Saturday, July 19, 2014

Review: Valentine One V1connection for iPhone or Android with Custom Sweeps, PART IV

Review: Valentine One V1 connection, Part IV

Valentine 1 v3.894, V1 Connection LE, Custom Sweeps

Detection Performance

The Value of Band Segmentation to Improve Alerting Performance

A little more than six years ago when was road-testing the first M3-based Beltronics STi-R remote radar detector, I first discovered and published what may turn out to be the most significant development in radar detection for decades.  That discovery was the performance gains that could be realized, in the real-world, when scanning smaller portions of the super-wide Ka band that was allocated for police radar use.  

In the U.S., police radar operates at 33.8Ghz, 34.7Ghz, and 35.5Ghz.  However, the entire spectrum allocated begins at 33.400Ghz and ends at 36.000Ghz.  That amounts to a total width of 2,600 megahertz or 2.6 gigahertz! That's really large when compared to K-band's width of 200 megahertz (24.050Ghz - 24.250Ghz) and X-band's paltry 50 megahertz (10.500Ghz - 10.550Ghz).

What this has meant all radar detectors historically had to scan through the entire width of the Ka spectrum to listen for what amounts to only three specific and much narrower frequencies.  In other words, detectors have been wasting a lot of time listening to frequencies where police radar doesn't exist.  Not only did this adversely impact the speed of detections (especially to briefly appearing weak radar), it increased the likelihood of detecting "false" Ka radar frequencies of non-police origin, such as older "leaky" radar detectors which can emit weak Ka-band RF.

Beltronics created the ability to segment certain frequencies out of the total spectrum of Ka for the purposes of reducing falsing to these other sources.  What the engineers didn't realize was that there were decided performance gains to be had to catch brief glimpses of weak Ka by improving the detector's chances of being able to detect them because of the significantly shorter time it took for the detector to scan Ka. Apparently this behavior wasn't easily observable in a lab environment, but for those aware of the benefits of the configuration, could be observed in the real-world.

While Beltronics and Escort were slow to realize the virtues of speed in detection (they now get it), the wizards at Valentine Research, quietly embraced the concept and incorporated their version of segmentation into the V1 in December of 2012.  But Valentine one-upped the M3s because they gave the savvy owner the ability to specify the actual frequencies the V1 listens to as well as allow for a prioritizing them by allowing more than one look at a frequency range in its overall sweeping pattern.  VR allows the sophisticated driver up to six customized sweeps.

Furthermore, one has the ability to create named profiles, each having different configuration settings which allows for quick configuration changes at a push of one button.    Interestingly, I had made a similar feature request of Escort for their SmartRadar and its corresponding app several months earlier prior to the initial release of the V1Connection but they have as yet to offer such a useful feature in their software.

Clearly VR had not been sitting on their laurels as some had suggested over the years. Yes, the segmented M3s stole much of the spotlight over the years, but VR has made considerable improvements to the V1 over that same period of time.  The first version of the V1Connection and its accompanying mobile app appeared on the Android platform.  The V1Connection LE module and an improved version of the software came for the iPhone about six months later in the Spring of 2013.

Baselining the V1's Performance in its Default Configuration

For a couple of months, I drove with the V1 in its default configuration without the use of the V1Connection option.  I did this to get a very good feel for how the detector behaved without any tweaking.

What I found was, in its default standard configuration, the V1's performance was what I had come to expect. While not at the level of the segmented Escort Redline EE and the other segmented M3-based remotes (Beltronics STi-R and STi-R+), the V1's X and K-band detections were exceptional and appeared to me to essentially be on the same level as the M3s. Ka band reception was where the differences were notable.  The V1 tended to trail the segmented M3-based detectors sometimes by a wide margin.

Lidar (police laser) reception continues to be absolutely dominated by the V1.  It is scary good.  No other radar detector comes even close to the sensitivity of the Valentine and no other detector ever has.  The V1 is the only detector that I have found that routinely provides advanced warning to laser when a vehicle ahead of me is being targeted.  No other detector has the ability to do that. Zero. Zip. Nada. Given the instant-on nature of laser and the fact that is you that is specifically being targeted when it is used, I consider it to be the most important reception "band," by far, of all of the others. The height of the detector both front and back, allow for VR to utilize large laser receivers, which help contribute to its stellar performance for both front and rear detections (other detectors effectively have zero laser reception capability from the rear).

This is especially true for drivers (like myself) who rely on Veil, a passive laser countermeasure which diminishes the ability of police to obtain your speed during targeting.  When using Veil as part of your defense arsenal, it is absolutely essential that your detector provides more than adequate laser detection capabilities.

While detectors from Beltronics and Escort have been erratic with laser reception from model to model (the latest Max being absolutely atrocious at it), V1s appear to only get better.

Tapping the Potential of V1's Detection Performance with V1Connection

V1connection LE Bluetooth Module

Just like segmenting took the performance of the M3s to a whole new level, I am pleased to say, so does custom sweeping the V1. Anyone willing to invest a small amount of additional currency ($49) for the optional Bluetooth module and some additional time and effort into programming the V1 with the app, will extract huge dividends in performance.

On the detection front, X and K-band remain unchanged and are still basically toss-ups.  On 33.8 Ka band, the V1 appears to consistently dominate the M3s.  34.7 tends to slightly favor the M3s but as with 35.5 the V1 is very much in the running, out alerting the M3s enough for me to take notice.  When the V1 trails, it appears to happens with extreme off-axis radar which I found didn't typically lead to an actual speed-trap clocking encounter.  Which is to say, I have started to question the actual utility of some of those advanced detections provided by the M3s, as nice as it is to have them.

Valentine generally recommends setting the sweeps to be 200 megahertz (100mhz each side) in total width relative to the center of each Ka frequency used in the U.S.  That would equate to the following:

33.8 Ka (low): 33.700-33.900
34.7 Ka (mid): 34.600-34.800
35.5 Ka (high): 35.400-35.500

The nature of the configuration of the unit, the 34.7 sweep must be broken into two partial sweeps, thereby occupying two sweep slots.

But even though these are the standard recommendations, VR doesn't suggest that these actually represent the most optimal settings either and they are interested in observing what other variations could return improved results in the wild.

To that end, I have spent a lot of time experimenting with different sweeping patterns and have settled on the following for the time being:

Sweep 1: 34.666-34.740 (tight, center weighted)
Sweep 2: 35.467-35.541 (tight, center weighted)
Sweep 3: 34.774-34.833 (tight, 2nd half of wide)
Sweep 4: 35.364-35.615 (wide)
Sweep 5: 34.666-34.740 (tight, center weighted, repeated)

Sweep 6: 34.563-34.770 (wide)

Original sweep pattern

Sweep 1: 34.681-34.740 (tight, center weighted)
Sweep 2: 35.482-35.541 (tight, center weighted)
Sweep 3: 33.782-33.841 (tight, center weighted)
Sweep 4: 35.394-35.600 (wide)
Sweep 5: 34.774-34.804 (wide)
Sweep 6: 34.593-34.770 (wide)

Note: 33.8 sweep built-in to custom sweeping profile.

For those astute readers who notice that there exists no wide sweep for 33.8, you are correct.  It is not needed because the V1 automatically widely sweeps 33.8 no matter what additional sweeps are programmed.

Veil Guy's Center-Weighted Interleaved Profile
I am continuing to experiment with other variations (including one that drops the narrow 33.8 sweep altogether or replaces it with a narrow 34.7--which seems to be working quite well) to see if further performance gains can be had. The above profile, though, is balanced for each of the three Ka frequencies one will encounter throughout the U.S. and is good general profile for driving in all states regardless of what specific Ka bands are used.  As I continue to experiment with variations, if I find something that impresses me even more, I'll post an update.

Another very important benefit of custom sweeping, that I have also noticed, the V1 appears to become lightning fast with its initial alerts--more so than any M3-based detector, including the Redline EE, and perhaps equal to the Escort Passport Max (a product marketed as being exceedingly quick at alerting).

To be continued...

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Review: Valentine One V1 connection for iPhone or Android with Custom Sweeps, PART III

Valentine One Review V1connection, Part III

Valentine One Front View
Arrows

I would like to profile some of the extant capabilities and incipient ones, beginning with the V1's multiple antennae, use of directional arrows, and their interrelated capabilities.

What can I say about the V1's arrows that have not already been said for years?  Plenty, actually.

It's been long documented that the Valentine One is the only detector which sports both a radar and laser receiver facing forward as well as backward.  Certainly this configuration allows for greater detection abilities of radar or laser which emanate from your six, but it also allows for something no other detector can do, which is to be able to alert you to where the threat source is from the moment it is first detected to when you pass it and when it no longer remains a threat.  VR calls this providing situation awareness.  I prefer to use the terms, situational awareness though either is apt.

There are certainly instances where the arrows will convey more information about the dynamics of an impending threat than alert toning and signal ramping alone could.  This is especially true of other detectors that do a poor job at either or both of them. While there are many instances that I could point to where arrows offer additional protection than mere one dimensional alerting does, I will highlight just a couple I have encountered on more than one occasion.

The first is, once I was driving on I-287N towards the NY thruway just south of Paramus, NJ.  I was driving at the time with, not a V1, but a Beltronics Pro RX-65 (a great detector in its own right, now discontinued).  The '65 began alerting to an X-band source (a radar band that has been used in NJ for decades) with a slow but ever increasing signal strength. Giving the relative weakness of the alert, I left my speed unchanged, anticipating to only slow down when I got into the "red-zone" where my speed could actually be clocked from the stationery hidden source that lay ahead of me and at which point the detector would be squawking at its maximum.

Slowly but surely, as I expected, the strength of the alerts grew in intensity. The RX-65 was alerting at about the equivalent of about 7 out of 10 bars, meaning that I was getting very close and ready to lay off the gas. Problem was though, my interpretation of what the detector--with its only one antenna facing forward--was telling me was insufficient.

When I happen to glance at my side view mirror, I saw 'em and I immediately got that burning sick feeling in my stomach (that I am sure so many of you are familiar just before those colorful lights come on behind you).  What I saw was, in fact, a NJ state trooper's patrol car approaching directly behind me. I am certain he had my speed clocked, but I was most fortunate.

While I was doing 80 or so in a 65 zone (certainly ticketable) he was comfortable at cruising at 90 or so. I backed off, without hitting my brakes as to not alert him that I was now painfully aware of his presence. I got out of the left lane and sure enough he was interested in something better than me and I watched him, with great relief, slowly pass me by. When it was all said and done, I knew if I had had my V1 on the windshield, I would have known immediately that the threat was coming from behind from the very outset of the detection and therefore more prepared to deal with him as a consequence.

Arrows coupled with threat ("bogey") counting

Beyond the arrows, the V1 also can count and indicate up to nine continuous detections of varying band. Now I can hear you saying, why would I ever need such a capability?  There is no way I will encounter nine police radars at the same time and you would certainly be correct (well amost).  But, that's not the end of the story, to the contrary the combined use of bogey counting and directional information allows the V1 to alert to both the greatest threat (by strength and/or band) when more than one bogey (at different frequencies) is detected while also receiving radar from multiple directions, all at the same time.

This can be especially critical if you are approaching a real police radar threat source, while at the same time are detecting other sources that are not threats (such as x-band or k-band door openers, speed signs, drone signs, or moving sources of radar, such as lane-departure systems).  In such circumstances the V1 will tell you by blinking the arrow that is pointing towards the direction with which you should be most concerned.  No other detector has the ability to convey such a multi-dimensional threat scenario as the V1 can.

A real-world experience that I've experienced that has demonstrated this utility was, one time I was approaching a patrol car (who had been operating radar) that was on the side of the road and in the process of serving a customer, feeling pretty safe having passed him I began returning to my cruising speed.  Thing was, the V1 was still alerting to an additional bogey in front of me, even though I had passed 'em.  What was that all about?  What the V1 turned out to be telling me was that there was something else ahead that I needed to be more concerned with. In response, I refrained from kicking it up a notch and sure enough there he was, another patrol vehicle hidden in the median ready to catch his next prey (which very well could have been me).

In both of these examples (and there are countless more I could cite), the V1's unique ability to convey a multi-dimensional view of both real and non-threat scenarios separates it from all other detectors.

But I can already hear some of you saying, Veil Guy this is old news.  V1s have been doing these sorts of things for years (and you'd be right), so tell me something I don't know.

Fair enough.  What are some lesser known capabilities the V1's multiple antennae and use of arrows provide but often go unappreciated?

One capability that lends itself to making this detector an absolute pleasure to drive with is its auto-muting behavior.  Today's V1s provide superior muting, I believe, to every other detector.  I didn't feel this was always the case.  Escort and Beltronics detectors have long had the advantage providing four features that weren't to be found on previous V1s.

The first is auto-muting.  Auto-muting works this way. When an initial alert occurs, it happens at full alert volume (what ever was set by the driver), but then the detector mutes itself to a lower volume--as it is assumed your attention has already been grabbed.

The second one is easy manual muting.  With a quick push of a button located on the power cord itself and within easy reach you can manually mute any alert.  The Valentine, in contrast, hadn't historically offered auto-muting to any great degree which meant that you had to always push the main button on the front of the panel (at longer reach) to mute the detections. If additional bogeys were detected, then that required additional effort.

Sure, there were certain instances that you could configure some variation of muting control but it was an absolute bear to do it with the rudimentary programming ability of older V1s.  The austere control and display, which had been an asset, quickly became a liability during its programming as compared to the ease of programming of other brands such as those offered by Beltronics, Escort, Whistler and even Cobra. Old V1s were really tough to work with in that department and felt like a throwback to the 70s. I avoided tinkering with them as a consequence.

The third sort of muting available from Beltronics and Escort came from their GPS-enabled detectors' speed sensitive muting.  I have found this feature very useful when driving around town, stopped at a traffic light, or driving very slowly.  These models determined your speed in real-time and if you are going slowly enough, would alert with an abbreviated tone.  Even current V1s can't do this (on their own) because they have no such GPS capability built-in. (Will revisit this in the future).

The fourth type of muting available on the Beltronics and Escort detectors is something I never personally cared for or trusted (but is very popular with others) and that is GPS location-based lock-out filtering. The idea is, when the feature is enabled, you can either automatically or manually lock out a particular known stationery radar source by its GPS coordinates.  This sounds great in theory, but has fallen short, in my opinion, in actual execution.

There are risks associated with this approach too, risks that I personally am not willing to take for the sake of quieting down a detector.  It has been documented by some that bona-fide police radar sources have inadvertently been "locked-out."  Not a good thing and something that you personally want to avoid at all costs.  The other risks are is that it is not generally precise enough nor frequency specific enough to really be effective.  In other words, it is like cutting a steak with a butter knife.

For example, when I have approached a stationery road sign transmitting a K-band signal towards me as I approach from one direction, I have GPS locked-out the source.  The thing is, though, the GPS sphere (radius) of locking out a signal only goes so far and is not vectored-based (ie; cognizant of the direction of travel), which in my case was East bound.  This meant as I had already passed the sign and it was far in my rearview, my GPS-enabled detector was still detecting the source and eventually began alerting again once outside of the sphere of the initial GPS-marked location for filtering.

This meant I had to push it again to lock-out the signal again.  In doing so we have created quite a large area where another genuine alert source (ie; a trooper with K-band) could be targeting and I would not be alerted to since the GPS filtering would be filtering it out.  Nope, not worth the risk.

On my return trip, now westbound, since my initial detection of the same stationery K-band source is now farther east now that the front antenna is seeing the source, my initial detection to it is even farther away this time than what is was when I was heading the other direction.  So what does this mean?  You guessed it, I had to GPS lock-out a third time, making that stretch of road containing three spheres of filtering and making the the area of filtering that much broader.  If you throw in automated lock-out, I believe you will find yourself in the potential position in being with the extended stretch of road vulnerable to an actual police radar source operating on K-band along that same stretch of road.

While there are plenty of drivers who are more than willing to make these sorts of trade offs because they value a quiet detector over all else (and I can accept that), there are others, like myself, that won't. I always want to be alerted to the scenarios I face, whether they be non-threatening, threatening, or a hybrid of both non-threatening and threatening (which happens often enough that it matters).

The other aspect I appreciate about getting alerts, is that it let's me know that my detector is working and in tip-top form. A detector that is too quiet makes me uncomfortable.  Could the unit be turned off?  Could the power cord have worked its way out of the cigarette lighter without my knowledge?  These things can and do happen and as such I want to hear my detector squawk every now and then just to let me know that it's there doing what it is supposed to do.

So with all that being said, why do I feel that the current V1 with its unique muting provides a superior approach?  Simple.  Because it works so well.  What the two antenna and arrows now give you is livability and much better muting capabilities than with any other detector that I have yet driven.

The V1 is the only detector that can automatically mute and un-mute itself in response with changing dynamics of both signal strength and direction.  It is also customizable how it mutes and un-mutes automatically.  For example, the V1 can mute the alert while the alert is below a certain threshold of signal strength as you approach the source, un-mute itself when you are sufficiently close to the source were the alerting strength is where it could matter, and then re-mute itself as you pass the source that no longer remains a threat.

That's very cool and makes for a far more pleasurable driving experience. The icing on the cake is that the V1 is the only detector available that allows you the ability to set the volumes of both muted and un-muted volumes separately.

There are sure to be other virtues of having multiple antennae and directional arrows, but these are the ones that immediately come to mind and are, I trust, sufficient enough to merit their value.

To be continued...

VG

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Review: Valentine One v3.894 with V1connection for iPhone or Android with Custom Sweeps, PART II

Review: Valentine One V1 connection, Part II


Introduction

Let's start with a very brief introduction of yours truly. I'm a passionate Oenophile, which in lay terms means I'm lover of  fine wine (as is Robert Rosania).

While I have found past iterations of the V1 to be quaffable, they haven't quite been transcendent.  This is Mostly true of anything that evolves over the years, beginning with its inception towards maturity, such as bottle of properly aged fine wine, like that of a Pinot Noir Or a 70-year young bottle of Bollinger Champagne.

Overview

In my previous review of the Valentine 1, I compared the V1 to a Porsche 911.  At that time, I believed that comparison was apt as there were many similarities between them. This time around, however, it is more appropriate to compare the latest iteration of it to a fine wine that is peaking.

Which is to say, the V1 is a very unique and special product, the result of continuing refinement over the span of more than two decades.  Just as wine lives and evolves in flavor, subtlety, complexity, and structure, so does a V1.

I feel it is appropriate to suggest other radar detector manufacturers are more interested in frequently producing new products that are young and often flawed--typical of new products--in the quest for ever increasing profits through sheer volume and, in some cases, hyped-marketing.  In wine-speak these manufacturers are the equivalent of vintners of Beaujolais nouveau who produce more wine than those of Burgundy.

A Brief History of the Radar Redetector Industry

For many years, the Valentine 1 arguably has dominated all other manufacturers, both in radar and laser detection. This perception, by and large, changed when Escort essentially "one-upped" them with the introduction of their new high-end detector platform known, by those in the know, as the M3. In fact, I first suggested as much in my review of the first M3-based detector, the Beltronics STi Driver more than eight years ago. (Has it really been that long?)

The M3s offered exceptional alerting range and were also undetectable by radar detector detectors (RDDs), a capability that is still unheard to this day. RDDs are used in some regions to electronic sniff out detector use where they've been banned (such as VA, DC, of military bases, or for CDLs).

This development created an interesting dynamic because Mike Valentine used to work for Escort (known as Cincinatti Microwave, at the time).  After Valentine departed Escort, he set out to Follow his on path and founded Valentine Research, to continue the evolution of his earlier work.  The two companies have since become perennial rivals At some level. Now, this presents an interesting situation because Mike had a hand in the design of Escort's most significant radar detector of its day, the original Escort.  For years the Valentine 1 has been the Center of Extremely impassioned debate between reviewers and customers of either brand.

Invariably when speaking about the virtues of Valentine 1 radar detectors, comparisons between detectors of Escort or Beltronics (now an Escort division) are bound to follow.  This really hasn't been the case most recently, however.  While many still consider the Valentine 1 to be the non-plus ultra, of detectors, the sheer dominance in extreme detection performance has been afforded Escort's flagship (in performance, not price) detector, the Escort Redline Expert Edition.

Once again, heated debates have re-emerged and have been playing out at the premier radar detector forum, rdforum.org.  And wouldn't you know it, it was at the hands of yours truly. The burning fire, long smoldering, has been rekindled with VR's recently updated Valentine One (v3.894) accompanied with an optional bluetooth-enabled V1connection LE module and accompanying app.

Enthusiasts colloquially refer to this V1 model as the V1C, the 'C' standing for "custom sweeping" (something that we will get to later).  There are those, myself included, that believe the positions of what was once regarded as the "top-dog" have swapped places.  And so, a renewed debate rages on.

So as we prepare to look at what makes this version Of the V1 so very special, we Need tO put soMe context Around this subject because I will be discussing with you nuanced attributes of the new detector that you won't read anywhere else online.

The Importance of Determining Radar Detection Performance, both Objectively and Subjectively

Performance tests, typically have been Conducted on controlled orchestrated test courses, their goal being to be Able to determine one important aspect of detection performance: a radar detector's maximum alerting range to continuously-transmitted radar (referred to constant-on or CO for short).  Police radar guns are positioned at the end of an isolated road. The ability to alert to the stationery radar source, in this case traffic enforcement radar guns, Leads to the conclusion that the greater the distance a detector initially alerts, the more time Is afforded the driver, to slow down.  Sounds plausible enough.  The results are simple, often repeatable--providing similar testing conditions--and the Farthest alerting detector is crowned the winner.

Historically, testing organizations included Speed Measurements Labs (SML), Craig Peterson's RadarTest, and a host automotive magazines (who often referred to the aforementioned testers), such as Car & Driver, Automobile, and Motor Trend. In those earlier days, the Internet was not as widespread as it is today and search engines, like Google, were in their nascent stage--Altavista ruled the day.

Surprisingly, even those results Often led to disagreements and passionate debate.  Questions about testing methodology and even bias, driven by suspicions of personal of financial gain, played a big part in driving those preconceptions.

While, I appreciated objective Results as much as anybody who realizes they are helpful, they do represent a one dimensional view of detector behavior, amounting to being just a piece of the larger puzzle.  There are other characteristics that are, dare I say, even more important in determining what the overall driving experience will be like.

These aspects are mostly subjective in Nature and can not be measured.  In fact, objectivity flies out of the proverbial window. Impassioned debates follow and it's often difficult to come to A consensus. I've always believed, a radar/laser detector's value is far greater than the sum of its individual parts.

10 years ago, I set out to prove that point, By pioneering real-world radar detector testing.  I started with accumulating my first driving experience "road test" by comparing the differences between the three leading detectors of the day which resulted in this inchoate review the Beltronics Pro RX65, the Escort Passport 8500 X0, and the Valentine 1.

Today, things are different.  We live in an Internet-connected world of computers and mobile devices.  A tremendous amount of content is widely available.  But, not Unlike cable TV, there are so many more choices to sort through, it's much harder to come to informed conclusions.

Many of the current Reviews available online today are published on websites intent on selling products.  This can lead to biases against the Valentine 1, as they are only sold through direct sales of Valentine Research. Most of these sites are operated by large consumer electronic companies which also sell many different consumer electronics such as flat-screen TVs, computers, or mobile phones.  That also doesn't serve your best interests. Unlike any other piece of consumer electronics, radar detectors require special attention by a reviewer.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of reviewers proffering their opinions today are not versed in the intricacies or radar detector operation and lack even the basic understanding of how police radar and laser traffic enforcement works.  Worse yet, my particular and novel reviewing style, is now being imitated by many less qualified reviewers whose ultimate intent is to sell you product.

To cite a recent example, a review appeared around the time of the introduction of the Escort Passport Max. With his limited knowledge of traffic enforcement technology and detector performance--hell he suggested he didn't even drive above the post-speed limit--he claimed that his Passport Max alerted to police laser (lidar) around the bend.  Well folks, that is a physical impossibility as laser (cohesive light) can only be reflected or refracted, not bent unless, of course, you happen to be driving in the proximity of your nearest black hole.

And yet, there it was, an inaccurate account of what happened and an erroneous conclusion presented to the uninformed consumer.  As each day passes, more and more "reviews" like these appear to pop-up online and their content often reads like a marketing press release.

Sure there are alternatives such as Amazon, eBay, and even detector manufactures websites themselves which contain ad-hoc reviews or commentary from "customers." The thing is though, unless a customer is truly informed, their opinions may not provide an accurate account, either.

Have you ever visited such a site and seen those ubiquitous star ratings?  Certainly customer reviews sound Good, in theory, but it's not Uncommon to find wildly varying opinions from the ill-informed at best or from shills for a competitor interested, at worst, whose intent is to only muddy the waters.  What is one to do then?  (Hint: add me to your Google Circles or subscribe to this blog!)

Like any rule, there are exceptions to an extent.  I site I found useful is consumersearch.com. While they do offer products for sale, they appear to be a good source of information even though they "review" other consumer products.  The reason for this is their writers don't pass themselves off as experts.  Instead, they search for other authoritative reviewers and then summarize their findings.  That's their value add; they to point you to the sources that they believe can actually help you make informed purchasing decisions. 

They'll even go as far as rating the quality of reviewers they source.  Not perfect, but a good step in the right Direction. Of course there are the search engines of Google's, Bing's, orYahoo's.

Beyond these sources of information, amateur (but extremely capable) enthusiast groups have proliferated from online forums focused on this industry. While these folks generally conduct closed course testing, they go about it somewhat differently.  These testing groups attempt to construct real-world testing scenarios, to provide a hybrid of controlled course and real-world testing.

I find these groups' participants are a far more reliable sources than the professional testing organizations, paid or simply mis-informed "reviewers."  Beginning with the Guys of Lidar (GOL for short) nearly a decade ago--of which we were an early participant--other groups have since appeared. Enthusiast testing groups include ECCTG and RALETC--who primarily focus their efforts on active laser countermeasures and Veil--while other groups focus solely on radar detectors. This is not to say their results go unchallenged or questioned for their objectivity or bias either, but I believe their access to equipment, their testing methodology, I have found, are most comprehensive.

In the final analysis, one really needs to consider both objective and subject results to piece together the entire puzzle.  This is where I come in.  While I certainly examine detectors' alerting range a most importantly the time they afford you to react to impending real-threats of traffic enforcement monitoring, I also explorer the subjective elements of behavior as well.  That's the unique value of the Veil Guy brings to the table.

So, now that you have the proper context, how does the latest V1 stack up to the other leading detectors of today?

We'll take a look at that in a future part of this series...

In the meantime, Drive safely, responsibly, and ticket free and always remember this:

'Life is short, drink it.'

Veil Guy

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Review: Valentine One v3.894 with V1connection for iPhone or Android with Custom Sweeps, PART I

Valentine One Review (Summary Conclusion), Part I

Updated: 7-17-14

Part I of this series represents my review summation in just three short words, the conclusion of the full deep-dive review to follow. But, I have received some pushback online, from those who have misinterpreted my brief summation (as an ad) which, up until now, has followed my formal and detail reviews of the past.

Well, let me assure it is not an ad. The three words below, represent my true feelings about the latest version of the V1 (which is currently at v3.894) with its custom swept configuration settings (will get into that in part II of the series).

Generally, I am a reviewer of many words. So this first part of a two part review is the first of its kind for me and gets to the very heart of my conclusions--based upon my real-world driving experiences with this model over a good number of months, now.

Furthermore, to my knowledge, Valentine Research doesn't specifically participate online on radar detector enthusiast forums. So I feel it is most fitting for Mr. Valentine and VR to present their product using their own words, not mine, simply out of my respect for the man and his engineering team.

To be absolutely clear: I have do not receive any financial compensation for this content (and the next) including any recommendations, I may make.  That's right, not one red cent. Please stay tuned for the beginning of a deep-dive in part II of the review series, profiling this very special company and its radar/laser warning systems (ie; radar detectors) and accompanying products.  A company that has been continuously refining their one and only radar detector, now for more than two decades.

Valentine One Review Succinct Conclusion



Valentine One (V1) v3.894 Review: Overall Review Summation
"PERFECTION in motion"


Manufacture Web Site: Valentine Research

Continue to drive safely and ticket free, my driving enthusiast colleagues.

Veil Guy

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Cobra SPX 7800BT Review: Cobra's best windshield mount detector yet.

Cobra SPX 7800BT Review


Cobra SPX 7800BT

Budget priced Cobras have often been the butt of jokes by the online radar detector enthusiast community as far back as I can remember.  Those feelings were not entirely without merit as Cobra has had a history of producing radar detectors with marginal detection abilities which would cause other (better designed) radar detectors to false when in close proximity to them.  The feeling could also be justified by routine observations of clueless Cobra owners mounting their radar detectors pointing upward toward the sky (not a good thing to do, by the way).

With the advent of the Cobra SPX 7800BT, I have found this detector to be no laughing matter. In fact, I believe this is Cobra's best windshield-mount radar detector to date.  Despite that proclamation, I am not suggesting that this detector is on par with more expensive detectors from Beltronics, Escort, and Valentine Research, but it certainly can hold its on with other budget-priced radar detectors like those from Whistler, something that I once thought would not be possible.

Let's start with the good stuff.  The Cobra SPX 7800BT is a really small and compact radar detector (one of the smallest of any model), easily fitting the palm of my hand.  It's construction feels solid as does the tactile feel of the push buttons. Its chassis is properly black and its display is very impressive and easily viewable in all lighting conditions.

Super Compact Cobra SPX 7800BT

Cobra was the first to incorporate OLED displays into their detectors (and makes effective use of the real-estate).  Whistler has been using OLED for some time now, as well, and while their displays are also very readable, the amount of information provided is typical of conventional radar detectors of the past.  Escort has entered the OLED display with the Passport Max, but that display is quite small, harder to read in most lighting conditions, and is not nearly vivid in color or contrast of the Cobra (or Whistler).  

Beyond offering varying levels of display intensity, Cobra takes this one step further and offers a screen saver option which kicks in after a certain amount of "idle" time, giving you the best of both worlds, a dark display when nothing is going on and a bright one when there is something to report.

One of the impressive capabilities of the SPX 7800BT is the incorporation of bluetooth connectivity that is internal to the detector which can mate to either Apple or Android phones.  Cobra was the first company to offer integrated bluetooth connectivity and it's a welcome feature that I am pleased to see Cobra continue to offer in a certain number of their models.  The only other detector manufacturer that featured internal bluetooth connectivity was Escort with their now discontinued Escort Smart Radar.  Other Escort and Beltronics detectors require the purchase of a $99 cable to add BT capability to their detectors. Valentine offers a dongle ($49) for either the Apple of Android (but not both) which attaches to their existing power cable.

The BT feature of the SPX 7800BT allows for integration into their smartphone application iRadar, the first crowdsourcing application that was offered directly by any radar detector manufacturer.  While Escort still struggles to provide a stable version off their offering, Escort Live, Cobra's software in contrast feels stable, refined, and well designed.  
Cobra iRadar Ka-band Alert Reported
All programming and custom configuration of the SPX 7800BT can be accomplished quickly with the iRadar application.  iRadar is a subscription-free application that adds GPS capability to the detector as well the reporting of spotted patrol, alert detections, and known locations of redlight and speed cameras through the use of their Aura database.

Cobra's Aura Database of Photo Enforcement Locations

While I don't particularly place much value on knowing locations of radar detections of other drivers (especially detections whether--real or false--of many hours earlier), the option is there for those that do.  

Cobra iRadar Alert Types Reported

An interesting little feature of iRadar is the ability for the application to mark on its map the location of your parked vehicle when you turn-off your ignition switch.  It could get a little tricky trying to find your vehicle in a multi-level parking garage but could come in quite handy if parking at places like Disney World or Mall of America.  The iRadar app can be configured to auto launch on your smartphone when power on is first detected, a nice feature if you so choose to use it.

Cobra is the first and only company to offer city mode filtering to include Ka as well as K and X-band. This is necessary because of the nature of their sweeping patterns and subsequent signal processing; it is not uncommon for the detector to misreport the band that it is detecting.  

The detector is not especially immune to alerting to the K-band radar sources of the obnoxious lane departure and blind spot systems of automobiles such as Audi.  Unfortunately the detector will alert to Ka, of varying frequencies, in certain circumstances when detecting these systems which can lead to real confusion for the driver.  Using city modes reduces the falsing from these systems, though.  Cobra really needs to work on resolving this.  It is one thing to see a confusion of X and K-band as one can see with Whistlers from time to time, but being improperly alerted to Ka is really not a good thing.

Perhaps the physical size of the detector is a limiting factor here, but I would certainly welcome a bit louder maximum alerting volume that what is currently possible.

Cobra has had a history of "borrowing" other detector manufacturers intellectual property and that trend has continued here.  The novel features of Whistler's LSID and RSID display have been "lifted" and incorporated into the SPX 7800BT.  Unlike the Whistlers, the Cobra does not provide the ability to filter out specific pulse trains of laser that do not emanate from police laser, such as those wind-sheer systems found at airports or collision avoidance or cruise control systems of certain automotive manufacturers.  In any event, it is a nice feature even though it should only appear on Whistlers.  But be mindful of the fact that while the feature is like that of Whistler, it is not as accurate as theirs. 

I have known for a long time that one of the great strengths of Cobras have been their sensitivity to police laser.  With the 7800BT, I put the detector is the very good range, far exceeding the capability of even Escort's flagship model the Passport Max (costing $550!)  In one instance I found the Cobra able to alert to a bona-fide shot of police laser while the detector (and my vehicle) were perpendicular to the source.  The only other detector that I have found that could pull off such a feat, is the Valentine One (which is in a class by itself in laser sensitivity).  Despite its sensitivity to laser, the Cobra appears pretty resistant to falsing from the shadows cast by trees alongside the roadway during certain times of the day when the sun is low in the sky.  In short, I believe this Cobra is the best they have ever produced for detecting police laser and its strongest .performance characteristic.

The other thing I have come to feel about this Cobra is that is especially responsive (quick) to alerting at brief radar detections, within the limitations of its reduced sensitivity relative to the more expensive detectors. Ever since I was the very first to point out the benefits of improved reactivity when I reviewed years ago an early model of the Beltronics band-segmented remote detector, the Beltronics STi-R, all of the other radar detector manufacturers have finally gotten on board with accepting my observations as being valid, quite possibly now Cobra as well.  (Note: This is one of those contributions that I have made to our industry in which I have taken great pride and detectors a better today as a direct consequence.)

I also appreciate that the trailing alerts to detections are more reasonable and not at the unnecessary and ultimately misleading durations from detectors from Beltronics and Escort.  Again, within the limitations of its sensitivity, I believe the Cobra can do a fine job at alerting to an approaching instant-on trap, by better conveying the texture of those sorts of radar signal detections.

In terms of sensitivity, K-band appears to be very slightly better than similarly priced Whistlers, while X-band and Ka-bands appear to trail.  Certainly off-axis detections are not nearly at the level of the high-end detectors, but this has one upshot to it, the detector can be quieter around town when presented with the myriad of X and K-band door openers that exist.

In an apparent contradiction, the filtering or sweeping patterns aren't as tight as I would like because while the Cobra has less sensitivity to X and K-band than other detectors, it can false more often than those other detectors when it encounters certain frequencies of radar in the X and K-band range.

An especially notable aspect of this Cobra is the handling of its local oscillation emissions.  In models of the past, Cobras have been notorious for setting off other detectors on Ka-band.  This behavior is history.  Any LO interference now between two detectors appears to be similar now as any other emitting detector interference (often reduced alerting distances during the time of interference).

The detector's windshield-mounting bracket appears nicely designed and the two suction cups adhere well to clean windshield surface.  Cobra also provides a nicely designed power cable which provides a USB connector in which to plug your smartphone.

To wrap things up, let me be clear, this Cobra is not going to set any long-distance detection records nor will it perform at the same level of the high-end detectors from the other detector manufacturers, especially with extreme off-axis signals.  That being said, this Cobra provides sufficient detections, I believe, in many targeting scenarios and provides laser detection capabilities beyond what its price point would otherwise suggest.  When you throw in, at no cost, the well-designed iRadar application, I would say this is the best Cobra yet offered for the money and one that can be taken seriously enough. While I would still lean towards a Whistler CR90 at this price point, the Cobra is a likable unit and I certainly wouldn't fault another driver for selecting this model for the interesting features and capabilities it provides. It would be nice if Cobra would continue to improve upon their accomplishments here with future models.

Drive safely!

Veil Guy

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Evolution of police laser (lidar) and its active and passive countermeasures

Updated: 1846Z-5, 23 Apr 14, By Veil Guy

When the engineers of Veil set out to counter the new speed enforcement targeting threat, called police laser or police lidar, during the early 90s, active countermeasures (ie; laser jammers) were not available. In fact, radar detector companies had yet to devise a way to even detect it.

I remember reading a Car and Driver article detailing some enterprising approaches the editors employed to reduce the targeting distances of police laser.  The boys fitted a vehicle with an extra headlight (reminiscent of a Tucker) and proceeded to test that vehicle with all three high-beams on. What they found was that their approach actually sliced some detection range from the first police lasers produced, the LTI 20-20.

Police lidar was marketed at the time as being undetectable (and unbeatable) and for a brief time it was. Thankfully Cincinnati Microwave (makers of the venerable Escort/Passport detectors) did manage to produce a dedicated laser detector that mounted alongside their radar detector. Mike Valentine of Valentine Research also responded to the new threat with his Valentine One or V1 that was internally fitted with a front-facing laser detection circuit.  Eventually Escort combined the laser detection functions into their future radar detectors and Valentine began producing V1s that included both a front and rear laser sensors.  Cobra, Beltronics, and Whistler followed suit and to this day radar detectors include both front and rear laser detection sensors built-in.

Police Laser/Lidar Rear Targeting Speed and Distance

All police lidar works using the same principle. Unlike police radar, which measures the doppler frequency shift of their signals to directly measure speed, police laser operates by firing a series of near-infrared light pulses at a fixed rate and then measures the changing times it takes to see their reflections from the targeted vehicle to calculate and report a speed.  Also unlike radar, vehicles are targeted individually like a sniper using a rifle. What this means is when your radar/laser detector alerts, you are being targeted and rarely will another driver receive an advanced warning. Without any form of additional protection, detectors are essentially ticket notifiers.  By the time you can react, your speed has been already clocked.

It took Veil Corporation nearly 10 years to complete its development of its passive countermeasure Laser Veil.  In 2004 the first official test of Veil was conducted by Speed Measurement Laboratories (SML) before the product was released to the marketplace.  Fortunately Veil was determined to be effective at reducing the targeting range of laser, enough so to provide the driver an additional two to 15 seconds of reaction time.

By that time there had been one laser jammer company called Blinder--introduced to the U.S. market in 1999 and still actively selling at the time--also being tested at SML and it too was proven to be an effective active countermeasure to police laser .  SML tested the Blinder at both 1000 and 500 foot ranges to see if speed readings were obtainable.

Blinder had been not the very first jammer to hit the U.S. market, however. That distinction went to the Lidatek LE-10. But, unlike the "brute-force" jams provided by the Lidateks, which were very effective, Blinder used a more efficient system of look-up tables which enabled their jammers to precisely synchronize their light pulses to precisely interfere with the known pulse-rates of the lidar guns in circulation.  The guns that were tested at that time were produced by LTI, Kustom Signals, and Stalker and then eventually Laser Atlanta.  There were also guns that were available abroad, namely the Riegl and Jenoptik Laveg.

Another early player was the K40 LD5500 Plus (introduced in 1994), but that unit proved to be ineffective against the current Gen 2 police lasers of the day.  Somewhat more effective but not up to the performance level of the Blinder was the BEL LaserPro 905 and its twin, the Escort ZR3.

Ontrack's LaserShield Plate Diffuser

Ontrack produced a passive countermeasure--a license plate cover which reduced reflectivity of the license/number plates by diffusing the reflected IR light pulses.  We found them to be very effective in and of themselves, however their effectiveness overall was compromised by the primary targeting areas, the headlights that remained unprotected. As the saying goes, you are only as strong as your weakest link and as such the LaserShield didn't fair well when used alone.  As a consequence the perception was that the product was ineffective.

Laser Veil Headlight Protector & Stealth Coating

Enter Veil.  Unlike an active countermeasure, Laser Veil, works on an entirely different principle, one of absorption, not interference. From the outset, Veil has been marketed as a product that could be used alone or as a complement to active countermeasures as it will always improve the performance of any laser jammer. It does so by reducing the overall visibility (technically called laser cross-section) of any vehicle or motorcycle. This makes it much easier for any laser jammers to do their job since they have less reflections to overcome.

Veil and Blinder had marketed their products as solutions to buy the driver some precious extra seconds to react and safely slow down to avoid a ticket. Neither were marketed as jam-to-gun solutions this was to not attract undue attention to themselves. Unfortunately, that message was drowned out by other manufacturers who were attempting to establish a foot-hold in the North American marketplace, namely Antilaser, Laser Defender, Laser Interceptor, and Laser Pro Park. Escort also introduced the improved ZR4, as a replacement to its ZR3, but like Blinder played it low key, calling their jammer a shifter (something they do to this very day).

Blinder Denmark had acquired patents for its look-up table jamming algorithm both abroad and in the North America. Unfortunately these other manufacturers along with a countless number of cheaply-made Korean Blinder knock-offs, failed to respect Blinder's patents and unscrupulously marketed their products to the enthusiast community. While no authoritative reviewer of the time such as SML, RadarTest, nor I chose to review these patent-infringing products out of respect for Blinder's IP, independent enthusiast testers did so and in a manner revealing the true performance capabilities of the jammers.  (Note: Most of the patent-infringement issues have been since resolved resulting in some settlements including one between Laser Interceptor (and Escort indirectly as they source their latest shifter through LI) and Blinder for an undisclosed amount and other infringers have long exited the U.S. marketplace.)

The word was getting out to the public, to the enthusiasts, traffic enforcement officers (who had access to the Internet), and ultimately the lidar manufacturers themselves.  The traffic enforcement community also had their online forums and the word was spreading there as well. Officers discussed why they were having difficulty obtaining speeds of the same vehicles day in and day out.

Unfortunately, the marketing message of these manufacturers was if a product didn't provide jam-to-gun (JTG) performance (provide jamming protection all the way to point-blank range) it was "junk."  For many years those marketing campaigns worked well (destructive and mean-spirited as they were and are to this very day). That very public message infected the online enthusiast community forums and enthusiast testing groups. It wasn't uncommon at the time for jammer owners to "tweak" traffic enforcement with repeated jam-to-guns, something that wasn't necessary at all.  Videos proliferated on YouTube demonstrating this as well.

The problem was that the pronouncements by the online community became too vocal and cavalier eventually leading the traffic enforcement community and lidar manufacturers to take notice.  They set out to do something about it.

Foreseeing the problems that this would create for the countermeasure community, I had penned an article that if the lidar manufacturers wanted to get serious about defeating laser jammers all they would have to do is to move away from using fixed-pulse in favor of either modifed-fixed, variable, or randrom pulse-rates.  This had already happened abroad with a new lethal police lidar called the Traffipatrol XR.

Laser Atlanta Normal vs Stealth-Mode Pulse Train (Courtesy: GoL)

In the U.S. market, the first evidence of this happening appeared with Laser Atlanta.  They introduced a mode called "stealth mode" or ECCM (electronic counter-countermeasure mode). When ECCM was activated, it varied the pulse-train slightly. For a time, not only did it defeat the laser jammers, it also prevented radar detectors from detecting them (with the exception of the V1). Whistler invested the resources into figuring the mode out and they became the second company able to detect and alert to it.  Escort and Beltronics were late to the party but eventually they too managed to detect it.

Blinder eventually figured out how to both detect and jam stealth-mode as did the other active countermeasure players but it took time to do and for during that time, drivers who relied upon actives jammers as their sole defense were vulnerable to intant-punch throughs or IPTs (that is--obtainable speed readings regardless of the distance--as if the driver had no countermeasures what so ever).

Fortunately for Veil owners, Veil proved very effective at countering LA's stealth-mode (as well as the TraffiPatrol XR), evidence that no matter what was thrown at the driver, Veil would effectively reduce the capture range.  In practice "stealth-mode" wasn't the threat that some believed it could be because 1) Laser Atlanta was a relatively small player in the industry; 2) the ECCM mode had to be explicitly enabled by the officer through a series of deeply embedded menu options; and 3) the jammer market was substantially smaller than the radar detector market.

As time marched on an increasing number more traffic-enforcement departments became aware of laser jammers and their effectiveness.  A number of states began to specifically outlaw their use. Currently twelve states in the US.  The states currently outlawing their use are:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Illinois
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • Oklahoma
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • South Carolina
  • Utah
  • Virginia
  • Washington DC

Nine provinces of Canada also have laws on the books specifically outlawing the use of laser jammers as do other countries.  It's safe to assume more regions will follow suit. Penalties for getting caught with a jammer vary by region, so it's advisable to know the local laws. One user of jammers that I knew of personally, had his new car confiscated in Hong Kong, never to be returned.

To assist traffic enforcement in identifying drivers who use laser jammers, lidar manufacturers began including the ability to detect jamming attempts. While laser jammer companies have been worked to avoid triggering these jam alerts, they haven't been perfect at doing so.  

Things really took a turn for the worse when a new kid on the block (Digital Ally's Laser Ally) started appearing.  Interesting in making a splash, the manufacturer created an online account on the primary enthusiast forum of that time and an egregious public taunting ensued between them and the members of the laser jamming community. Essentially a gauntlet was thrown down by Laser Ally who claimed they would be producing police lidar guns specifically designed to be "unjammable."  

So it began, their marketing campaign to the traffic enforcement community.  The initial market penetration of the Laser Ally was quite small, in part, because it was hampered by poor marketing by their "manufacturer's rep" Digital Ally; the fact that the established players of LTI, Kustom, Stalker, and Laser Atlanta dominated the market place; and the process of being approved by the IACP as an accurate means of measuring speed.

DragonEye Compact.  Latest Generation Random Pulse Rate Police Lidar

Over time things had changed in their plus column.  Digital Ally went away and the underlying manufacturer known as DragonEye began marketing their products directly and more aggressively. Today, DragonEye has been making serious inroads into the traffic enforcement and the other more established manufacturers have taken notice and the number of states or local municipalities that are using them are growing. While the list of states remains sketchy states that are known to have them in use are Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Texas, and Delaware. In Canada, the DragonEyes have been spotted in the wild in the provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, and Ontario.  Neither of these lists is complete, to be sure. It appears the New Jersey may reviewing these guns for incorporation into their arsenal.  I suspect other states are as well.

The other lidar manufacturers haven't been standing still either. LTI and Stalker have also introduced police lasers that have been designed to specifically defeat laser jammers.  As these newer generations of police lasers are being introduced, they are getting much smaller in size, far easier to operate hand-held, and most importantly have significantly dropped in price to roughly a third of what they were priced at originally.  Some of them are also including greater capabilities than merely speed detection.  One LTI model has the ability to record speeding events and a Kustom Signals gun has an event memory feature that can be used in the chain-of-evidence.

Police laser's popularity is continuing to grow.  Lidar is now price competitive with radar; much more portable than radar; is much harder to challenge in court than radar; can be used at distances far exceeding radar; and can be used during periods of heavy multi-lane traffic.

AntiLaser Priority Parking Sensor

With the next article, we'll discuss the specifics of these new lidar technologies; why it is becoming increasingly difficult for active countermeasures to defeat them; and which ones are the most effective at doing so in this continuing cat-and-mouse game.

Blinder HP-905 Quad Head Parking Sensor

Stay tuned and drive responsibly...and remember, never attempt to jam-to-gun, it's very irresponsible and puts the entire enthusiast community at risk (although the damage has long since been done).

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Has Beltronics gone Sine Die?

Updated: 1134Z-5, 17 Apr 14, By Veil Guy

Beltronics going dark: A case to be made for the reversals of fortune

A brief history of the pinnacle years of Beltronics and Escort (ie; the Belscort years) from the perspective of an outsider.

While I have been driving with radar detectors since my youth (owning the very first superhet RD, the Escort) it was nearly 27 years later--when I introduced Laser Veil to be used as an adjunct to a radar detector--that I became part of this very special niche industry.  

During that time there existed three radar detectors, referred to as the ultra-premium detectors.  This powerhouse trinity was comprised of the Beltronics Pro RX65, Escort Passport 8500 X50, and the Valentine One.  The Escort and the V1 shared some DNA (no, I am not using Max marketing-speak) because Mike Valentine was once an integral-part of the original Cincinnati Microwave, the team the gave us the first Escort model.  But what had been less known at the time was that both the Passport 8500 X50 and the Beltronics RX65 also shared DNA--as the underlying design platform--that was of Beltronics.

When Escort "acquired" Beltronics just fours year earlier (a transaction that could have conceivably gone the other direction) and ostensibly became one company (consisting of two divisions), I observed that they had been operating effectively as two separate companies sharing one roof with each group retaining its identity (and allegiance).  

In my view, Beltronics (formerly BEL) had been, at its core, a technically brilliant powerhouse, but had been somewhat lacking in the sales and marketing capacity.  Contrasted to Beltronics was Escort (the original Cincinnati Microwave's petitioned reorganization), a company that was the mirror image of Beltronics at the time.  I know that opinion will probably irritate some within the organization today.  So be it. The fact that Escort's Passport 8500 X50 consisted of the Beltronics S7 platform, should settle any genuine argument to the contrary.

During that period, I had made several visits to their corporate headquarters located in West Chester Ohio just twenty minutes north of Valentine Research.  The evidence of the "divisions" between Beltronics and Escort was very clear to me.  Even some staff's cubicles even had been draped with Beltronics banners while others had Escort.  The pride of each division (now brand) was readily apparent. Yes there was some parts and resource sharing, there was at the time two separate engineering and sales "operations."

And while the online community commonly referred to the combined-organization as BELSCORT, I knew that this had been an inaccurate account of the actual composition of organization.  My perception was confirmed when it was officially communicated to me that each of the two companies preferred to be identified as Beltronics (not BEL) and Escort and both considered the term Belscort, to be a pejorative term.   Having observed, first hand, the internal structure of the organization, I respected their wishes and subsequently referred to each company (ie; brand) in a manner that was consistent with their expressly desired respective brand identities.

What the average consumer or enthusiast community member didn't realize was that although the products may have appeared to be the "same" (just with different packaging), those that had their hand in the creation of each model, certainly did not, nor did I.

During my years of driving with both of them, it became to readily apparent, to me, the subtle differences in performance and behavior that existed between the RX-65 and the 8500 X50.  Yes, they had both come from "one" company, Escort, but they were most certainly two different detectors.

The lasting impression of my visits of the time with Beltronics and Escort was that there existed internal tensions between the two camps (consider that they had once been direct competitors). But while there was certainly a feeling of some uneasiness within the marriage, these competitive tensions had actually been quite productive since they were now on the same team.

It struck me not unlike of what competitive tensions must exist between the starting quarterback and the secondary or the starting pitcher and the relief pitcher.  Tensions such as these are a healthy thing, in fact, are an essential dynamic.  They fuel the competitive "spirit" which often propels both to become individuals, each, at the top of their game.  These positive forces equally apply to organizations (ie; internal corporate divisions).

The unfortunate irony of this history is that under the tenor of John Larson (an odd appointment of one who came from GM, itself a multi-divisional company, albeit one that was and appears to remain ineptly managed), it was under his direction that Beltronics and Escort, became, for a time, BELSCORT in reality on a path to becoming essentially only ESCORT, today.

One of the problematic side-effects of his managing philosophy was that it replaced two divisional and distinct competitive spirits with one top-down-management-malaise which ultimately has had its impact felt throughout the whole of the organization and manifesting itself with the loss of individual divisional (ie: brand) identity.  And with that loss went the essential internal-competitive drive to propel each to remain at the top of their game.  We may just see how true this is in a short time.

Unfortunately the (Escort-centric) executive management has consistently been undermining the viability of Beltronics for years and they have been doing it through abject neglect and calculating brand de-emphasis.  I've seen this is as a great "crime" committed against an organization (and its constituents), simply for the aggrandizement of the Escort brand (not the company).

However, the casualties of those efforts weren't simply imparted to Beltronics they included Escort as well (both the brand and the company).  Its effects are evident in the time-line of product releases of each respective brand name.  (Note: Notice that I refrained from using the word division as my sense is that the physical two divisions that once existed have been amalgamated).

As mentioned in my previous article, instead of seeing an upwardly pointing straight-line succession of products by each brand, building up the past successes of each, we have instead experienced misfires and erratic product offerings of Escort, the company (adversely affecting both brands).

Let's take a brief look (as I seem them):

Beltronics RX65 (S7) & Escort Passport 8500 X50 (S7), along with the V1, these were the indisputable the class leading detectors of the time and for many years that followed.  Both the Beltronics and Escort models still as relevant as they were when they were initially introduced my than a decade ago.

Escort Passport 9500i series: Escort's first GPS-enabled detector. While novel, it was handicapped by Escort-centric management lacking in technical clarity and more interested in image making than letting the performance of the unit speak for itself.  The series has been plagued with behavioral idiosyncrasies that undermine the experience of ownership for the sake of enhancing perceived consumer value.

Beltronics GX-65: Essentially a mirror image of the 9500ix, but on the surface retained some Beltronicsness.  Perhaps the quintessential BELSCORT model, and one that I nearly ever used personally and the first tangible evidence of brand confusion in that this was a Passport 9500ix masquerading as a Beltronics model.

Beltronics STi Driver:  First M3 platform class defining detector, intentionally handicapped to make way for a future Escort model to be superior in performance, by design.

Beltronics STi-R: A class shattering detector, one of the very best ever produced in nearly the 40 year history of the entire industry.  Special configurations propel this detector to the stratosphere (that had not been recognized by the executive management of Escort) but was first discovered and reported upon by yours truly.

Passport 9500ci: Meant to be perceived as superior with much marketing emphasis but was, in reality, unintentionally handicapped by technically inept (Escort-centric) management, something along the lines of the 9500 series. I refrained from publishing a formal review of it.

Escort C65: Second real tangible evidence of brand confusion going down-market and collateral damage from Escort directly engaging the retail market, thwarting its long-established and developed channel sales. The first real Beltronics models masquerading as an Escort in name only.

Escort Redline: Again meant to be technically superior by design to the original STi Driver, and was in a number of ways, but like the Passport 9500ci, was handicapped by technically inept (Escort-centric) management and was one that I ultimately didn't recommend or use personally, nor did I publish a formal review of it, although provided critique privately, but obviously that feedback had little effect initially.

Beltronics STi Magnum: Supposed replacement and upgrade to original STi Driver, but again was knee-capped by Escort-centric management desiring to promote Escort as the premium brand and subordinate Beltronics to Escort.

Passport iQ: Interesting concept, on paper--but with the advent of smartphone nav. apps--serving no real market need, particularly in an RDD detectable M4-platforum.  Refrained from formally reviewing. Notice in preview article, raised the notion of crowd-sourcing application (a harbinger of what was to be Escort Live--as troubled as that application remains--and at the expense of startup Signal Active).

Escort Passport 8500 X50 Black: Surprisingly a nice update to an old-workhorse now in an M4-platform and one that I thoroughly enjoy driving with.  Nice job, Escort!

Escort Smart Radar: Another winner and is my favorite M4-design radar detector to ever come from the halls of Beltronics or Escort.  I suppose even a broken clock is right twice a day. Again, nice job Escort!

Escort Redline Expert Edition: What the original Escort Redline should have been at the start had it not been for an overly heavy-hand of marketing centric-management adversely impacting true-technical leadership. Addressed a good number of critiqued elements that I had presented privately with the initial product release.  In a few short words: The very best performing dash-mount radar detector to this point in history.  And the third real tangible evidence of brand-confusion and once again it was a Beltronics (STi-R) masquerading as an Escort product.

Escort Passport MaxOh come on! This one I couldn't let stand!  Publicly critiqued. Escort's best selling dash-mount radar detector (at time of launch) and the first real tangible evidence that Escort, the company, had not only lost it's way, but it's soul, as well.

Notice that I have refrained from mentioning the complete misfires and irrelevant products that Escort attempted to introduce into the marketplace (and failed).

I focus on the detectors, because of MCP (Escort's new benefactors) and their stated mission for returning Escort (and hence Beltronics) to their core competencies.  So I think it is crucially important to lay out (again as I see it), the product release cycle of the primary products labeled under each brand-name.

I refrained from mentioning the down-market also-rans as I believe Escort has too many irons in the fire and while I certainly can understand the value of offering down-scale lower-performing products that don't quite test-out on the bench, I believe it is important for Escort to reduce the overall count of radar detectors and instead focus on improving quality control during the manufacturing process, which has clearly taken a beating as evidenced by the Passport Max.

When I read the official position of Escort with respect to its recent acquisition by MCP:

Monomoy's direction is focused two-fold: 1) maximize profits for their investors and 2) return ESCORT to its core competency of designing, manufacturing & marketing the world's best radar detectors.

My take away from this is not only will Escort be refocusing on the radar detector market, but will be focusing on producing the "best" radar detectors. 

As I see it, "best" means best performing, not best selling.

Excellence through leadership

This should have several implications.

First and most importantly: Escort must improve the design, production, testing, and QA/QC process. Performance means nothing, if the quality isn't there and the products aren't built to last. The most successful (in terms of "accomplishment," not revenue) are those that produce products that the consumer replaces when something better comes along, not when it breaks. Extended warranties shouldn't be a viable source of revenue, if the design and manufacturing is sound, period.

Second: Along the lines of the first, simplifying the product pipeline including the reduction of b-grade products that have been used as a source for the downscale models currently being offered.  Again, best means that best.  That means upscale, premium, ultra-premium, not merely average, below average, or (even worse) substandard.  The result of which means brand re-enforcement and validation of high-quality, because the products actually are, not because of a marketing tag that says so.

Third:  It is critically important that the competitive spirit be allowed and encouraged to thrive. This is the only way to truly excel year after year, model after successful model.

Along that third point, my perception is that once Beltronics delivered us the STi-R and gave Escort's executive management a clear winning hand, they lost the initiative to continue challenging themselves to do better and instead chose to ride the "momentum" and use that momemtum to propel them into uncharted and un-charted un-tested waters.  Distractions flourished.  Technology extant was re-invented on more than one occasion.  (ie; GPS nav devices and crowd-sourcing software software apps).  

The problem with momentum, is that it never lasts, by definition.  One needs an active propulsion system and that propulsion system remains the competitive drive.

Once a company becomes the dominant one in the industry, it is at that time when it is at its most vulnerable: the time when the existential force of healthy competitive spirits that got them there often evaporates and the company instead chooses to ride the wave of past successes, gets bored, overly ambitious, too self-confident & self-absorbed, and ultimately careless. It's these dynamics which ultimately infect the corporate culture from the top-down. creating an increasing drag on what momentum there was initially.

Eventually you get passed by and the very talent that got you there in the first place often ends up leaving (because they have become bored themselves) or worse have been de-valued and RIF'd away (to another competitor)..


Now as Escort, the company, remains headless and is engaged in some serious inwardly facing soul-searching, it's critically important to remember that from chaos, comes order. Order, in the form of clarity and a unifying vision outwardly looking towards a brighter future;  an environment in which a new leader will be born (to spawn other leaders) to make that vision of a better tomorrow, a reality for all.

Blueprint for action!
  • Revitalize the BELTRONICS brand.
  • Embrace the notion of a competitive spirit between both brands (ie; divisions) of BELTRONICS and ESCORT.
  • Become your OWN competitor and let the healthy dynamics of brand-identity and competitive-drive propel both brands forward.
  • Pronounce with signage on your buildings that you are BOTH Beltronics and Escort, with pride!
  • Clarify the meaning of the primary brands of Escort (the company), including: Beltronics, Escort, Passport, Cincinnati Microwave
  • Create and maintain a subtle but consumer-recognizable differentiation between the brands and allow the customer-base, loyal to each, to flourish.
  • Direct sales and marketing efforts to re-enforce each one's brand identity with the consumer.
  • Get out of and stay out of retail, and utilize the costs savings from those operations to improve the design, manufacturing, assembly, and testing pipeline.  In other words, stick to manufacturing (your core competency)
  • Revitalize your value added sales channel and distribution systems.
  • Enable your authorized retailers to succeed by giving them the support they require.
  • Cease the unethical practice of breaking your own MAP policies and harvesting customer data for the expressed purposes of direct sales (at the expense of your wholesale and retail) partners.
  • Leverage any direct customer communication to drive sales activities to your VARs.
  • Clearly communicate your company's value proposition (mission statement) to all players including, leaders, staff, channel, and consumer and continuously re-enforce it, not just through words, but through action.
  • Increase revenues through increased market penetration, not through cannabilization of your existing sales (channel), nor  increase margin through reckless product cost cutting.
  • Empower those tasked (VAR channel) to sell and create product pull-through, do their job and don't undermine them. Remember, the most successful manufacturers have the healthiest (sales and distribution) channels.
  • Allow the technical leadership to lead their respective teams (without undue meddling from up top).
  • Share components whenever possible to streamline and simplify production and packaging all the while maintaining brand individuality. 
  • Give group leaders of each brand (ie; division) an equal voice in the management hierarchy.
  • Establish clearly defined goals throughout all aspects of the operation and hold people accountable to them.
  • Listen!  Listen to your customer-base!  Listen to your distribution and retail channels!  Listen to your staff! Encourage knew ideas no matter the source.  Forgo the "not invented here, syndrome."
  • Lose the arrogance.  It might feel good, to some, but it is self-defeating, in reality.  Lose the staff/management who personify hubris.  Replace them with those who have humility and a healthy-dose of pragmatism.
  • Have fun working together!  Fostering an environment which sparks creativity and encourages enjoyment is essential for building cohesiveness.  
  • Reward success!
  • It's Spring, open the windows and air out the place.
  • Encourage corporate sponsored employee "fun" events, away from the office, on a yearly basis to foster relationship building.
  • Change the corporate culture for the better!  A company is always greater than the some of its individual constituents.
  • Always move, never stagnate.
  • Create a culture of success, correcting errors quickly before they become mistakes.
  • Always fail forward!
I've used this analogy before and I believe it is still apt.  While Bentley was once a Rolls Royce division, it came with its own unique identity and customer experience.  Rolls Royce's products were marketed to those that preferred to be driven.  Bentley was marketed to those that preferred to drive themselves.  

Let Escort continue to cater to the drivers who place more emphasis on driving with a quiet radar detector (ie; an automatic-transmissioned Rolls) and allow Beltronics to continue to appeal to those that demand the highest performance as sine qua non (ie; a manual-transmissioned Bentley).

Now that both brands of these automotive brands are independently owned and operated--quite successfully to this day--teaches us an important lesson in corporate governance and effective brand management.

That lesson is (that) different brands owned by one company, should be able to stand on their own without the other.  They should be viable and capable of being sold off to operate as a separate entity, to be competitive and to retain their respective customer base.

If the new regime wishes to continue the trajectory of the Larson era--something that can not be true by definition--and further diminish the Beltronics brand as it relates to Escort, may I suggest that instead you strengthen it to sell it off, as opposed to letting wither on the vine?

However, I believe for Escort (the company), the smarter play yielding the biggest winning outcome for all, is to follow the above plan, so as to empower them...to empower you...


And always, in all ways, FAIL FORWARD...towards everlasting SUCCESS!

Veil Guy

PS:  The next class shattering detector: M3, with perfected digital back-end, in a magnesium case, fully QA'd, in an exceptional package is to be branded Beltronics!