Add a Backup Camera to Your Car

It's cheap peace of mind: Never back your car into a rake again

By Marin Johnson

You may not have eyes in the back of your head, but you can have them installed for about $100.

You probably know that many new cars come with a backup camera  to help the you parallel park, back out of tight spaces, and avoid running over toys (or worse) in the driveway. If you've ever turned your child’s bike into a pancake on the way to work, a backup camera helps you rest easy.

But what if your car doesn't have a camera? Good news: There are many add-ons available. We'll focus on just three: the PEAK Wireless Backup Camera System, the Edge Back-Up Camera, and the Pearl RearVision Kickstarter project.

What distinguishes each of these? The PEAK camera is an all-in one system, the Edge requires a seperate CTS monitor (which your car may already have), and the Pearl RearVision relies on your smart phone's screen.

Let's take a look at four specific areas: installation, price, display, and convenience.

Overall Winner: Pearl RearVision

PEAK Wireless Backup Camera SystemEdge Back-Up CameraPearl RearVision
Installation
Price
Display
Convenience

Installation

Depending on the design, attaching a backup camera to your car is either an expensive hassle or an easy DIY task. Both the PEAK and Edge cameras have typical installation processes--which are actually pretty challenging. Since they don’t have their own power sources, you'll have to drill a hole into the back of the car and splice the power cord into the reverse lights in a delicate procedure.

Doing it wrong means potentially damaging the face of the car, losing power to the reverse lights, or triggering a power failure. This is not the sort of project to take on with basic car experience.

On the other side of the spectrum, the Pearl RearVision requires little to no set-up. Since it has a solar-powered battery built in, it only needs to be screwed into place over the license plate and then it transmits video to your phone wirelessly via Bluetooth. Installation is fast and simple; this one is a slam dunk.

Winner: Pearl RearVision

Price

The sheer quantity of backup cameras on the market can be very daunting. The same model of camera is often available in a variety of screen sizes, for starters. And some choices may not seem especially different, yet the price can vary substantially. The trick? You might not be getting the entire kit (with all the mounting hardware). Some vendors break the kit apart, which is problematic when you try to install it. Be aware that kits priced under $100 are typically incomplete.

All that said, the Pearl RearVision is priced distressingly high. With its fancy HD camera and solar-powered battery, it will set you back $500. Next in line, the Edge camera is priced at $230--even though it doesn't include the display. (It’s a good thing the Edge is designed to be installable by someone without car experience.)

Meanwhile, the complete PEAK camera system costs just $110. If you can have it installed for cheap, the price will not be too different from what you'd pay for the Edge camera kit.

Winner: PEAK Wireless Backup Camera

Display

The vast majority of backup camera display screens are standard definition, like an old-fashioned TV. In fact, if visual detail is important to you, the Pearl RearVision is just about your only option. The camera records in HD, then plays on your smart phone, which may have more pixels than your TV at home.

The Pear RearVision displays both a wide fish-eye view and an undistorted image of what’s behind you.

If your car has a quality CTS monitor built in, the image quality may rival your phone’s, making the Edge Products backup camera worthwhile. The PEAK wireless monitor, on the other hand, takes last place on image quality.

Winner: Pearl RearVision

Convenience

In the traditional backup camera design, backup cameras acticate automatically when you place the car into reverse. And the PEAK and Edge cameras work this way. The experience of using these cameras is highly natural because it is on when you need it the most and it's off when it is not.

But since the Pearl RearVision is not wired into the car's systems, it has no idea if you're driving in reverse or not. That means you must  switch it on manually via the smart phone app. (On the plus side, the backup camera is available even when the car is not in reverse, something that no other backup camera can do.)

Unfortunately, that means the Pearl does not have anywhere near the convenience of the classic backup camera design. It is a close call, but the Edge camera is more convenient if your car happens to have a CTS monitor built in. If not, the two other designs have a near-identical user experience.

Winner: Edge Back-Up Camera

Bottom Line

The Pearl RearVision is the easiest to install and has the most detailed display. Overall, it's the most elegant design and one that fits in with your smartphone-and-app lifestyle.

On the other hand, the Edge Back-Up Camera is perfect if your car has a CTS monitor, while the PEAK Wireless Backup Camera System has all the necessary parts and will also save you money. And both of these "just work" without having to fiddle with your phone when you want to back up your car.

If you would like to examine other options, bear in mind that certain key features are easy to take for granted. A cheap camera may not be weather-proof, may lose its wireless connection intermittently, and may not be useable at night. Whichever you choose, it is better to spend the extra money to purchase a high-quality camera than to find out later why the one you chose was so cheap.