More and more new, high-end cars come with the option of a factory-installed rearview camera. But what if you want this technology without having to either buy a new car or install an expensive in-dash display? A solution is available from Virtual Reality Video Labs in the form of its VRBCS300W Wireless Back-up Camera. We hooked up the device to our 2007 Saturn Sky Red Line--a car that needs all of the added rear visibility it can get when the top is up--to see how this aftermarket device compared with factory systems.
Installation of the VRBCS300W reversing camera is extremely straightforward. Despite its claim to be wireless, the device requires two sets of wires: one to connect the rear-facing camera to the vehicle's reverse-light circuit (if your car does not come with a pre-existing hole for a license-plate light, then you will have to drill one yourself, which may be a deal-breaker for some drivers), and one to connect the monitor to the car's 12V power supply, either via the cigarette-lighter port or directly to the car's fuse box. The camera can be mounted on either the top or bottom of the license plate using the existing screws or bolts. To enable drivers to adjust the camera's angle, the VRBCS300W comes with plastic, wedge-shaped buffers, which we found useful to get the view we wanted.
When mounted on the license plate, the black camera assembly is noticeable but not obtrusive. The monitor module, which sits in a separate holder on top of the car's dashboard, is a clunkier, more conspicuous presence in the cabin. The holder itself is attached by Velcro to a self-adhesive base on the dash. This means that even when the camera and its holder are removed, the oval Velcro-covered base is still visible on the dash.
One curious design cue of the monitor module is that the port for the power wire is on the left-hand side of the unit. This means that the wires run down the driver's side of the device, adding clutter on the driver's side. A port on the bottom or on the right-hand side would be more driver-friendly. Aside from the On/Off button (curiously situated third from the top in a column of four buttons down the right-hand side of the screen), there are controls for brightness, image orientation, and contrast.
The VRBCS300W features nine different brightness settings, which can be cycled through by pressing the button repeatedly. While the cyclical selection can get a bit cumbersome, the brightness adjustability is a good feature for nighttime use. Image orientation control is the device's most advanced feature, and pressing a single button changes the orientation of the image to one of four viewing angles: normal, which shows a view with the same orientation as that seen in the rearview mirror; reverse, which shows a true, rear-looking view (as if turning your head around and looking out through the rear windshield); inverted, which flips the normal view 180 degrees on its horizontal axis; and inverted reverse, which flips the reverse view upside down.
Despite its small size (2.5 inches), the LCD color monitor is bright and provides a decent view of what's behind you. The camera, which attaches to the license plate, has a 110-degree horizontal viewing angle and an 80-degree vertical viewing angle that serves up an image similar to a fish-eye lens. This broad field of visibility provides a good general impression of the rear field of vision, and is very useful for detecting the presence of small children or crossing pedestrians--particularly considering that more than 2,400 children are hit by reversing cars each year in the U.S. alone.