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In-Car Video Setup

 
Old 10-27-2005, 11:04 PM
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Default In-Car Video Setup

Video still from my old system:



I've been trying to get the right pieces together for a flexible and (relatively) affordable in-car video camera set up, and I think the camera I got today finishes it off.

The cheapest way to do in-car video, of course, is to make a home-made camera mount and slap on a $25 VHS camcorder that you picked up at a garage sale. When the car shakes the old camcorder apart, you take a Sunday morning and go find another garage sale. Simple and cheap.

But in my case, I want to be able to put one camera on the front bumper, or the rear wing (or pointed at the suspension, even), and one camera in the cockpit, showing the steering wheel and my feet as I drive. So, I ideally need two bullet cameras, a way to combine the two for a picture-in-picture effect, and a way to record the combined image that makes it easy to get it to the primary place I view it, my computer.

RECORDER

The Mustek PVR-A1 is a no-moving-parts solution that records MPEG-4 encoded video files to a SD memory card and is about the size of an iPod. It also has a screen, so you can see that your cameras are working correctly, and also review your laps right there at the track. It also has a rechargeable battery for when it's out of the car, so you can show other people your laps and exciting off-track excursions. (As a bonus, you can listen to MP3's on it and look at pictures of your wife and kids.)

A $50 SD card holds 3.5 hours of video, and goes right into a $5 reader for the laptop, which means no cables, encoding, or other nonsense when you want to get the videos into the computer.

It's the bargain of the package, too, at about $95 through Amazon.com.

PICTURE-IN-PICTURE

The View-2.com box by RCD Video allows you to combine two incoming video streams into one image. You can have an inset box, like you see above. You can change the size and location of the box in the frame, and you can also do half-split frames (horizontal or vertical) if you want to do a front-rear setup. It's $289, because it's not really a consumer item. It's available here. It's not cheap, but I think there's a real value to being able to see what you're doing (in addition to what the car is doing) in a lap video.

CAMERAS

I found a cheap source for Sony 1/3-inch CCD HAD bullet cameras, and there's an annoying problem with them that finally pushed me to buy a more expensive model. Many bullet cameras seem to be engineered for low-light photography, which makes them 'bleach out' too readily in bright light use -- like when you're driving at the track. I've finally concluded that the cheap cameras are fine for the cockpit-based camera (since there's less light in the car), so this one is a good choice for that.

But I just found a better solution for the main camera. It's a 530-line high-resolution camera with a 1/3-inch latest-generation SuperHAD (whatever that means) Sony sensor. Out of the box, it is less prone to the 'bleaching' effect, and it's capable of high enough resolution so that you could record to DV tapes and have a DVD-like image. But what it also has that's unusual is a wired remote control that you can attach to it which allows you to digitally zoom in or out, and pan or tilt on the digitally zoomed image. That's cool, but it's not important to lap videos. But it also allows you to manually adjust the camera's iris up or down in steps to compensate for a too-bright sky (or a too-dark day, or anything else, I guess). I believe the iris still responds automatically to incoming light level changes, at this point, but the steps allow you to change the range that it's opening or closing the iris within. When you power the camera off, it reverts to its normal settings.

It's $209 for this camera, and another $25 for the remote control. But the manual control the remote gives you is unique among the bullet cameras I've seen, and it holds the settings even after you unplug the remote. This retailer also includes all the stuff the other guys typically nickel and dime you for. You get an AC adapter, a 25-foot video and power cable, a 12V battery adapter, the RCA cables to connect it to a digital recorder or VCR, and a BNC-RCA adapter. I also got an extra lens for $20. It came with a wide-angle 3.6mm lens. I also got a 2.9-mm one that's even wider. I can switch them pretty easily without compromising the camera's weatherproof-ness.

The company that sells it is in St. Louis, and they sell it for $209 even though it lists on their site for $229. They're kind of new to e-commerce, and promise a simpler on-line ordering system in the next couple of weeks. But I ordered it on Sunday, and it shipped Monday by FedEx for only $8, with no sales tax. I was very impressed with their follow-up and service. They emailed me to let me know about the $20 price cut, for example.

Here's a 4-meg video clip that shows the camera opening and closing its iris. I tried to find the most difficult thing to photograph. It was getting dark outside, and it was dark in the house. I pointed the camera at the setting sun to get the most 'bleached' effect I could manage. (As a side note, my video editing software is still butchering the image that's recorded, but I'm working on fixing that.)

So, my new recorder and new camera look like this:



I include the quarter to show relative size.

MICROPHONE

You also need an $8 microphone. It's probably something you can get at Radio Shack, as well.

It's worthwhile to make the trip to Radio Shack to put together some 12V power lines from the cigarette lighter or other source with plugs for the cameras and the recorder.

RESULTS

I've been socked in with work stuff, and I'm out of town this weekend, but I'm hoping to do some test videos next week that I'll try to post. After that, I want to finish educating myself in overlaying DL-1 data logger data onto the videos, which will show speed, rpms, lateral g's, and other data on the clip.
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Old 10-28-2005, 08:01 AM
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Awesome write up! Awesome quality! Very impressed!

Good stuff!
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Old 10-28-2005, 08:01 AM
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Nice writeup Jack, thanks
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Old 10-28-2005, 08:14 AM
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Fantastic post!!! This is exactly the stuff I've been looking for. Cheap, and good quality video. Thank you !
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Old 10-28-2005, 08:59 AM
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Excellent write up! My main concern with the Mustek Recorder is the video quality. What is the max supported video bit rate?
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Old 10-28-2005, 09:41 AM
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This is great stuff!! It is good to read what other folks are thinking when it comes to videoing their runs.

I find it very helpful with to have a very good wide angle lens and set my camcorder to record in 16x9 for my in-car camera. This gives me A-pillar to A-pillar plus all my hand inputs, also it provides more room for other video inputs as I post edit it on the PC. Of course, within a few years all TV's will be 16x9, right? ;-)

Here are few things I would like to add but most are "nice to have's":
1. Simple/cheap camcorder (4:3 is fine, but must have good low light capability) to video my feet inputs
2. Something that displays my Tach, speed, G's, brake/acc input, etc. as a video input.
3. 2 cameras for both rear fenders so I can see how close I really am to the cones.
4. Simple/cheap camcorder (4:3 is fine) on the trunk to video the aftermath of me slinging the cones
5. Some good and easy way to sync all the videos (i.e. clapper). The more video sources the more complicated it can get.

Of course, I'm dreaming on most of these. :-)
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Old 10-28-2005, 09:53 AM
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The Mustek recorder is pretty low-res... You can of course also record right onto a Mini-DV camcorder that has video input and a VCR mode. Throw in a LANC remote to start/stop the thing and you have a pretty trick setup.

One of my sponsors, http://www.datatoys.com will be selling a complete kit like this for a very reasonable price either with or without the PVR. There are some sample videos up on the site.
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Old 10-28-2005, 09:58 AM
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Originally Posted by Jason Saini,Oct 28 2005, 10:53 AM
The Mustek recorder is pretty low-res... You can of course also record right onto a Mini-DV camcorder that has video input and a VCR mode. Throw in a LANC remote to start/stop the thing and you have a pretty trick setup.

One of my sponsors, http://www.datatoys.com will be selling a complete kit like this for a very reasonable price either with or without the PVR. There are some sample videos up on the site.
I'm using a camcorder with lan-c control now. I really want to be able to transfer video directly to my laptop, rather than messing with a camcorder.

Do you know what the video bit rate is for the Mustek? What will your sponsor being using for PVR?
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Old 11-03-2005, 10:08 AM
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If you want full DVD/DV quality you can get a SONY GDV-1000?? (It's called a Video Walkman). It's a cross between a portable DVD player and a DV camera (sans lens). It runs about $1000 but it standard fair for just about every Discover channel program made. In addition to bullet cameras you can also get "box cameras". You can find these in the professional sections of sony or canon or panasonic's websites. These are basically the lens components of a camera without the casing or the recorder. They vary in price by model and capability.
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Old 11-03-2005, 11:27 AM
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Originally Posted by cthree,Nov 3 2005, 02:08 PM
If you want full DVD/DV quality you can get a SONY GDV-1000?? (It's called a Video Walkman). It's a cross between a portable DVD player and a DV camera (sans lens). It runs about $1000 but it standard fair for just about every Discover channel program made.
Say what??? I think you mean standard fare when a lipstick or micro camera is needed. It sure isn't standard fare for shooting interviews and standard programs. Sticking it on the hood of a car, the side of a boat, something like that I can understand.

However, us television professionals (and I AM one) don't use mini dv cameras, we use BROADCAST cameras. Ones like these:


THIS is the one I use (that's me behind the camera):


Warren
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