My very first car was a 1982 Pontiac 6000LE. (Please don’t revoke my enthusiast cred. It was a hand-me-down from my grandmother when I graduated high school.) It was built before the center high mount stop lamp, or third brake light, was mandated in 1986. But my car had one anyway – an aftermarket kit that my grandfather installed. Now, starting in 2018, rear cameras will be mandatory for all new cars. Like my Pontiac’s third brake light, aftermarket solutions are already out there. One of them is Pearl RearVision, who recently sent me one to review.
A while back, I installed a kit by BeatSonic on my Subaru BRZ – a $149 camera and $72 wiring kit. It involved replacing one of my license plate screws with a small camera, running wires all the way through the car to the head unit, and installing the wiring kit to splice the camera input into the factory wiring. It also involved having to rewire a plug I damaged by pushing it through the license plate screw socket before I’d enlarged it enough, destroying it (my own fault, not BeatSonic’s). All in all it was a pretty extensive installation – at least a two beer job, probably three considering the extra wiring problems I caused myself.
Pearl RearVision is a bit more expensive – $499.99. But installation is an absolute breeze. If you can install a license plate, you can install RearVision. It really is that simple – a genuine zero beer job. If you’re not so handy with a wrench, having the BeatSonic system I put on my BRZ installed professionally might end up costing around the same – $221 in parts, plus labor, plus the time you spend either without your car or waiting at the installer’s shop while they do the work.
The heart of the kit is the Camera Frame, a license plate bracket that you install on your rear plate. The bracket includes not one, but two cameras. Why two? For the same reason you have two eyes – stereo vision and depth perception. RearVision not only gives you a backup camera, but also proximity alerts, just like OEM backup sensors. It uses both visual and infrared cameras, so you’ll be able to see more at night, especially if your reverse lights don’t light up what’s behind you very well. And you never have to charge the batteries – it’s solar powered.
Another key part of this kit is the Car Adapter, which is simply an OBD2 dongle that plugs into the port of any 1996 or newer car. The brain of the system is the Pearl App, available for iPhone and Android. This connects by either Bluetooth or WiFi, whichever is available, to both the Camera Frame and Car Adapter. Like everything else, installation is simple. Unlike the kit I installed in my BRZ, there is absolutely no wiring involved. Once all of these components are installed the system pretty much configures itself with minimal input from you, and your phone becomes your rear view camera. The Car Adapter sounds proximity alerts when you get close to an object, and visual alerts also appear on the screen. After entering the precise distance between the ground and the Camera Frame on your particular installation into the Pearl App, guidance lines appear on the display to help you gauge distance. Unlike most OEM backup cameras, which only turn on when the car is in reverse, RearVision remains on no matter what gear you’re in or what direction you’re moving. The Car Adapter also sends speed information to the Pearl App, which turns off the camera above 10mph for safety and gives you the option to switch directly to Maps, Waze, Spotify, or other apps you’d normally use while driving.
The kit also includes a phone mount, which you can either insert into one of your dashboard vents or stick directly to your dashboard with 3M tape. I didn’t test the mount, partly because we already have a RAM Mount X-Grip in my wife’s Ford Flex that I used to test RearVision, and partly because I had to return the unit to Pearl after testing, and wanted to make sure they got all the parts back that they sent me. Pearl’s mount uses a very strong magnet, which I have no doubt will do a fine job holding your phone in place once all of the components are installed.
Now that the super easy installation was complete, it was time to put RearVision to the test.