A review of the Cobra CDR 810 dash cam
Records your drive in HD video
In the 1950's, I'd take the family television's vacuum tubes down to Willow Grove Radio and TV Repair, check them with the giant tester machine, buy new replacement tubes, and reassemble the repaired television, so my mom and dad could enjoy their precious, respectively, Dean Martin and Red Skelton shows. In the 1960's, I studied radio and electronics at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. After college, in the early 70's, I joined a rock 'n roll band as the soundman, learning how to operate the electronics that make music sound good. Then, I worked in a music store in Austin manufacturing, installing, repairing, and operating sound systems and components for recording studios, nightclubs, and touring bands. I moved back to Charlottesville permanently in 1984 and opened a little demo recording studio. I also attempted to put to practical use the creative writing degree I had picked up along the way. In 2006, I finally came to my senses and got this job at Crutchfield where they actually pay me to ramble on, rant, and explain the things I love about music, electronics, and getting good sound.
More from Buck Pomerantz
After watching that meteorite explode in Russia and then all the other crazy dash cam footage flying around the internet, I knew I had to try one for myself. So I jumped at the opportunity to put one in my car and give it a review. And I'm here to tell you that it was a fun week tooling around with this camera recording my daily commutes and then watching the videos.
Cobra CDR810 dash cam
Unfortunately, watching them afterward at home became rather addictive and time-consuming. On the other hand, the picture was so realistic that I became a little car sick after an hour or two of watching it on my computer monitor.
Works right out of the box
The suction cup mount is amazing — it easily fastened and unfastened itself from my windshield over and over again, as I carried the unit back and forth between my car and my computer. Not only could I firmly hold and position the camera virtually anywhere I wanted, I could also swivel and lock the mount and rotate the lens for a better aim.
Adjust this dash cam's suction mount for the perfect fit on your windshield.
I found that the best position was just on the far side of my rearview mirror. The camera wasn't visible to me in the driver's seat, so it didn't block any of my view of the road, or tempt me to watch the video screen while driving. This also allowed the camera to be mounted high on the windshield, so it aimed downward to get more of the road directly in front of my car into the picture.
I plugged the included cigarette lighter/power adapter into my car and the unit. The CDR 810 was ready to go before I was. When it senses power, it automatically turns on in record mode — so I got a whole lot of video of my palm and lap when I first set the camera up in my car. When I finally got it all together, the camera performed all its functions flawlessly. For one thing, it clearly showed that I had a disgustingly dirty windshield.
Learning the buttons before watching the show
It took me a while to understand the dual-function buttons, but after a couple days I didn't have to refer to the manual anymore to remember what they did. Speaking of the manual, it's not incredibly well-written, which led to an apparent problem I was having: I couldn't set the time and date like the instructions said I could. Fortunately, I was able to get in touch with a Cobra rep who pointed out that the instructions are indeed unclear, but that if I were to push the menu button twice, I would get to a second menu, where I would find the settings I was looking for.
Most people probably won't even fool with the manual and will just explore the CDR 810's capability on their own. That's how I proceeded after the first day or two. One thing I found not covered in the instructions is how to turn off the monitor while driving: you must enable a Screensaver mode, which turns off the monitor screen after a set number of minutes.
Watching the video
To view video clips on a computer, you plug the included USB cord into the recorder and your computer. The CDR 810 comes on, as a camera for a couple of seconds, then displays a menu offering a choice of either Mass Storage, PC Camera, or USB Charging. Choosing USB Charging allows you to operate the camera/recorder normally — on/off, play/record, and scroll through menu options. My computer doesn't have a program that uses a camera, so I didn't test the PC Camera feature.
Choosing Mass Storage, after a half-minute or so, makes a Removable Disk icon appear in the My Computer folder on a PC. Double clicking on that reveals a folder labeled DCIM. Double clicking that folder reveals more folders, each numbered with what appears to be an index number followed by the date, in "mm/dd" form. Each folder contains the recordings made on that particular date, arranged, top to bottom, earliest to latest. The CDR 810 comes pre-set to record consecutive 3-minute clips and save them as AVI video files. Double clicking on one, on my machine, opens up Windows Media Player and starts playing the video.
The wide picture shows the sky beautifully. In freeze frame/pause, you can read the street signs. Sometimes the light angle pixelates the lower portions of the picture, but not enough to interfere with what you're seeing. You can read the license plate numbers of the cars in front of you at traffic stops, but not while moving. Pedestrians can't be identified very well — the view is too wide-angle for that much detail to be rendered.
As for the audio recording, not only do you hear the radio, you hear yourself mutter, curse, and occasionally scream in utter rage at other drivers. My advice is to not listen when you play back a video.
Features of the filing system
The CDR 810 comes with an 8 GB memory card already installed. This translates to about 55 total minutes of 1080P HD video, written as 1-, 2-, or 3-minutes clips, or as one continuous file. The recorder automatically overwrites the oldest files, when it needs the storage room, so folders can be empty. Right-click delete takes care of them and keeps long-term video clip storage manageable.
This isn't in the instructions, but renaming a file automatically saves it from being overwritten, which seems like a handy feature. Files and folders are easily manipulated, copied, moved, or saved where you want. I transferred these clips to a thumb drive for our video editor to process.
At dusk, because the road is in deep shadow while the sky is still bright, the large contrast makes the footage a bit herky-jerky. The same thing happens with early morning shots when the sun is low and the shadows long. The motion regains its smooth appearance after the sun goes down, or rises high enough to illuminate the road. An overcast day provided the cleanest, most detailed videos.
Video of night driving looks like a surrealistic, dream-like tunnel-vision of flaring headlights, looming darkness, sparkling street lights, odd patches of black, flashing red lights, and warmly glowing streets. Activating the CDR 810's infrared lights added a little reddish glow to the picture, but I couldn't say if that actually increased visibility or not.
Another video I watched showed all the scary dangers of negotiating a crowded parking lot: cars backing out of spaces, pedestrians in the driving lanes and stepping out from between parked cars, abandoned grocery carts, car doors opening.
And then, it happened — a worthy traffic incident. Ahead of me was a driver who was consistently crossing the double yellow line, weaving all over the road. And then he ran past a school bus that had its stop lights flashing!
Well, maybe those were the yellow warning lights and he made it past okay. But with this dash cam I still feel like I rule the road.
Note: Keep in mind that the use of this device and/or a windshield mount may be restricted in some states or jurisdictions.