Review: Pearl RearVision quickly retrofits a backup camera to your old jalopy (with video)

Solar-powered camera system works with smartphones to provide real-time video from behind your car.

The scoop: RearVision backup camera license plate bracket, by Pearl Auto, about $500.

What is it? This package includes a license plate bracket for the back of your automobile, but it’s not an ordinary bracket. Inside are two video cameras that provide you with a view for behind your car. The system includes an on-board diagnostics adapter (OBD) that communicates with the camera via Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to your smartphone to provide the view. The cameras are charged via solar sensors, so you don’t need to have a professional installation in order to power up the cameras. To complete the package, the system includes a mounting bracket for either your car’s dashboard or air vents, depending on your personal preference (or state laws that prohibit dashboard mounts).

Why it’s cool: Backup camera systems are in most new vehicles, and a federal law states that all new cars will need them by May 2018. A backup camera lets you see what’s behind you as you’re backing out of the driveway, making sure that you don’t run over any objects in the road, including small people that you might not see through your side-view or rear-view mirrors.

Pearl Auto RearVision backup camera license plate Pearl Auto

The bracket was very easy to install – it was harder to take off my existing license plate bracket than to put the new one on. The system comes with a specialty screwdriver that tightens the bracket into place once you’ve removed your old bracket. Finding the location of the OBD port under your steering wheel is a bit tricky, but once you do the adapter should snap in easily. The adapter beeps when a proper connection is made.

The Pearl app (available for iOS and Android, I tested with iOS) is easy to understand as well. Once the connections were established, I could see two displays on my smartphone – one providing a direct view from behind the car, and the second one providing a more wide-angle. Pearl says you get a 180-degree view with the two cameras, so during backup you should be able to see any cars or people coming from the sides (absolutely critical for backing out of parking spaces at the mall). If a person gets too close to the car, the app will trigger your smartphone to start vibrating and provide an audio alert. If you get even closer, a red border on the display will also appear, giving you enough time to stop the car.

While there’s no official pan function on the cameras, you can touch different areas of the display to “shift” the view to one side or the other, on the chance that you’d like to get a better view on a specific side.

Another cool feature of the app is its ability to open up another app, such as Waze, Apple Maps, Spotify or Apple Music (or an app of your choosing), after a specified delay (either 30, 45, 60 or 90 seconds). What this means is that after you’ve backed out of your driveway or parking space, the app recognizes that you would likely want to do something else, like activate the GPS app or start listening to music. It eliminates the need to close the Pearl app and then open up another one, potentially causing a driver distraction issue.

Some caveats: Because the system uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, you might find some connection issues if you have other devices that utilize those network connections as well. I had to disable another Bluetooth device in our car during my tests in order to get the camera to communicate with the phone and OBD adapter. You get better video resolution with Wi-Fi than Bluetooth, and at the moment the Wi-Fi doesn’t allow for passthrough Internet connectivity. I also discovered that early morning moisture would get on the camera lens, obscuring the rear view a bit on wet mornings. I imagine that you’d have to clean off snow from the lenses during the winter.

Bottom line: The initial price of the system may give you sticker shock, but this is a less expensive option than other backup camera systems, and app/software updates could potentially give you better features, such as parallel parking assistance. If you want the benefits of a backup camera system without having to buy a new vehicle or complicated installation, check out the RearVision.

Grade: 5 stars (out of five)

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