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Why do we love Tesla

Why do we love Tesla

Tesla is known for breaking industry innovation over the last decade. If you’re a fan of technology and touch screens, and if you prefer software updated to tune-ups and most of all, if you love the idea of skipping the gas pump and live life fully charged, then you’ll dig the Model X, Model S and the latest Model 3. Did you know that the Tesla Model 3 is the number one selling electric vehicle in Canada in 2019 Q3?

We’ve had a few of those come into our Service Centre in Richmond and we have to say, it’s quite evident that everything Teslas has done up to this point has built towards the Model 3 - it comes with all the sensors and cameras (8 cameras, to be exact) it needs for Autopilot functionality. A software update earlier this year added dash cam functionality and Sentry Mode capabilities.

Whoa, wait a minute, the Model 3 comes with built-in multi-camera dash cam functionality, but owners are still bringing them into the BlackboxMyCar Service Centre for a dash cam installation appointment?

Brief Introduction of the Tesla Dash Cam

While there are eight cameras on the Tesla, only its forward-facing 3-camera unit and the rear camera is used for recording footage. Just like any typical front-and-rear dash cam system, each of the four TeslaCam cameras records and saves footage as a separate file, so for each one minute of recording, you will see four different event files.

Not sure how to unlock recording from the rear camera? The function was part of the TeslaCam Version 10 update released a few months ago. Check your Tesla dashboard for the firmware update.

With four cameras recording the road ahead and behind, why are people still fitting aftermarket dash cams into their Tesla's?

Main Inadequacies of the TeslaCam

The eight cameras on the Tesla are built and optimized for the auto-drive AI and are not designed to produce high-quality footage. Let’s take a look at these cameras and their coverage.

Eight cameras provide 360-degree coverage. Three forward-facing cameras are mounted on the back of the rear-view mirror. The main forward camera has a 50-degree field of view. The narrow forward camera looks ahead a 35-degree field of view. The rear camera sports a wide-angle view, but it faces downwards, creating a distorted curved reflection that stretches across the bottom of the screen, allowing you to see parts of your car’s rear bumper - something that is important for autopilot and maybe in events of fender-benders during Sentry Mode or tailgating, but not so much for general traffic-behind dashcam footage.

Viewing angles are just one of the areas the TeslaCam falls short of the Thinkware or BlackVue.

TeslaCam

Thinkware or BlackVue

Resolution

1280x960

Full HD: 1920x1080p

2K QHD: 2560x1440

4K UHD: 3840x2160

Frame Rate

36 FPS

30 or 60 FPS

Audio Recording

No

Yes, (built-in microphones)

On-screen text overlay

No

Parameters like speed, location, date and time

Image enhancement and stabilization

No

Yes, including Wide Dynamic Range, Auto Exposure, Super Night Vision and more, depending on dash cam model

Recording resolution

As you can see, the TeslaCam records at a fairly low resolution when compared with most dash cams. At this resolution, a license plate can only be read when the car in front is about 8 feet or less in front of you, and we all know that resolution is king when it comes to any type of surveillance camera.

However, we have to mention, the quality of the TeslaCam’s rear camera is much better than the front-facing cameras.

Colour and Light Balance

Many Tesla owners have reported a dim, greenish cast on the footage files. Very possible that it has something to do with the optical effects of the light going through the windshield. But because the front-facing camera unit is built-in and designed to lay flat against the windshield, there is no way to angle the lens or fit a CPL filter to minimize these optical effects (plus, our money is on the image sensors and processors).

With the greenish grainy cast, the overall quality of the footage resembles a 4:3 CRT from the olden days, and it doesn’t help the situation that the TeslaCam adopts a 4:3 aspect ratio, instead of the 16:9 that Thinkware and BlackVue use on their dash cams.

There is the option to adjust the brightness and contrast, and perhaps with some color-corrections, the quality may improve. However, do note that TeslaCam uses an odd frame rate of 36FPS, making it a tricky should you need to edit the files. First of all, it will appear pixelated and jittery when viewed on most video devices that require conversion to 30 or 60FPS. Second, many video editing software and applications do not support that frame rate.

File Storage

Let’s be honest, the setup required just to get driving footage is a lot, and most people are not going to want to go through all those steps. Plus, apart from the physical issues of the cameras, the USB is the source for many TeslaCam issues and malfunctions.

In order to record with the TeslaCam, you will need a FAT32 formatted USB flash drive - it does not support anything else. You can format a USB drive as FAT32 if you have a Windows computer or as MS-DOS(FAT) on a Mac, but there are limitations - Windows can only format up to 32GB in FAT32 partition. You will need a third-party program to format a 128GB USB drive. You will need to add a base-level folder called TeslaCam, with a capital T and a capital C. If you don’t do that exactly right, it will not work.

Oh, and if you’re reusing a USB that you have previously used to store music, or if you are hoping to use one USB to store both music and dash cam data, you need to be careful. You may need to delete the original music partition which occupies the whole drive and then create 2 new partitions.

Once the USB is set up, you will need to plug it into one of the USB flash drive ports in your Tesla. If the USB drive is properly plugged in, you will see the Dashcam icon on the dashboard display screen, which tells you the TeslaCam is ready to capture all the adventures on the road ahead. Finally, tap the Dashcam icon on the display screen and the system will save the last ten minutes of footage to the USB stick.

Sentry Mode far from perfect

Image source: Tesla Club Sweden

If you lean on it, bump into or scratch a Tesla with Sentry Mode activated, it will display an alert on the screen that says the cameras are recording. The cameras all around the car will be activated to capture what’s happening to it. If a window is broken, or the car is broken into, Sentry Mode will sound the alarm, increase the screen brightness to full, and blare classical music through the audio system. The owner will also get a notification on the Tesla mobile app. Tesla’s sentry mode is probably one of the most well-received features Elon Musk has pushed to his EVs, but it’s far from perfect.

First up, if you want to record video, you have to make sure your USB is properly formatted and plugged into the car prior to activating sentry mode. Yes, you will need to activate sentry mode each time you want to use it - ie. every time you park the car - by tapping through the on-screen controls. If each step is not done exactly right, you will not get parking footage files. Then, let’s hope you parked close by because while you are notified with an alert via the Tesla mobile app, you will need to return to your car, remove the USB drive, and download the videos to your computer - all before the 1-hr loop/overwrite kicks in.

We have also been told that Tesla's Sentry Mode eats up a lot of power - better route your trip through Supercharger locations and make sure the credit card on your Tesla Account is still valid - Superchargering is not free!

Tesla cars are capable of some wonderful things - they can pretty much drive themselves, so requiring drivers to jump through all those hoops feels like a whole lot of hassle in this day and age.

Powering dash cam for parking mode

The most challenging part of installing a dash cam in the Tesla, or any electric vehicle, is finding a constant power source and keeping the power on. To make matters worse, various solutions designed for electric vehicles work poorly on the Teslas. For example, while BlackVue recommends using the PowerMagic Pro add-on, it's not our best recommendation - at least not the Tesla Model 3, which will not work with the Power Magic Pro no a spliced 12V cigarette cable. To save headaches and all the guesswork, we recommend either using an external battery pack connected by CLA or installing using an OBD cable.

What happens to your dash cam and external battery pack when you're parked at a charging location?

As soon as your car is powered down, your dash cam will turn to the battery pack for power for parking mode coverage. In other words, just because your car is plugged in at the charging station doesn't mean the power is shared to your dash cam, too. Your dash cam will continue to draw power from the external battery pack for the duration of the parking mode coverage, or until the external battery pack runs out of power, which then the dash cam will simply shut down - but don't worry, the external battery packs we carry all come with a smartphone app that allows you to monitor the battery's status so you know how much more "usable time" you have at all times.

Now, once you're car is all charged up and on the road again, the engine will recharge the external battery pack automatically.

Got a Tesla? We can help!

So, in a perfect world, what should sentry mode look like? A little dashboard-mounted camera that streams video directly to your smartphone, live or on-demand, 24/7. It films outside the vehicle, front and back, and offers a bunch of additional smarts. If an incident should happen while the car is parked, the camera needs to be smart enough to record and protect the footage from being overwritten. You also shouldn't have to mess around with USB drives or microSD cards - because you should be able to get all the video footage right on your smartphone.

Hey. We can help!

Now that you know where to find the perfect dash cam for your Tesla, the Model Y and the CyberTruck are due out in 2020! When you do get your new Tesla, you know where to find us!

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