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  1. Car Computer Install: First Boot

    by , 03-26-2012 at 03:34 PM

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    Sean boots up his car computer for the first time. Be sure to make sure all positive wiring is connected to the appropriate accessory or capped with electrical tape before you reconnect the positive power cable to your battery. With any luck, your computer should boot properly the first time. Sean's enthusiasm on the video is testament to the difficulty associated with any car computer installation and his relief is apparent when everything works properly.
  2. Hardware Review: Pittasoft BlackVue DR400G-HD Driving Recording Device

    by , 03-22-2012 at 08:35 AM

    What is it?

    The BlackVue DR400G-HD is a high-definition audio/video recording device with built-in GPS & accelerometer. Video is recorded for playback on an included 16GB micro SD flash drive.

    The Verdict:

    The BlackVue DR400G-HD improves over competing video recording devices I've tested with a brighter more vibrant capture and a smaller footprint.



    What’s in the box?

    The DR400G-HD comes with the high-definition camera, a 16GB micro SD card with adapter and USB dongle, a windshield mount with adhesive, a 12 meter cigarette lighter power plug, 3.5mm to composite audio/video cable, and a 3.5mm to composite video cable. Wire looms and instruction/installation manuals are also generously thrown in.


    Description:

    A few months back I did a review on the Rupel iVox102H driving recorder system. One of the negative points for the device was the size. The iVox102H stood out like a sore thumb though no matter where it was placed on the front windshield. Enter the BlackVue DR400G-HD. Similar in technical specifications, the DR400G-HD is a sleek and visually appealing driving capture device, sitting at a fraction of the overall length and size of the competitor. The DR400G-HD definitely improves on the competitors footprint, but can it stand toe to toe in regard to the one area that matters most, video quality?


    Simply put, the answer is a resounding "yes". In fact, in similar conditions, the DR400G-HD replayed my driving sessions with more color intensity and brightness. The technical specifications on the box indicate the camera sports only a 2mp chip, but it appears that despite the size and weight difference between these two units, the DR400G-HD sacrifices nothing on video quality. The size of the unit has no effect on the angle of view either, giving a nice full windshield view. The size savings comes from the lack of a proprietary solid-state hard drive for the BlackVue. Instead, the DR400G-HD utilizes your every day micro SD card, found in most modern smart phones and handheld electronic devices. Simply install the side card into the slot on the DR400G-HD camera housing, provide 12v power, and the device records away. A small hitch in the ease of installation is the difficulty sliding the tiny micro SD card into the camera for people with left-hand drive vehicles. The card slot is on the right hand side of the unit when it faces outward towards the windshield, and if the camera is mounted in the ideal position (behind the rear-view mirror) it becomes quite the chore to insert/remove the card. Most users may opt to simply uninstall the camera from the included mount instead, which can be easily done with a simple press of the lock button.


    Another knock on the competing iVox102H was the bright light emitting from the device when powered. Sadly, the DR400G-HD triples the number of lights, and even causes the record indicator to blink continuously while powered. Thankfully, these lights can be switched off in the settings menu in the cameras playback program. On top of the visual feedback with the lights, the DR400G-HD also utilizes voice prompts indicating when the device is powered and recording is started. These too can be turned off via the settings menu.

    In speaking of the program, I must state, like the iVox, the BlackVue camera stores its companion playback application on the storage medium. That means the playback application can be run from "any" computer. A somewhat disappointing omission in regard to this application is it can not be run on a 64-bit windows system. Hopefully the software team is working on a fix for this.


    Once running the software application does a great job of allowing users to playback video with accompanying GPS mapping and accelerometer feedback all indicated. Users can select different dates and times to watch, and all files can easily be backed up to a larger external storage medium. This is somewhat important because in my week with the device I've filled up the 16GB card several times over with the video at its highest quality setting.

    The audio capture is a bit muddy, especially when music playing in the background, but its still easy to pick up the conversation of people in the front and rear of the car.



    The Positive:

    • Superior video capture quality
    • Sleek and small means it doesn't stick out on your windshield
    • Auto-power on/off
    • Captures GPS and accelerometer data and uses it for event detection
    • Included software gives you all the video information in a nice GUI
    • Parking mode set automatically by accelerometer feedback


    The Negative:

    • Muddy audio capture
    • Software is not 64-bit ready
    • SD card installation is somewhat a chore based on location of slot on the camera


    The Verdict:

    The BlackVue DR400G-HD improves over competing video recording devices I've tested with a brighter more vibrant capture and a smaller footprint.

  3. Car Computer Install: Wiring The Dash Overview

    by , 03-01-2012 at 05:02 PM

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    Sean goes over all of the wires that go into the dash from the computer, amplifier, and other peripherals. The BoomzBox is also installed into the dash behind the monitor. This is secured to the frame of the dash with adhesive tape and large zip ties. Backup camera wiring is extended to the backup light. When this wire gets +12V, the Lilliput monitor will automatically switch from PC to AV2, displaying the backup camera through this input. A vehicle specific wiring harness eliminates the need to splice into your factory wiring.
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  5. Hardware Review: Phoenix Audio MT107A Array Microphone Car Kit

    by , 02-03-2012 at 09:14 AM

    What is it?

    The Phoenix Audio Technologies MT107A is a USB-powered array microphone kit with echo and noise cancellation technology.

    The Verdict:

    The Phoenix Audio Technologies MT107A is the most ideal solution for hands-free operation with a car PC. The technology built into the kit allows for clear communication whether using the device for voice commands or phone calls through compatible Bluetooth phone systems. It's flexibility in installation is a well-considered feature which means the microphone position and accuracy can be optimized regardless of vehicle type.



    What’s in the box?

    The MT107A comes with a stereo microphone, the noise cancellation processor and its stand, a USB cable, and an instruction manual.


    Description:

    Throughout the existence of the in-car entertainment genre, a perfectly working voice recognition solution has been one of the primary systems to attempt to integrate. Unfortunately, OEMs and hobbyists alike have found it is an incredibly difficult task. Road noise, vehicle attenuation, and user individualism each add their own set of issues to tackle when considering the installation of a true hands-free voice solution. The Phoenix Audio Technologies MT107A microphone car kit does the best job yet for hobbyists of mitigating these issues and more.

    The immediate question any potential installer will ask about this stereo microphone bundle is "how well does it work?" The answer I'd reply with is "darn well". In fact, I was so enamored with how well my voice replayed back through the windows audio capture utility that I decided to attempt to type these two introductory paragraphs using nothing but the MT107A and the Windows 7 built-in speech recognition program, all while traveling down the loud and crowded streets of the Washington DC metropolitan area.


    Minor grammatical errors aside, the MT107A did the job without any issue. Of course, most car computer users are not going to be using this microphone bundle to type reviews or even respond to an email. The primary use of most in-car microphone setups is clearly the use of voice commands and hands-free phone calls.

    Before proceeding to anymore bragging, I will discuss a bit more of the hardware installation of the MT107A. Most people realize that compared to most devices, installing a microphone is pretty much a breeze in the car, and the MT107A definitely falls in that notion. Simply connect the USB cable to the microphones control box and processing core, then run your stereo microphone to the location of your choice. The primary benefit the MT107A has over competing devices is the fact that the stereo microphone comes with easy to use clips, allowing the microphone to be installed anywhere from the rear-view mirror or the sun shades in any vehicle today. In short, these clips allow you to have the microphones as close to your mouth as possible without interfering with driver view or personal comfort. Even if your microphone installation isn't as ideal, Phoenix Audio has a host of SDK applications on their website that can be used to tune the MT107A to your liking.


    Wires connected and tucked, a small configuration in Windows sound manager gets you off and running with using the MT107A as your primary means of voice control in the car. Once configuration is completed, its up to the user to decide how to utilize the MT107A DSP based sound management systems. In testing, I loaded up the RideRunner front end with the DFXVoice plugin. Having previously having a lot of frustration from this software and my Andrea array microphone, I can say that it now works perfectly with the MT107A. Voice commands spoken at normal volumes get picked up and processed right away.

    The more extensive test of an in-car hands-free solution is its use during a phone call via Bluetooth. In trying a few calls with a few different smartphones I received mixed results. My Motorola Droid Bionic worked rather well. Call participants reported no echoing or artifacts during the call, and the bi-directional communication flowed as well as any speakerphone based call would. My wife's LG smartphone however did have some echoing with the MT107A. Callers reported that they could hear themselves talking prior to hearing my response. These results were duplicated in many different scenarios; in my car parked, in my car while driving, and in my wife's minivan under the same conditions. The discovery in all of this testing was the MT107A can do the job of providing clear and precise voice fidelity... provided your phone manufacturer and bluetooth stack are doing their respective jobs.

    In the end, I don't have a problem replacing the Andrea microphone I have "somewhat" used over the last 3 years with the Phoenix Audio Technologies MT107A. The MT107A control box, despite being fairly larger than the Andrea's, does a better job of allowing me to control my experience with my voice in the end.

    The Positive:

    • High fidelity voice capture
    • Flexible installation of microphone
    • SDK available to tune to personal preference
    • Can be used with 2 sets of stereo microphones
    • USB bus powered



    The Negative:

    • Sound processor housing is rather large
    • Microphone wiring could stand to be longer to accommodate more installs without extensions
    • Isn't the all-in-one solution for all Bluetooth phone calls




    The Verdict:

    The Phoenix Audio Technologies MT107A is the most ideal solution for hands free operation with a car PC. The technology built into the kit allows for clear communication whether using the device for voice commands or phone calls through compatible Bluetooth phone systems. It's flexibility in installation is a well considered feature which means the microphone position and accuracy can be optimized regardless of vehicle type.