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Old 08-20-2012, 09:54 PM
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K'Tesh K'Tesh is offline
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Thumbs down The Owl 360 Rearview Camera Reviewed...

I was asked to review the Owl 360, and the two words that best describe it are:
Fragile, and Flawed...

Despite FOX NEWS recommendation of this for Fathers Day I feel that this is not one of better gift ideas.

I'm fairly well known to have little regard for weight issues, and an excess of cycling hardware for the handlebar, so it wasn't a surprise that I'd be asked to review it.

My dashboard, ready to ride

As is, the Owl 360 is a poor electronic attempt to replace something as simple as a mirror. It's a seatpost mounted camera that uses a supplied cable to feed live images of what is behind you to a fragile 3.5" LCD (mounted to your handlebar). The camera is housed in a rather large and boxy case, which has a ring of red LED's around the lens intended "To further enhance visibility for other vehicles on the road" and a sensor that automatically turns the light on in low light conditions.

Image from theowl360.com

The camera's mount uses a supplied torx-headed allen wrench to bolt on to the seatpost, thus preventing poorly equipped opportunistic thieves from pulling out their regular hex wrenches, or philips screwdrivers, and removing it (my Victorinox Swiss Army Knife's slotted screwdriver was able to extract the bolt). The cable is plugged into the camera body, then locked in place with a simple small philips screw. There was no small screwdriver supplied, and due to the limited space I had I found it a little hard to get the screw secured.

The cable is permanently attached to the handlebar mount, which has a *SMALL* inside diameter U shape. I was testing the unit on my OEM handlebars from Trek, and could only mount the unit extremely close to the shifters/brakes (and that was after removing the rather thick self-adhesive rubber shim). The mount is held in place by a single bolt and a thumb screw. Once mounted, I wasn't able to adjust the pitch (or up/down angle) of the monitor due to it hitting the shifter/brake assembly, but it was fortunately set to nearly the same angle that I use to view my cateye computer, so the "viewing angle" was close to what is my preference (nearly flat, unlike some images I've seen online with the unit almost vertical). The mount does have an adjustable roll (tilted left or right) to accommodate the possibility of an angled handlebar. (Sorry, I used to work on aircraft, so lift/drag/pitch/roll/yaw come naturally to me)

The quick release for the monitor is a unique one from my experience, and was one of the better features of the Owl 360. reaching behind the monitor, you simply pull a knob away from the back of the unit, and pull the monitor up and out of the base/mount. The monitor, which houses the on/off button, and the batteries is the only part is intended to be removed from the bicycle. Charging is done by an included power adapter and charging cable. The cable uses a micro stereo plug (imagine a headphone jack only smaller and thinner) to supply power from the adapter, or any other standard USB port.

I don't know if Jonathan charged it before I got my hands on the unit. So, I can't vouch whether or not the unit comes pre-charged, and I didn't see anything in the instructions that said that you should charge the unit first. I plugged the camera in, attached the monitor to the base, pushed the button, and it came on. The operation of the unit is extremely intuitive. Plug cable into the back of the camera housing, plug monitor into its base, push the little red button on the top, and you can see what the camera sees... supposedly.

In an office, or on a bus, images seen on the 3.5in Tian ma TFT LCD Panel are clear and in color. The images appear exactly as you would get if you were looking into a mirror (with the letters reversed).

In low light conditions, the image turns into a grainy greyscale image. At night in ambient light things look ok, but without light the screen is dark, this is certainly not a night vision device. Motor vehicles approaching from behind appear as two light grey dots, that progressively wash out into a single large area.

I found this to be the only really decent performance of the unit. I observed that in my own helmet mounted headlight that the flashing ring of red lights turned off. To test if this was a real performance issue, I parked the bike against the curb, and backed up with my helmet light on, somewhere around 45-60 feet back the light would turn off, and had I not had another tail light, my backside wouldn't have been covered. I observed similar problems with approaching motor traffic's lights turning off the ring of LEDs. Several cars would pass and I wouldn't have any tail light, until after the last one passed. There is no way that this, as is, is a suitable replacement for a tail light or even reflector.
Riding my bike is MY pursuit of Happiness!!!

Last edited by K'Tesh; 09-03-2012 at 05:19 PM.
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Old 08-20-2012, 10:04 PM
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K'Tesh K'Tesh is offline
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Thumbs down The Owl 360 Rearview Camera Reviewed... Pt 2

The first daytime riding conditions were miserable, with temps in the high 90's, clear skies, and a very bright sunlight. How did this play into the performance of the Owl? Well, due to the glossy nature of the screen, I had lovely views of the retreating trees silhouetted against the blue sky, and that was just the reflection. What I could see on the screen was a bluish area with dark silhouettes of trees (and buildings).

I was testing the unit at 5pm, and the sun was still pretty high in the sky. I tried my hand at seeing if the issue was simply a matter of time of day by changing my direction (north/south/east/west), but nothing seemed to help. In the shade of trees, all I could see was the filtered sunlight dancing on the screen. The second day I tried it in the morning when it was overcast, and still had the glare/reflection problems.

I took some time, and recorded some video (using my usual camera). Those videos are included in this set. I re-tested the unit at dusk, and that didn't improve or worsen matters (at that time)... However, things did get worse for the unit not too long later... Keep reading.

The Owl 360 claims to be water resistant, but I didn't test this. It was actually summer here in Oregon, and rain wasn't exactly readily available. I didn't want to test the unit to destruction, but this is Oregon, so rain is a very real problem for bike mounted electronics (I've had to send my share of high end lights back to the manufacturer to get things fixed after a hard rain). I'll also admit, I didn't test the run time claims of the manufacturer, nor the charging time. Later, I did accidentally manage to "test to destruction"... Keep reading.

Some things I found lacking/wrong:
The handlebar mount is for 1.5" diameter only, no provisions for larger diameters.
No method to remove camera from the bike during standard riding conditions (to prevent unwanted eyes from getting any ideas).
The supplied zip ties were too short, to go around my frame, I had to double up, then get longer ones when the supplied ones ran out
The LED's intended to "enhance the visibility" of the user, don't (due to the oversensitivity of the light sensor)
and the biggest things wrong with it...
No ability to record images/sound
the overly fragile nature of the LCD's screen.

The lack of ability to record what is going on was what I thought was the worst feature of this camera. After a short drop of only about 32"* cracked the LCD screen, I had a change of heart... THAT was the worst feature of the camera.

I have a GoPro camera for my handlebars, regrettably it's had its share of accidental drops, but still managed to hold up every time. The Owl didn't survive it's first and only drop.

I'd love a rearview camera to record my Six O'Clock. I want something that is intuitive (unlike the GoPro), waterproof, and rugged (like the GoPro). A screen is a big plus but not necessary, that said, in a situation where I'm involved or witness an incident, I love to be able to say "Shall we check out the video?" just to see the gulity party's face blanch. With that in mind, that LCD needs to be able to hold up to the routine drops and shocks of being a bicycle component.

To make it a truly remarkable tool, after fixing the screen issue, I'd recommend that they integrate a bike computer and/or GPS device, with a forward looking camera. I hope that nobody ever needs to have an electronic witness, but there have been times that even I haven't been able to tell someone what happened to me (even to this day).

Other thoughts... The fragility and mirror-like quality of the LCD screen is its downfall. If you can't see what is coming up on your Six due to glare, or because a single drop from 32" cracks the screen, what's the point of a $199.99 MSRP non-recording camera. Total time the camera spent on the bike... about 72 hours.

If you are thinking about buying this... I'd recommend that you save your money, and buy a handful of other mirrors, starting with Bike Peddler's Take-A-Look Mirror or Efficient Velo Tools' Safe Zone Bicycle Helmet Mirror, invest in a waterproof camera capable of taking video, then pocket the difference.

Details of the breaking of the LCD

I hadn't removed the camera before going into school today. So, when I got there, I removed the LCD from the mount, then placed it into my helmet. After class, I had my hands full. So, I hung the helmet on the handlebars, and proceeded to unlock the bike. The bike shifted from the load on the handlebar, and the helmet fell off, the LCD, my NiteRider MiNewt X2, the MiNewt 600 Cordless, and my GoPro all hit the ground from about 32"... Only the Owl broke. I had a crack that pushed into the LCD's space, causing a distorted image. Once the plastic popped into place again, the image returned to normal. I've dropped less expensive electronics (such as my TI-85 graphing calculator) from greater heights (including the lights) and never had them suffer from damage like this. The screen also suffered from some scratches from the short slide, and the edge of the case also was abraded from the concrete. This was more than I'd have expected from such a simple accidental drop. Whatever water resistance there was, I'm certain it's gone now.

Folks, this thing really needs to go back to the drawing board, and kicked around some, before it's ready for the market.

*updated the distance of the fall after measuring it more carefully (rather than eyeballing it)
Riding my bike is MY pursuit of Happiness!!!

Last edited by K'Tesh; 09-03-2012 at 05:39 PM.
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Old 08-21-2012, 07:49 AM
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Spiffy Spiffy is offline
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thorough review...

I can't believe the thing doesn't record... that makes it a VERY expensive mirror...
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Old 08-21-2012, 02:22 PM
DaveT DaveT is offline
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I think I'll stick with my Perfect Look eyeglass mirror. Works well in all light conditions, can be aimed for a 180 degree view, has proven impervious to falls from handlebar height, doesn't take up space on my bars, doesn't require batteries or chargers, and comes at a 95% discount from the Owl's price.
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