What are the components of your dash cam?
Dash Cam Teardown
Components of a Dash Cam
When you plan to get a dash cam for your car, the typical aspects that you might want to research are the brand’s reputation, the video resolution, the number of cameras, and other essential features such as parking mode, Wi-Fi, night vision and more. While these can be important, it’s what’s inside that counts the most, and not fancy features and labels, the core components and pieces that help the device function each and every day.
And this is what we’re gonna do here. In this hub page, we will be tearing down and exploring the components of a dash cam and explain how each of them functions to give the best dash cam experience for you. Let’s get into it!
Dissecting the Dash Cam: What are its Components?
Dash cameras come in different styles and sizes – some are built with screens, while some are designed discreet. Some are just there to record, while others are capable of doing advanced operations such as remote notifications or tracking your vehicle, no matter how far away you are.
While dash cams function differently, the components inside also vary. While this information can appear technical, we’ll do what we can to condense it and make it understandable to help you make an informed decision.
1. Camera Housing
The first thing you see when you look at a camera is the body, the fundamental walls that hold everything together. Durability of a dash cam's housing is critical for its longevity and performance. Achieving this durability involves strategic material selection and design considerations. High-impact materials, such as robust plastics or metal alloys, safeguard the device from vibrations and potential impacts during vehicle use. Weather-resistant features, like rubber seals and sealed enclosures, protect against environmental elements, ensuring the internal electronics remain secure and functional.
The housing should also exhibit resistance to chemicals, preventing degradation from exposure to pollutants, and include UV protection to withstand prolonged sunlight exposure. Manufacturers typically subject dash cams to rigorous durability testing, including impact and environmental simulations, to validate their ability to endure real-world conditions. In summary, durable housing is achieved through a combination of impact-resistant materials, thoughtful design, and protective features, ensuring the dash cam remains reliable and effective in the diverse and dynamic conditions of vehicular use.
2. The Power Source
All dash cameras are powered by either a built-in lithium-ion battery or a supercapacitor. These two components have distinct characteristics and purposes.
For dash cams, lithium-ion batteries work by electrochemically storing energy. When the lithium-ion battery is charged, power flows to a substance known as the high-energy anode compound. While dash cams with lithium-ion batteries are generally cheaper, they are also unsafe. They degrade with time and are sensitive to temperature extremes, which may impair their performance and lifespan of your dash cam.
On the other hand, more premium and advanced dash cams like VIOFO, Thinkware, and BlackVue use supercapacitors. In contrast to lithium-ion batteries, which store energy via chemical reactions, supercapacitors store energy as an electric charge. It is made up of conductive plates separated by an insulating barrier (dielectric) that prevents electrical current from exiting the capacitor, accumulating a charge that is stored between the plates. Therefore, they charge faster than other batteries.
Another important factor to consider is mounting. Dash cam mounts such as suction cups and adhesives attach the camera to the vehicle's dashboard or windshield. While suction cups are easy to set up, it’s not something we can recommend due to the distracting size and shaky footage it produces due to vibrations when driving through rocky roads.
On the other hand, adhesive mounts use strong, double-sided adhesive tape to affix the dash cam to the windshield or dashboard. Based on our testings, they provide a more permanent attachment compared to suction mounts. While they lack the adjustability of suction mounts, adhesive mounts offer a low-profile and discreet installation, which can be less distracting and safer for dash cam legalities.
4. The Image Sensor
A dash cam's image sensor captures light and converts it into a digital signal that can be processed and stored as video data. It’s made up of an array of photosensitive elements called pixels. Each pixel develops an electric charge according to the amount of light it receives when exposed to light. Then, the analog-to-digital converter (ADC) of the sensor subsequently converts this charge into a digital signal, where the number of pixels in the image sensor determines its resolution.
More advanced image sensors like Sony STARVIS 2.0 are more sensitive and can capture more detail in the video, thanks to its larger sensors and pixels that perform better in low light. Sony STARVIS 2’s high dynamic range or HDR allows the sensors to capture a wider range of luminance values, enhancing image quality in various lighting circumstances. It improves contrast and detail, making it excellent for capturing clear footage in difficult conditions such as glaring headlights or constantly shifting lighting.
Beyond that, image sensors are also in-charge of ISP (image signal processing) tuning. ISPs have built-in algorithms that continuously monitor the ambient lighting conditions. When the camera detects low-light or nighttime conditions, it automatically engages the ISP tuning process — works in the background, controls white balance, noise reduction, sensor sensitivity and more. In essence, the image sensor is at the heart of a dash cam's capacity to capture clear and detailed video footage, and its characteristics, such as resolution, size, and sensitivity, define the overall image quality of the camera.
5. The Camera Lens
A dash cam's camera lens is the optical component responsible for recording visual information about your camera’s view and its surroundings. The lens directs incoming light onto the image sensor, and its technical parameters impact the quality and performance of the dash cam's video recording.
The focal length, aperture, and lens structure are all important technical characteristics of a camera lens. The focal length determines the recorded footage's field of view and perspective. A longer focal length, such as 150 degrees, catches a broader picture of the road, but a shorter focal length, such as 60 degrees, provides a more zoomed-in perspective with more information. The aperture, measured as an f-number (e.g., f/6.0), regulates the quantity of light that enters the lens and influences low-light performance. A lower f-number (for example, f/1.8) lets in more light and is preferable for low-light situations.
6. The Processor
Along with the image sensor comes the processor, also known as the CPU of the camera. The processor is in charge of regulating and coordinating the camera's numerous functions, such as recording, encoding, and organizing video data. When the dash cam captures video, the processor controls the data from the image sensor, converts it to digital format, compresses it with a specific codec such as H.264 or H.265, and stores it to the micro SD card.
Overall, the processor's speed and capabilities have a direct impact on the video quality and frame rate of the camera. Higher resolutions can be handled by a more powerful processor, resulting in crisper and smoother video recording. Three of the most popular processor manufacturers for dash cams are Novatek, Ambarella, and Allwinner Technology.
7. WiFi and GPS
In terms of connectivity, modern dash cams are usually equipped with Wi-Fi and GPS. Similar to a Bluetooth connection, dash cams with Wi-Fi connectivity can pair with smartphones, tablets, and other devices via a wireless network. This allows you to simply transfer dash cam video footage to their mobile devices for viewing or sharing. Using a dedicated app, you may modify the dash cam's settings or view live footage on your smartphone. Beyond that, over-the-air software updates are also possible with Wi-Fi, ensuring that the dash cam is always up to date with the latest features and improvements.
Meanwhile, a dash cam with GPS capabilities is a built-in GPS receiver that can detect the vehicle's location, speed, and time and incorporate this data into the footage. This is useful for documenting incident locations, tracking routes, and providing context in the event of an accident or dispute – even in other dash cam features like ADAS! The GPS chip in a dash cam analyses satellite data and synchronizes it with video recording from the camera, ensuring accurate and consistent location information.
8. Micro SD Card and Storage
The primary storage of video footage in a dash cam is a microSD card. Dash cams often have storage capacities ranging from 32GB to 512GB, depending on the make and type. Some have built-in memory, while others require a microSD card to record video.
As the dash cam records, the video files are saved to the memory card. When the card is full, the oldest footage is overwritten with new recordings. The capacity of the card dictates how much video can be saved before overwriting begins, so selecting the right size is important.
A dash cam's microSD card must be formatted on a regular basis. As video files build on the card over time, it can become fragmented and prone to errors. Formatting the card on a regular basis inside the dash cam's settings erases all data on the card and restores it to its previous state, resulting in a clean and efficient storage space.
Dash cam ventilation is another important component for heat dissipation and cooling of the camera's internal hardware components. Dash cameras can generate heat while in use, particularly when shooting high-resolution video or using complex functions.
Ventilation grills help extend the lifespan of dash cam hardware by maintaining an ideal working temperature, ensuring continuous operation even during extended use or in warmer climates like Texas, Florida, or Arizona. As a result, they contribute to the overall reliability and longevity of the dash cam, lowering the danger of overheating issues and ensuring that the camera performs optimally.
Beyond ventilation, plenty of units come with heatsinks as well, inside, which help dissipate heat from the body of the unit, away from the device.
10. Microphone and Speaker
In addition to video, dash cams can record audio as well. Audio is often recorded using the device's built-in microphone. The audio quality varies depending on the brand and make of your dash cam, but it is normally adequate for capturing conversations and other noises that occur inside or outside of the vehicle.
Meanwhile, the dash cam’s speaker, usually a small built-in speaker, plays back audio when reviewing recorded footage directly on the dash cam's display. It allows you to hear what was recorded during a specific video clip or playback audio warnings or notifications. The microphone and speaker work together to give an audio-visual record of your trip, which can be valuable for documentation as well as user interaction.
Got more questions?
Not to fret, our in-house product experts are here to help. We have spent years curating helpful content and video guides, helping customers with their dash cams, but we understand that we can always do better. Contact us using the form below and we'll get back to you as soon as we can. We love what we do, because we're here to help you make the most informed purchasing decision.