Electronic Design
Wi-Fi Dash Camera Doubles as Action Cam

Wi-Fi Dash Camera Doubles as Action Cam

I recently checked out Ojocam’s $169 Chameleon (Fig. 1). It was one of the thousands of devices on display at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show. It is a multipurpose, 3-Mpixel, dash camera. The Chameleon lives nicely in a car hanging from a suction-cup mount or you can carry it with a handy strap. It is small and it can be used as an action cam recording 1296P Super HD or 1080P video. It highlights the level of miniaturization available these days combining Wi-Fi, camera and sensors.

Figure 1. The Ojocam Chameleon is a 3 Mpixel dashboard/action camera with a 2-in LCD screen and built-in WiFi.

The Chameleon has a 2-in LCD screen and the electronics are based on the Ambarella A7LA chipset. This has a 700-MHz ARM CPU. The camera has a 160° viewing angle providing ultrawide viewing angle films. This is useful for viewing the entire road in front of the car without edge distortion, or providing a great view while doing something like skiing downhill. Image and color quality was very good.

As a dashboard camera, the Chameleon works as designed. The slot on top takes different adapters, including a screw mount. That allows use with the tripod or the suction-cup mount that comes with the kit. The camera has a number of modes, including the usual continuous-loop recording mode that overwrites older material if the microSD card fills up. The system allows partitioning of the memory card so that it can be used in different ways.

The Parking Mode will record video while the car is parked. It is triggered by on-board motion detection. It is limited to about 1 hour of coverage using an internal battery. It is possible to provide a connection directly to the car’s battery, usually via the fuse box, but that is for the more technically adept.

The Chameleon comes with a very short and  very long micro-USB cable. The latter is handy for connecting it to a USB outlet found on many new cars or using the provided USB power adapter that plugs into the round power socket found in most cars.

Leaving the Chameleon in a parked car is one option. The other is to take it with you. It has only three buttons on the back and can be used as a handheld camera or HD video recorder with sound. It can be used with a range of tripods, poles or other holders. It does not compete with the 4K cameras but it will hold its own against most HD cameras. It is designed for low light operation that is often encountered by a car at night.

The Chameleon would be a nice dash/action camera if these were its only features, but it is also Wi-Fi-enabled and works with an iOS and Android app (Fig. 2). The unit acts as its own Wi-Fi access point so you cannot connect to it with your smartphone and another network at the same time. The Chameleon can be linked to a Wi-Fi network that is attached to the Internet and accessible from a phone connected to the Internet. This enables remote-control operation, so the camera could be used for applications like home surveillance as well.

Figure 2. The Android app can show what the camera sees (left) so you can start recording. It can also be used to set up the camera (right).

The camera can be set up using the buttons on the back and the on-screen menu, but set up using the app is much, much easier. The app can initiate actions as well as download videos and snapshots. It is possible to initiate a recording with one tap on the app and the video will automatically download when a second tap stops the recording.

The ability to use the app to see what the camera sees is very useful when positioning the camera, be it on a fixed device like the clip for mounting on a windshield or at the end of a pole. What I really wanted was something like Google Glass, so I could see the app and view what the camera was recording while keeping hands free to position the camera. A pole with a mount for a smartphone near the handle has possibilities.

I did not check out the optional GPS support. It requires an external GPS that plugs into the Chameleon. This means it is practical for automotive use, but probably not in action cam mode.

Overall, I really like the Chameleon and its flexibility. The smartphone/tablet app is what clinches the Chameleon for me. Cameras have always been a challenge with button and complex menus. The app provides quicker access to more settings. The app can handle multiple devices and switch between local Wi-Fi connections and Internet connections.

As a dash camera, the Chameleon has a lot going for it. As an action camera, it only handles HD, but the Wi-Fi and app combination make it something else completely. I highly recommend it. 

TAGS: Mobile
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