Wireless Rearview Camera for Your Car

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Look in your rearview mirror and you can see whatever's at the level of the mirror. What you (actually, me, in this case) might be wondering is if there's something--or someone--where you can't see it.

I've been intrigued with advertisements for cameras that mount on the rear of the vehicle ever since I bought a used Roadtrek. The Roadtrek's a small RV and it's longer than an average van. Seeing out the back window isn't easy.

I had the chance to try Roadmaster's VR3 Wireless Backup Camera and even though it was a pain to install, I'm glad I have it.

The Color Camera

The outfit comes with a 2.5-inch LCD wireless color monitor that you mount on the dashboard or a sun visor. The monitor has controls for brightness and contrast as well as a toggle that lets you change the view from a normal image to a mirror image. The mirror image is best because it replicates the view from your rearview mirror.

The kit comes with a small holder for the monitor with double-sided sticky tape. I still haven't decided exactly where to mount it, and I suggest you try it in a couple of spots before finding a permanent home. Once I know where it goes, I'll probably drill holes on the mounting device and screw it to the dashboard rather than use the tape.

Time Out: Some of you don't give a rat's patootie about wireless rearview mirrors, so here's something you probably can't use unless you're a super geek. The tool's WhyReboot, and it's a little utility that shows what file operations are allegedly necessary after you install a program. It's not earth-shatteringly useful, but serves to satisfy your curiosity.

Making the Power Connection

The Roadmaster camera gets its power in one of two ways: You can plug it directly into what was once known as a cigar lighter (that changed in the sixties to a cigarette lighter; now it's a power outlet) using a 12-volt adaptor. A better way is to grab power directly from the vehicle's fuse box.

I thought I could do it, Hell, I can stick my fingers into the Windows Registry, so this should be easy. (Silly me.) I took the manual and the wiring, and dropped under the dashboard. After fiddling for 10 minutes, I decided to trade Mike the mechanic $20 and an answer to any one of his computing woes to do the wiring. Unless you're handy, I suggest you factor that cost into the price.

The License-Plate Camera

The camera mounts along the top or bottom of the license plate. Power for the camera also has to be hard wired, something I left for Mike.

When you or the mechanic install the camera, you have two options: Have the camera and monitor operate only when you shift into reverse, or have it work all the time. Mine's set for shifting into reverse, but if you ever tow another vehicle, you'll probably prefer it be on all the time.

The Good and the Bad

I've used the VR3 Wireless Backup Camera for a few months. It definitely gives me another, better view of the back end of the Roadtrek.

But my fantasy was that I'd have a very wide view behind the van, so if I backed into a parking spot or camping site, I'd see everything. With a 110-degree horizontal viewing angle and an 80-degree vertical angle, it's adequate, but not spectacular.

Another problem is the camera will occasionally act like, well, a wireless device. The gizmo picks up interference and I'll see horizontal lines rolling across the screen; every so often the image will just disappear.

You can pay full retail for the Wireless Backup Camera--$140--on Roadmaster's site, but I've seen it as low as $60 at Costco.

Dig This: I definitely want to play with MIT's new user interface--and want one if it's ever released. [Thanks, Leo.]

Dig This, Too: Do you ever have one of those days when you get a blue screen of death and can't quite remember what to do next? This guy came up with a novel, and to some, smart idea. He tattooed the instructions--and just in case, the fatal error memory location--onto his arm.

And Dig This: Halloween's almost around the corner--it isn't, I know, but those corner buy-your-pumpkin-now lots are starting to spring up in Pasadena's 108-degree weather. But I digress. The LOTR geek in my copy editor's frontal lobe is all excited about the WETA workshop site. Take a look and you'll learn more than anyone should about the Lord of the Rings special effects.

Calling Steve Bass

Many of you are perturbed that the newsletter's missing my strange end-of-the-newsletter ditty. Here goes:

Hey, I know you're not getting the whole newsletter in e-mail (me, either), but it's still an a decent read, no? So how about it? Pitch my newsletter. You get a commission and I get a circulation boost. (That's right, I'm lying--but I got your attention, if even for a nanosecond.) The subscription page is right here.

Steve Bass writes PC World's monthly "Hassle-Free PC" column and is the author of PC Annoyances, 2nd Edition: How to Fix the Most Annoying Things About Your Personal Computer, available from O'Reilly. He also writes PC World's daily Tips & Tweaks blog. Sign up to have Steve's newsletter e-mailed to you each week. Comments or questions? Send Steve e-mail.
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