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Product Reviews

  1. Hardware Review: Infrared, Night Vision, Waterproof, High Resolution CMOS Camera

    by , 12-22-2009 at 01:07 PM

    What is it?

    This is a CMOS night vision camera sold by MP3Car. Night vision is through the front mounted IR LEDs. It's advertised purpose is mostly for surveillance, but as we will see in the review later on, this camera is actually better suited as a parking cam. The store's heading for this product advertises it to be a CCD camera, but the specifications mention that it is a CMOS (which is what this camera actually is). The camera runs on 12v and is waterproof.

    The Verdict

    This low cost CMOS camera is best suited for use as a parking camera. The reversed image and on-screen trapezoid for judging distance is an indication of this. Video quality is comparable to a higher quality CCD camera in the daytime, but at night, images are fuzzy.

    Forum Member Feedback

    Mp3Car forum member, Deric, says, "Good review! I've been looking for a low cost backup camera and may give this one a shot when I rebuild my system over the winter.

    Mp3Car forum member, Larzfromarz, says, "Thanks- i bought one but have not installed yet. Intend to use as you state, actually a trailer hook up camera. I can see I'd rather have a ccd but for $40..."

    See this product on the mp3Car Store here.

    In the box
    Here is a picture of the box and what's in it:

    Very basic stuff. You get an RCA cable, a sliced power cable, a sheet of paper as the manual, and of course the camera itself. The manual is written in chinglish with obvious grammar mistakes, but it's not that bad and completely understandable.


    First of all, I'd like to comment on the difference between a CMOS and a CCD camera. CCD is better quality and more expensive than a CMOS. The benefits of CCD technology over CMOS is that they are better under low light situations and overall better picture quality from lower noise. This infrared camera that I am reviewing is CMOS based and Ill be comparing it to a Sony CCD camera that I bought off eBay a while ago and have been using in my car's surveillance system. Although this camera is advertised to be a surveillance camera, I actually think it would be best suited as a parking cam instead. If you look at the video footage below, you'll see there is actually some sort of permanent trapezoid shape on the video output of the camera which I am assuming is to help you judge distance.

    IMPORTANT POINT #1: the manual recommends running it off a 12v regulated source. Im assuming the camera has no internal voltage regulation, so you probably do not want to plug it straight into the car's electrical system. It probably would work fine, but who knows what long term effects all those voltage irregularities will have on the camera. To play it safe, I'll be running the camera on 12v regulated. This shouldnt be a problem for more CarPC'ers as you can just easily tap into the +12v of your PSU.

    IMPORTANT POINT #2: If you look at my video footage (it looks like I am driving on the wrong side of the road), you will see that the image from the camera is actually REVERSED. For this reason, I do not recommend using the camera as surveillance or as a front mounted dash cam. It's only really suited to be used as a parking camera. Here is some video of the CMOS camera:

    CMOS Camera in daytime:

    CMOS Camera at night:

    and as comparison, here is some sample video footage from my Sony CCD camera. Note that at the end of the night-time video, I am driving in a completely pitch dark construction zone. There is no lighting other than my headlights. You can see me playing around with the different headlight settings on my car in 0:36. In pitch dark conditions illuminated by only my headlights, I was unable to see anything with the CMOS camera, it was just all noise and fuzz. Interesting thing to note, I actually found myself glancing down on my screen when driving down this pitch black road because my Sony CCD provided better night vision than what my human eyes can see.

    Sony CCD camera at night:

    Sony CCD camera in the daytime:

    Although the MP3Car camera has IR illumination, they are practically useless in far range situations. The reason is that the CMOS image detector itself is not as sensitive as CCDs and the IR illuminators simply are not powerful enough to illuminate far distances. As a parking camera, your rear tail-lights will probably provide more illumination than the IR LEDs. Night time driving shots are decent enough, and in fact, this camera is much better than my previous CMOS camera in low light conditions. However, the CCD camera is much better for low light situations. If low light quality is important, then I would recommend using the camera only in closer distances where the IR illumination actually has any effect. The CMOS camera is actually usable in pitch black conditions, but of course, only when the surroundings are close enough to be lit up. Just to give you guys an idea of how bright the IR LEDs are on the CMOS camera, here is a picture I took with my digital camera (in case you guys dont know, most digital cameras can "see" into the infrared region). The lights on the left are from the camera and the single light is a standard TV remote. You can see that they are pretty much similar in brightness.

    The IR on this camera is controlled by a small photoelectric sensor, so the IR only comes on when it's dark. I also did a power consumption test. At 12V, the camera draws 100mA (so 1.2W) in the daytime with the IR off and 111mA (1.3W) at night when the IR is on. In comparison, my Sony CCD camera draws 0.15mA (1.8W). Nevertheless, video quality in the daytime is very similar to a CCD. CMOS technology is inherently noisier than CCD but that is not very noticeable in the daytime. As for mounting the camera, you can see in this picture how the little rings slide off. You simply drill a hole, silicone the surroundings, slide in the camera, then tighten up the rings.

    The Positive

    -Low price
    -Durable, waterproof. I wanted to take the camera apart to see what's inside, but the camera is so sturdily built that I cant find a way to take it apart.
    -Very good quality for a CMOS camera. Quality in lighted conditions is very similar to a CCD camera -IR illumination for night vision even in pitch black (only useful if the surroundings are close).
    -Trapezoid on-screen guide to help judge distance (a positive only if you are using as a parking cam)
    -Image is reversed (a positive only if you are using as a parking cam)

    The Negative

    -Night vision is limited by how far away the surroundings are.
    -In low light conditions, the camera is very "noisy" and resolution is not very good. Still much better than most CMOS cameras.
    -Not very practical for use as a surveillance cam.
    -Requires regulated +12v power, meaning it might not be a good idea to hook this up straight into your car's electrical system without some sort of voltage regulator inline.

    The Verdict

    This low cost CMOS camera is best suited for use as a parking camera. The reversed image and on-screen trapezoid for judging distance is an indication of this. Video quality is comparable to a higher quality CCD camera in the daytime, but at night, images are fuzzy.


    (the MP3Car store has slightly different specs listed, I will post the ones from the manual)
    -CMOS technology, PAL and NTSC
    -Input voltage: 12v regulated -1 inch diameter mounting hole -Pixels (H*V): 628*582 PAL, 510*492 NTSC
    -Resolution: 380 TVL (Enhanced)
    -Viewing angle: 120 deg
    -Video output: 1.0 Vpp composite video at 75 ohm
    -Min illumination: 0.1 lux (IR on)
    -Operating temp: -20C to 70C -Weight: 300g

    See this product on the mp3Car Store here.
  2. Hardware Review: BoomzBox HD AM/FM Radio

    by , 12-04-2009 at 12:15 PM

    The BoomzBox HD is a USB-controlled AM/FM HD-capable radio tuner.

    The Verdict:

    The BoomzBox HD is just what we’ve asked for in an AM/FM radio. With sound quality that rivals factory head units and an easy straight forward installation procedure, the BoomzBox HD should be your first choice for radio.

    Just released: Price will be $179 on the mp3Car Store soon. Release date still to be determined.

    What’s in the box?

    The BoomzBox HD comes with the tuner box, driver CD, a USB-driven controller box, an 8-pin DIN connector, USB cable, and two power adapters for ease of installation.


    The BoomzBox HD is a fully RoHS compliant HD radio tuner built from the ground-up for car PC use. The tuner box is a bit smaller than similar devices on the market. It’s built with a solid aluminum casing to withstand automotive applications. The tuner box has just 3 connections, an antenna input port, a pass-through antenna output port, and the 8-pin interface connector.

    The companion device in the BoomzBox HD package is the converter box. This box converts the signal from the tuner box via the din cable, thus allowing audio to come straight from the USB cable. Competing devices require both a serial/USB connection and an audio output to be sent to the PC. The ease of installation is the highlight of the BoomzBox HD. Connect the DIN cable to the converter box, connect the USB to a PC, and connect power to the green power connector, and the BoomzBox is ready for software. The creators even went a step further by including 2 power options, a brick plug, and a bare connector ready for your unregulated 12v and ground wires.

    The driver CD includes drivers for windows XP/VISTA/7. It also includes a test application to put the BoomBox to use. The BoomzBox is fully compatible with the most popular front-ends like Centrafuse and RideRunner.

    The most important quality in a FM/AM tuner is the audio quality, and the BoomzBox matches the sound quality of units from Directed and Visteon. The HD channels sound as crisp and clear as you could ever want from radio. That being said, the BoomzBox has the issue of HD signals clipping in and out that most all HD radios have. If you can deal with that small issue, the BoomzBox HD is the standard for which future car PC radios will be judged.

    The Positive:

    • High-quality sound in standard and HD modes
    • Easiest HD radio to install on your computer
    • Audio over USB leaves your line-in open
    • Built specifically for car PC use

    The Negative:

    • HD signal clipping is still present
    • Missing the optional Head and remote other HD radios have

    The Verdict:

    The BoomzBox HD is just what we’ve asked for in an AM/FM radio. With sound quality that rivals factory head units and an easy straight forward installation procedure, the BoomzBox HD should be your first choice for radio.


    Dimensions (Tuner): 12cm x 7.8cm x 3cm
    Dimensions (Converter): 6.5cm x 6.5cm x 3cm
    Inputs: Motorola Style antenna input
    Outputs: 1 x USB, 1 x antenna output
    Power Supply: Accepts 12v Unregulated
  3. Hardware Review: mp3Car's New HD Radio - BoomzBoxHD

    by , 12-02-2009 at 11:57 AM
    Tom Berry (aka Bugbyte) takes a look at the new BoomzBoxHD, a device used to add HD radio to a mobile PC. This ingenious device will be available on the mp3Car store in the upcoming weeks and proves to be a quick and painless installation. Software for the interface is included. Read the complete review below.

    What is it?

    The BoomzBox HD radio is an HD radio that is controlled and played back through your PC.

    What’s in the box?

    - Boomzbox HD radio
    - USB interface from MJS Gadgets
    - 8 pin mini DIN cable
    - Mini USB cable
    - 12 volt AC to DC power supply
    - Mini CD with drivers and BoomzBox player app


    The BoomzBox HD radio is an easy way to add HD radio to your car PC setup. Out of the box, there are two main components, the BoomzBox HD radio itself and a USB interface box. The interface box connects via USB cable to the PC and also via an 8 pin mini DIN cable to the BoomzBox. In addition, the 12 volt power supply connects to the interface box. The setup is very similar to using the mp3Car XM radio adaptor and XM Direct radio except that the BoomzBox's audio is routed via USB into the PC -a very nice touch that makes it simple to manage with front end programs.

    The last connection is the car antenna on the BoomzBox itself. The Boomzbox includes a standard Motorola antenna socket that allows you to plug a standard U.S. car antenna cable into it with no modification (some cars, like my VW Beetle require an adaptor to the Motorola socket). In addition, the BoomzBox includes antenna in and out to allow the user to keep a head unit on the car's antenna as well as the BoomzBox (you'll have to purchase the Motorola cable to do this separately). A very thoughtful addition that many folks will find handy.

    Once connected, installation is a snap. The included mini-CD has the required drivers on it. Just plug the interface box into the PC, load the drivers and check the device manager to ensure that the interface box shows up under the USB devices and also under the COM devices with a port number assigned to it. (If you don't have a CD/DVD drive with a caddy on it, you'll have to download the drivers and software to a USB stick like I did. It would be nice if they came on a full sized CD as many car PC's have slot load drives that can't handle a mini-CD.)

    The BoomzBox HD comes with a software app that mimics a car head unit to control the radio. It includes seek, direct tune, three banks of presets and several different skins to change the look of the app. On initial startup the app scans for the radio. If all is well, it will automatically find it and turn it on the BoomzBoxHD. Specs for the radio were not included with my test unit but to my ears the quality of the sound was very good, although I have to say that I'm no audiophile. It certainly sounds much better than analog FM radio!

    One important feature of the BoomzBox is the USB audio feature. This reduces the number of cables from the box as well as solving the problem of getting the sound into your PC. In addition, I found that when using the RideRunner car front end that the program would seamlessly switch between the radio and mp3 files without requiring any input from the user. Nice!

    I tested the BoomzBox HD with the RideRunner car PC front end program. RideRunner is arguably the most popular car front end and I'm happy to report that it worked perfectly with this program. A simple change to RideRunner's rr.ini file to specify "HDRADIO" was all it took for the program to recognize the BoomzBox. Using the Carwings skin I was able to play and tune the radio with no difficulty.

    What could be improved about this product? There's little to dislike about the BoomzBox HD but I found a couple of things that would be nice to improve. The separation of an interface box and the radio itself makes the product clunky and adds more cables to your car PC mix. With space at a premium in many car PC installations, it would be nice if the interface box was integrated into the radio itself with all cabling internal. I'd be willing to trade a bigger box or even some type of header pin connector system that would allow the interface box to piggyback onto the BoomzBox.

    In addition, the requirement for 12 volt power is, I suppose, necessary but tiresome. With 5 volts on the USB line, it would be nice if the USB power could have been used to run the BoomzBox, eliminating another cable. I'm fairly sure that the 12 volt power runs through the mini DIN plug and powers the BoomzBox rather than the USB interface and it seems like it might have made more sense to put the 12 connection in the side of the BoomzBox as opposed to the interface box.

    I hope that mp3car makes the standard for control of the BoomzBox HD available for hobbyists since the BoomzBox is currently a Windows only device. There's no reason it couldn't work with Linux or OS X since it uses standard Prolific FTDI drivers that make the BoomzBox show up as a serial port device. It would be dead simple for a developer to code up a program that would allow the BoomzBox to work on either operating system.

    But these are all nits, really. If you are looking for an easy way to add HD AM/FM radio to your car PC setup, the Boozbox HD is the product for you. It solves the dilemma that many car PC'ers have of "should I keep my head unit or go with an amplifier?" by providing high quality HD radio reception that is piped into the PC and easily controlled by current front ends.

    The Positive:

    Works as advertised, sounds great, easy to connect to system. USB cable routes sound directly into the PC making it easy to manage.

    The Negative:

    YABB (Yet Another Black Box), requires separate 12 volt power supply for radio, interface box and additional cables add to in car clutter.

    The Verdict:

    Thumbs up! The radio Just Works(tm) and is easy to configure to integrate into RideRunner. BoomzBox software player works well, sounds great, sensitivity of radio is good. The BoomzBox HD comes with a pass through antenna cable connector which allows you to connect it inline with the antenna and keep your head unit connected if you desire.
  4. Hardware Review: IEI 140W DC/DC Power Supply IDDV-6304140A

    by , 11-24-2009 at 01:30 PM

    The IDDV-6304140A is a 140-watt DC/DC Power Supply with intelligent power handling.

    The Verdict:

    The IDDV-6304140A is a solid competitor in a suddenly flourishing car PC power supply market. It attempts to add small and useful features to a tried and true form factor, and succeeds in powering a pretty power hungry setup effectively and efficiently.

    See this product on the mp3Car Store here.

    What’s in the box?

    The IDDV-6304140A comes neatly and securely packaged with the PSU, instruction manual, and cables for motherboard ON/OFF switch, external optional power switch, optional led and amplifier turn on delay.


    The IDDV-6304140A is a fully RoHS compliant DC/DC ATX converter module capable of powering computer systems with up to a 140-watt demand. Right out of the box, the IDDV appears identical to other PSUs already on the market with its similar form factor to the M2 and GP83 devices. It does however come with some original and interesting features, most notably the ability to control the PSU with an infrared remote control. Simply connect GND, VCC, and IRRX to the board’s 3-pin connector and you can turn your car PC on/off with the push of a button. This feature overrides ignition on/off status, but it does not ignore the built in thermal and voltage sensing kill switches programmed into the unit. The IDDV promises to shut down any power when then temp range exceeds -20°C – 85°C or when battery voltage sensed is
  5. Hardware Review: Intelligent DC-DC converter with USB interface by Mini-Box

    by , 11-10-2009 at 08:47 AM
    I was looking for an alternative to power my brand new Zotac A-U board. gladly sent me the device in exchange for a review. so here it is.
    The device: The Intelligent DC-DC converter with USB interface by is a buck/boost converter/regulator that can be used for a wide variety of application, it can be used to power any device that needs 6-24VDC, and the input range can be anything from 6VDC to 34VDC. The device can also send ON/OFF signals to motherboards based on IGN or ACC voltages.

    See this product on the mp3Car Store HERE.

    The box: UPS brought me a box that weight a little more than air itself, i was wondering if there is actually anything inside. before filing the claim that somebody stole the device out of the box i decided to open it anyway (; there it was, a small green board with a few short cables and a little bag with a few tiny jumpers. I couldn't wait to get my hands on it and test the &*%$ out of it, but to my surprise there was no manual, no CD, no USB cable. i found a very basic manual on the site and the journey began.

    The work: Without the availability of the USB cable and lack of software, i went ahead configuring the device to my needs with a basic manual and a few jumpers. I need 19VDC to power my Zotac A-U mobo, the device CAN produce this voltage but with the USB software, i set the device to output the nearest voltage that can be set with jumpers which is 18VDC, the multimeter shows 18.24VDC i then set the device to operate as a regular converter/inverter and connected it to my mobo. pushed the power button, the fan started to spin, and the mobo seems to run just fine. +/-1VDC inst crucial for this mobo. i then tested the output voltage range of this device and the device does what it is suppose to do. no matter of the input (as long as its within range) the output voltage will be what it is set to be. then i set it to automotive mode which adds timing options along with ON/OFF pulses to the mobo. i set the timing to send off pulse to the mobo as soon as ACC is off and completely turn off the device after a minute - it did just that. my Zotac now powers on and off automatically. because of the wide input range the device has absolutely no problems surviving engine crank. however once the device starts the timer, it cannot be interrupted, meaning that if i shut off ACC the timer will start and will count a minute, in this time frame if i turn the ACC back on the device will not power up the mobo, nor send on/off signals. but if i leave the ACC on until the timer finished it will power up the board and send ON signal. temperature wise this device does just well, it get a bit warm when powered for a long time, but absolutely nothing to worry about and nothing that will require additional cooling. in my setup the device does exactly what it is described to do.

    The good: The device can be used for a wide variety of applications, it is very accurate, small profile, easy to setup,survives engine crank, appears to be reliable (i used it a few days already and it powers up and shuts down every time without problems) and the price is right.

    The bad: I am not sure how it is shipped from but the device should most defiantly come with advanced documentation or at least some documentation. even though most of us SHOULD have the proper USB cabe, it should be included in the package, the configuration software should also come with the device or at least be available for easy download. otherwise more configuration options should be available on the device itself. use jumpers that are smaller then the regular computer jumpers, i don't see a reason for this, should just use regular jumpers.

    The truth: All in all the device is great, does what you configure it to do and does it well. for this price ($59+shipping) you cant go wrong with it. though with more documentation, software and USB cable the package would be complete.

    The rest: (from - Applications: powering motherboard with single rail power from any voltage to any voltage, laptops, custom electronics. This module can be used to convert any voltage ranging 6-34V to any output from 5-24V. The DCDC-USB has 4 models of operation: - Dumb mode: Acts as a regular DC-DC converter with wide input (6-34V) and produces a fixed 12V output (or any output from 6-24V) - Automotive mode: Acts as an intelligent PSU, ignition aware, will send ON/OFF pulse to the motherboard to turn ON/OFF. Standby power consumption is well under 1mA. - UPS mode: The unit will act as an intelligent UPS unit, will shut down at prescribed battery voltages. - Script mode: Unit can be programmed to wake up, sleep, based on pre-programmed scripts. Additional features of DCDC-USB: - Remote ON/OFF switch capable of switching up to 6A, 8A peak. - Can control motherboard ON/OFF pins - Fused input, TVS protected - USB mini, type B - All Solid Polymer Capacitors, SVPD series, Sanyo, Japan.

    See this product on the mp3Car Store HERE.