middle of the two with a diagonal view of 137 degrees, horizontal of 108 degrees and vertical of 80 degrees. I much prefer this, as I found the view of the DR500GW just too wide, meaning things often looked too far away in the frame.
Of course we now also have the rear camera, which provides a similar view to the front at 139 degrees diagonal, 116 degrees horizontal and 61 degrees vertical
As you would expect, the DR550GW-2CH also includes GPS, which records your position and speed. It also contains accelerometers which track your motion and records g forces in three axis. This feature also enables the camera to record in three different modes. Normal, event and parking.
Normal, as you may guess, is just normal recording as you are driving around, these clips will be overwritten as the memory fills up. Event is activated when the accelerometers detect a set amount of g force in any of the 3 axis (which are user programmable for different vehicles/terrains). Once event mode is activated, the camera will automatically mark and store a section of video, starting 5 seconds before and 55 after the “event”. This piece of video will then not be overwritten by the camera. Park mode is enabled automatically when then camera detects no motion after 10 minutes. In parking mode, the g force sensors are set to be more sensitive, so they will create an “event” clip with much less force required. This is perfect for car parks where light shunts or people touching your car are your biggest concerns. Parking mode only records the “event” clips and constantly overwrites the non even parking mode clips, saving memory.
Setting up the DR550GW-2 CH is very simple. First, insert the supplied Micro SD card into the camera and connect the rear camera’s coaxial cable and then the power cable. After a minute or so, the camera will have copied the relevant data to the card and will be ready to go. The camera speaks to you, to let you know what’s going on. “Blackvue for your safe driving, starting normal recording” means the camera is ready to go and is recording. The rear camera’s LED light will be a solid colour to show the rear camera is on and recording.
Attaching the camera’s to the windscreen is also very simple. The supplied mounts come with a piece of sticky double sided tape, simply remove the backing and place where required. A word of warning, it is very sticky! Once it touches the glass, it can’t be removed without wrecking the tape. Thankfully Pittasoft include a spare piece!
On previous models, aligning the camera when attached to the windscreen was a bit hit and miss. You lined up the mount as best you could, inserted the camera and guessed at the correct angle. You recorded some footage, took the camera to your PC, removed the card, downloaded the footage, reviewed it, memorised the position and repeated.
Now, all you need to do is connect the camera’s Wi-Fi to your smart phone and enable the live view feed. You can then accurately position the cameras within seconds.
The supplied coaxial cable is a good length, however for those with slightly larger vehicles, such as my 4×4, you are pushing the limit of the cable length. I hate having cables loose and flapping around, so try wherever possible to hide them behind trim. I could not hide the rear quarter or so of the cable as it just was not long enough to route where I wanted it. Another foot on the cable would have been most welcome and would have solved this issue.
For most family saloons, you should be fine however.
I had one issue with the supplied cable in my preview model, that it seemed to be a slightly loose fit in the front camera, meaning a slight touch would cause the rear camera to loose power. It would not come back on without a full reboot of the front camera. I heard several other people have a similar issue, but Pittassoft were quick to redesign the cable, now with 90 degree angle connectors and a tighter fit. In the vehicle the problem seemed much less evident, I did a whole day of rough offroading and the rear camera stayed connected, but when making a review video, just touching the cable slightly caused the problem.
The new cable seems to have solved this, so top marks to Pittasoft for the quick fix.
Usage and Image quality
As mentioned, the camera is incredibly easy to set up. Once it’s set up, you shouldn’t need to change anything, just turn on your car and go.
Sometimes the camera does take upto 30 seconds to activate, so bear this in mind before setting off. I always wait for the voice command before manoeuvring away. If you have the front security light enabled, it’s easy to see the unit is active, alternatively you can see the rear LED status lights to confirm the unit is on and recording.
When it comes to reviewing footage, either on a PC or Smartphone, it’s clear and good quality. The camera seems to handle exposure very well. Previous models have sometimes struggled in high contrast scenes, and often wildly adjusted the exposure to try and compensate. The DR550GW- 2CH controls these scenes well, although does still put slight precedence over the highlights rather than shadows, meaning the sky is often well exposed and the ground underexposed. To combat this, I find making sure that the majority of the frame is the ground, with only the top third being sky. This seems to keep the camera’s exposure metering system happy and gives a good overall exposure. The rear camera is best angled down also, I find as you want to see as close to the rear of your vehicle as possible to record any possible contact.
When faced with direct sunlight, both cameras cope well with little lens flare and do a good job at controlling the exposure.
Night time scenes are also very well handled, with very little image noise and good exposure. I do find, as I expected that the camera struggles with intense lights like headlights in a night time scene. This is especially evident with the rear camera, where a vehicle behind you will have its lights glaring at the lens for a longer period than cars approaching from the front.
Audio recording is adequate; I found on my copy as with the DR500GW, that the sound sometimes is quite “poppy”. By this I mean there are random pops and crackles. I tried in two vehicles and it was the same in both. It’s not intrusive, but worth noting.
The camera picks up voices well with good clarity, perfectly adequate for the purpose of the camera.
Overall the new Blackvue DR550GW 2CH is a good continuation of the range. It has features that make it a worthwhile upgrade from any of the previous models , and retains the fundamental purpose of the camera, without compromising on build quality, price and function. The inclusion of the rear camera is this models main selling point. For me, it was something I was waiting for, and was very happy when I heard Pittasoft were producing such a thing. My initial thoughts, when I first heard were somewhat misled. I presumed the 2 CH aspect of the title, meant that the camera had two Wifi channels, one for the rear camera to connect to the front, and one for the front to connect to a smartphone. This would have meant no wires between the two cameras, which would be preferable, but no doubt would increase technical problems and connection issues. However, despite this slight confusion the actual implementation works very well, and the wired connection between the cameras means seamless and problem free recording.
The only issues that I can perhaps bring up, is the aforementioned cable length, and also the main device does still get very hot, although nowhere near as hot as the original 400HD model and the 300 series before that. Everything else about the camera cannot really be faulted. It looks good, delivers on image quality from both cameras during the day and at night and the sound quality is perfectly reasonable.
Another point worth noting is the excellent level of accessories included with Blackvue cameras.
This one, as with all I have owned come with everything you need to use the device straight away.
You get the camera’s themselves, the mounts with pre applied tape, a spare pieces of tape, small wire clips to route the cable power cable and coaxial neatly, a very long power cable, long coaxial cable, and unusually for most manufacturers, you also get a 16GB micro SD card, and a micro SD to USB adapter. Even my DSLR’s that cost 3 times the amount don’t come with any form of memory storage.
It’s good to see a company not cutting costs by omitting these essential items, like so many do.
I’m very glad to have my vehicle protected front and back with Blackvue. I feel safer in the knowledge that any accidents I may be involved in will be recorded with all the data needed to prove fault and make insurance claims much easier.
Another bonus is several insurance companies now also offer discounts when you have a Blackvue installed. My insurer offers a 15% reduction in premium, which actually almost pays for the camera straight away!
See the BlackVue DR550GW-2CH in action.
BlackVue DR550GW-2CH front and rear car dashcam footage – http://youtu.be/Vgau_Xtaosw
BlackVue DR550GW-2CH WiFi dashcam front camera daytime footage – http://youtu.be/F5rTWCk76s4
Pittasoft BlackVue DR550GW-2CH Rear camera footage – http://youtu.be/xJpAGevWCCc
BlackVue DR550GW-2CH WiFi dashcam unboxing and preview – http://youtu.be/auoGaR86Zqc
BlackVue DR550GW-2CH WiFi dashcam first turn on and WiFi setup – http://youtu.be/T9amE3L7uIQ