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Video Resolution in Dash Cams

Let's learn more about video resolutions in dash cams

The primary role of your dash cam is to capture footage and images - that is why it's important to ensure that your device's video resolution is of high quality. In this article, we'll go over what video resolution is and explore the aspects that influence the quality of your video resolution, such as bitrate, fps and image sensors.

What is Video Resolution?

Videos are made up of thousands of still images played in sequence. These are applicable in all types of videos including films, gaming, and of course, dash cam footage. For dash cams, video resolution refers to the number of pixels that make up an image, described as pixels per inch. Individually, it’s the amount of detail present in a single frame.

If the pixel count is high, it shows that the video quality is sharper and details are more noticeable. And the higher the resolution, the better your chances of spotting suspicious individuals or extracting finer details from the footage. In terms of quality, you will also notice a vastly improved contrast and colour range.

On the other hand, if the pixel count is low, it indicates that the video quality is also inadequate. As a result, the video seems pixelated and grainy, lacking the necessary sharpness and information mostly needed for evidence. Important details, such as license plate numbers, facial features, or specific objects in the scene, are also difficult to determine. Therefore, if you’re using it for evidence, footage with video resolution can only do a little.

What are the Different Video Resolutions in Dash Cams?

With the advancements in dash cam technology, common dash cam video resolutions now range from full HD or 1080P, Quad-HD or 2K, and Ultra-HD or 4K video.

For general daily driving and accident documentation, 1080p resolution is often sufficient. But, if you're planning to record scenic road trips or need clear details for license plate identification, higher resolutions like 2K or 4K are more suitable. Let’s dive deeper into the differences between these video resolutions.

1. Full HD or 1080P

1080P, often referred to as Full HD, has an average pixel count of 1920x1080, totalling 2,073,600 pixels. This resolution has become the standard for most modern dash cams and displays, striking a balance between image quality and storage efficiency. Dash cams like the BlackVue DR770X, and Thinkware F200 Pro offer full HD resolution.

2. Quad HD or 2K

2K resolution, also known as QHD (Quad High Definition), has an average pixel count of 2560x1440, totalling 3,686,400 pixels. This resolution offers a significant increase in image quality compared to 1080P and is a popular choice among dash cam enthusiasts. This makes it especially valuable for capturing intricate details and enhancing visibility in challenging lighting conditions. Thinkware Q1000, VIOFO A119 Mini 2, and VIOFO A229 Plus, are highly-recommended dash cams under the 2K segment. 

3. Ultra HD or 4K

4K resolution, also known as Ultra High Definition (UHD), boasts a pixel count of 3840x2160, totalling a whopping 8,294,400 pixels. 4K is the highest resolution available on premium dash cams and offers sharp, detailed and crisp image quality. However, it demands significant storage space due to the vast amount of data captured. Dash cams like the VIOFO A229 Pro, BlackVue DR970X Plus, and the Thinkware U3000 are the best examples of 4K dash cams.

Beware of Fake 4K Dash Cameras

Unfortunately, hundreds of bogus 4K dash cams are presently available for purchase on online marketplaces. Take note that to record real 4K footage at 3840x2160p, a dash cam must have at least an 8MP image sensor. The majority of these 4K wannabes only have 2MP or 4MP picture sensors. It must also be capable of doing so without the use of video techniques such as upscaling or interlacing, which reduce video quality significantly and are not appropriate for a 4K dash cam.

Because of the advanced resolution, real 4K dash cams are more premium and expensive, unlike the ones available on Amazon below $100 USD. If your 4K camera claims to have a maximum frame rate of 24fps, it is also most likely a scam, as Ultra HD standards do not accept 20FPS, 10FPS, and 15FPS frame rates. Processors are also to consider - Ambarella series, Hisilicon 3559 and Allwinner V316 are some of the trusted ones that can support 4K. Need a more detailed guide? Check out our 4K vs. Fake 4K review here.

Video Quality: Is it always just about Video Resolution?

No, it’s not. Many other factors affect the quality of your dash cam’s footage – and video resolution is not the only one responsible.

Image Sensors

For example, assuming that higher resolution always equates to better quality is not entirely accurate. While greater resolutions generally provide more detail, elements such as sensor size and image processing are also important in obtaining superior image quality. A larger sensor typically captures a wider light range, resulting in improved low-light performance and enhanced overall image quality.

With this, our highly recommended image sensor brand is Sony STARVIS. As the leading image sensor in the world, Sony STARVIS highlights low-light sensitivity, wide dynamic range, high dynamic range, reduced noise and ultra-crisp image. Sony STARVIS image sensors can be found in the large majority of premium dash cams worth their salt. These can be found in the majority of Thinkware, BlackVue, VIOFO, and Vantrue cameras, among others.  

While the first generation Sony STARVIS already does an amazing job, the new Sony STARVIS 2 which is sported in new dash cams like the VIOFO A139 Pro 4K UHD, Thinkware U3000 4K UHD and VIOFO A119 Mini 2 QHD performing exceptionally well. For more information on the Sony STARVIS 2.0 sensor and what it’s capable of, check out our Ultimate guide to Sony STARVIS 2.0.

Frame Rates

The next myth to debunk is that high resolution is always sufficient for all situations. Not just because you have a 2K or 4K dash cam, you can clearly capture license plates on speeding highways than a Full HD with a higher frame rate like 60 frames per second.

But what does frame rate have to do with video quality? Frame rate refers to how quickly those visuals are cycled through, or how many stills are packed into each second. The standard is 30 frames per second, which means that in one second, 30 individual images were shown, giving the appearance of movement. Now, since frame rate is simply the amount of images, that means it doesn’t necessarily affect the quality of those images. Still, the process of recording so many images each second is taxing on recording systems, which is why you won’t find 4k models recording at 60fps as well, not yet anyways.

It's essential to strike a balance between resolution and other features to meet your specific needs. When you have a higher number of frames per second, it provides you with smoother video playback. Compared to the standard 30 FPS, 60 FPS video frame rate allows you to slow down the video while maintaining a greater quality of slow motion.

Dash cams like the BlackVue DR770X and Thinkware U3000 have the options to change the frame rate up to 60 frames per second, in case you drive on highways. Want to know more about license plates readability? Check out our blog.

Bitrates

Now let’s talk about bit rate. This is another critical factor in determining the video quality and file size of recordings captured by the dash cam. Bit rate is measured in bits per second (bps) or kilobits per second (Kbps), and it directly impacts the clarity and smoothness of the video footage.

A higher bit rate means more data is captured, resulting in higher-quality video with more details and less compression. Conversely, a lower bit rate reduces the amount of data captured, leading to lower video quality but smaller file sizes. Higher bit rates generally produce smoother and more detailed video footage, especially in scenes with rapid movement or intricate details, such as license plate numbers or road signs.

For instance, in a high-bit-rate recording, you might be able to clearly read license plates of vehicles ahead, while in a low-bit-rate recording, the same license plates might be unreadable or heavily pixelated. Among the dash cam brands, it is VIOFO that offers the highest bitrates, ranging up to 60Mbps depending on the unit.