Sunday, October 05, 2014

Deep dive review of the V1, Part VII: Conclusion

Deep Dive Review: Valentine One with V1connection, PART VII



Wow, am I thrilled that I made it this far!  I've got other articles and reviews to publish that I've put on hold.

It's hard to believe that it has taken me more than three months to pen this bad boy.  I didn't expect that when I set out to cover the many subtle and intimate details of the Valentine One.  But, as you can see there was a lot to cover and I seriously doubt that you will come across a more complete and thoroughly detailed review.

V1 Versus...

I often get questions from drivers considering a radar detector as to which one they should acquire.  As such I have written this review about the V1 in the context of not only its individual performance and characteristics but also how it compares and contrasts to other notable detectors. As I wrap-up this deep dive review of the V1, I will summarize what I believe are the most notable similarities and distinctions between the V1 and certain other detectors.

Choosing the right detector for your individual needs

When it comes to choosing which radar detector is right for you, you must take into account many different things.  Yes, the purpose all radar detectors serve is the same--to protect your driving record and make you a more attentive and safe driver.  

Though, in my mind, the Valentine One really has only two other windshield-mount radar detectors that are most closely related to it's technical nature.  The first one, is the lower-performing and value-priced Whistler CR90.  Although technically similar and a wonderfully inexpensive detector serving many drivers well, the Whistler does not (attempt to) play in the same league as the V1.  That is reserved for the Escort Redline.

You will find comparisons being made to the Passport Max and at first blush, these comparisons may seem logical, but upon closer inspection, they are entirely two different sorts of detectors and as a consequence, serve two different masters.  The Passport Max/Max2 are more appropriately compared to the Passport 9500ix and Beltronics GX-65--essentially as the evolutionary model of both models.

In my opinion, the Escort Redline is the only serious alternative to the V1.  Not just because of their similar performance characteristics but because of their similarity in nature which makes the comparison most apt.

No nonsense performance 

Both the Redline and the Valentine One are pure radar and laser detectors--geared to the most technically proficient and knowledgeable drivers.

Neither have built-in GPS capabilities nor include internal GPS redlight and speed camera databases.  These enhancements can be made to either unit with the use an optional Bluetooth module which integrates into a smartphone.

Only Escort provides the comprehensive and class-leading Defender database along with its Escort Live app.  Valentine on the other hand has what many regard as a superior smartphone app--called YaV1 (available only on Android phones)--written by an exceptionally talented RD forum enthusiast.  For those that wish to have a similar (and better) GPS crowd-sourcing experience, there is Waze (from Google).  This happens to be my most preferred setup.

Both models are comprised of two radar antennae.  The V1 has one forward and one rearward facing which gives it superior detections from the rear as well as imparts it with the unique ability to indicate direction of detections thus enhancing a driver's situational awareness while providing advanced muting, something that can not be found with any other detector.

The Redline, without a doubt, utilizes the most sophisticated dual-horn forward facing radar antenna design ever to appear in a consumer radar detector.  It's alerting range and off-axis capabilities, in certain notable instances, remain unmatched.

Off-axis detections can be a great thing for those who drive on secondary windy roads surrounded by heavy foliage.  It can also be a draw back on more densely populated highways and urban areas and tends not to provide for significant alerting advantages in areas of open (desert) terrain.  The decision of which capabilities prove more important remains a highly personal and subjective one.

While both detectors provide class-leading performance in their out-of-the-box standard configurations, both can be taken to unimaginable levels of performance when tweaked for responsiveness coupled with minimal filtering overhead.

The Redline has excellent laser sensitivity, however, the V1 is beyond sublime--being able to see both front and rear laser shots from the newest, most advanced, and hardest-to-detect guns currently proliferating in the wild.  As the inventor of Veil, my preferred choice, should be pretty obvious.

The Redline and its M3 brethren remote mounted radar detectors, the Beltronics STi-R+ and the Escort Passport 9500ci, remain the only detectors that are completely undetectable by radar detector detectors (RDDs) leaving the Virginia, District of Columbia, Military, and CDL drivers only one viable option.

Both models have the ability to filter to one degree or another K-band lane departure systems and traffic monitoring systems, but I have found the V1 handles these systems most effectively (although it does come with some reduction in range and responsiveness--as all of these K-band filters do).  The V1 also does a better job at filtering and muting than the Redline and its overall alerting behavior remains the very best.

Both models are built to the highest levels of construction quality and either one will provide years of service.  However, my hunch is with Valentine's approach of no-planned-obsolescence, the V1 will age better than the Redline as new challenges appear, leaving a V1 owner less compelled to purchase a new detector every year or so.  That appeals to my nature.  I tend to keep things for a long time.  I don't have a leasing mentality.  The last car I purchased was a 1999 Dinan 5 series which currently is sitting in my garage with an odometer indicating an excess of 255,000 miles.  It's still an awesome sports sedan, perhaps BMW's best ever, so why mess with a good thing?

In terms of customizations, the V1 has it down, in spades.  Many different performance profiles can be created and easily selected with a single push of an app "button."  A profile can be chosen when one is driving in NJ for example where X-band, 33.8Ghz & 34.7Ghz Ka, and Laser rule the day but can quickly be changed for use in driving in neighboring PA, where only K is used.  With any other detector, including the Redline, a time-consuming complex set of menu changes would have to be performed to accomplish the same thing.  The V1 even allows its owner to import and export these profiles.

Suggestions for Improvement

It would be nice to see a V1 having its Bluetooth function built-in and compatible to both the Android and iPhone.

I would also welcome the incorporation of a USB jack to allow for connection of a smartphone directly to the power cable. Whistler, Cobra, and Escort offer cables with this capability, it's high time that Valentine gets with the decade with their cables.

Speaking of cables, now that a smartphone can act as a remote display, a more compact cord option with a push-button mute and/or other quick control functions, and a two USB jacks would be the hot-ticket.

How about a stealth V1?  Years ago, an Aussie friend of claimed to have custom-modified V1 that was undetectable by RDDs (that was more than nine years ago!).  Hell, if he could do it, why not the wizards of VR?

Improved documentation both in the package on the website would be most welcomed.  Why make it so difficult for owners to tweak their detectors?

An improved display and control front fascia is an obvious area that could benefit from an update.  I think you guys have extracted as much as you can from a single digital display digit!  There's a lot more to tell an informed driver than just a bogey count, general bands detected, and direction.  (Note: This may finally be addressed in a forthcoming model).

Perhaps incorporating a USB data connection into the detector directly as does Escort and Whistler to allow for some firmware updates or, even better, incorporate the ability into the V1Connection app to push new firmware via Bluetooth.  On the other hand, it's very nice when one sends a V1 back in for an update, that VR extends another one-year warranty as if it were a new purchase as part of the upgrade fee.

Update your ad copy and your website!  Both look essentially unchanged from their original forms.  Enough about the arrows already and the same tired testimonials about them.  A lot has changed from the early nineties and we drivers have many more challenges to overcome. There are so many other fine attributes to the V1 and leaving both virtually unchanged, serves to only perpetuate the narrative of some (competitors) that the V1 hasn't really changed in years.  Hire a marketing guy for goodness sake (they're not all bad), and proclaim how so very well the V1 handles them!

I am sure there are other things that I would like to see, I just can't think of them at the moment. 

Conclusion

In the final analysis, whether or not the V1 is the detector most appropriate for you will remain rooted in subjectivity--no "objective" alerting range chart will suffice.  I have done my level best to lay out, in complete and unvarnished detail, the subjective nature of not only the latest V1, but of a number of other radar detectors which rightly merit consideration as well.


Utterly meaningless chart

To be sure, the V1 isn't for everyone; it is perhaps the most technical of all radar detectors and requires a high level of sophistication and commitment from a serious owner, for it to be fully appreciated. Don't ever expect to see brightly colored V1s mounted upon other windshields of cars you will surely pass.

There has been quite a bit of expectation that Valentine may be forthcoming with a major enhancement which many of us expect to propel it definitively ahead of its competition.  Whether or not this proves to be the case or when, rest assured, VR will surely provide an upgrade path (to it).

So, no matter which path you ultimately choose to take, I want to be explicitly clear on these two parting thoughts:

The Valentine One represents a towering achievement and comes with my highest recommendations.

Drive safe and smart.

Veil Guy

Previous: Deep Dive Review: Valentine One with V1connection, PART VI






Saturday, October 04, 2014

Deep Dive Review: Valentine One with V1connection, PART VI

Deep Dive Review: Valentine One with V1connection, PART VI



Filtering versus Muting

Some background and how the Valentine One compares and contrasts to other manufacturers' models

Filtering techniques and muting--whether automatic or manual--while different in execution, accomplish a similar outcome: a detector which does not alert to a detected signal. As I have already covered how the V1 uniquely handles muting, I will now discuss how the V1 handles filtering.

As stated in an earlier part of this deep-dive review, Valentine's philosophy is to minimize the use of filtering for the sake of prioritizing alerting performance.  This does not mean that the V1 doesn't employ any filtering at all, but they have chosen their battles quite selectively, so to speak, as to the ones that have the least impact on performance, preferring the driver to make the determination based upon his or her's intimate knowledge of the V1's alerting behavior.

Ka Band Filtering

Most of the more advanced detectors employ Ka-band filtering to some degree or another.  Notable other manufacturers which do this are Beltronics, Escort, and Whistler.  Much of the history of filtering Ka-band is rooted in the manufacturing of older Cobra detectors, which emitted frequencies that could be detected by other sensitive detectors within close proximity.  However, unlike, conventional police radar which consists of one specific frequency, emissions from the LO of any super hetrodyne detector are typically accompanied by other frequencies at the same time and those frequencies detected in the Ka-band range are actually harmonics of the selected LO frequency.

When a well designed radar detector, detects frequencies in the Ka-band, it will quickly analyze other potentially related frequencies in an attempt to determine if the detected Ka-band signal is actually a harmonic of another or is that of genuine police radar.  If the detector concludes, in a finite amount of time, that the signal is an emission from another detector, it will reject the signal as being spurious and not alert (to it).

However this advanced signal processing does take a finite amount of time to perform.  If the time to analyze the detected signal takes too long, the detector may miss a bonafide police radar source, such as I/O or quick-triggered I/O or briefly appearing multi-path radar (even more difficult to detect).  While quick-triggering is uncommon, it is not without possibility of being encountered.

Each of the three spiritually-related models, the Valentine One, the Escort Redline, and the Whistler CR90 allow for the user to reduce or eliminate the processing overhead (and therefore efficiency) of this filtering technique, for the sake of performance.

Valentine was early in providing this feature, called Ka-guard.  However with Ka-guard disabled, older Valentines tended to false excessively which seriously reduced its overall effectiveness.  In other words, the tradeoff for either responsiveness or apparent sensitivity was not worth it and therefore the feature was not widely used.

Escort and Beltronics M3-based detectors (and now some newer M4 detectors) allow for the reduction in filtering to Ka as well, in the form of a feature called RDR (radar detector rejection).  Similar to Ka-guard, it improves responsiveness and apparent sensitivity to brief (and/or weak) Ka detections, but can lead to increased levels of falsing, especially since the Ka-band is such a large collection of frequencies to scan.  There are a large number of frequencies in the Ka-band spectrum which are not home to police radar.

In the US, there are primarily three Ka-band segments each centered at 33.8Ghz, 34.7Ghz, and 35.5Ghz with a spread of frequencies of a +/- 100Mhz frequencies on each side of their centers.

So how does one benefit from improved performance without penalty of increased falsing by relying on the signal processing?  Well we've already touched on it in an earlier part of the review.  The answer is Ka-band segmentation.  When those two methods of employed together, the driver can essentially have his cake and eat it too.

To be fair to history, Beltronics had provided a one-button "preset" form of "band-segmentation" with Ka USA mode (similar in effect) in contrast to Ka International modes and it worked very effectively in its day.

Today, all three manufacturers provide more advanced and fine-tunable configuration to the advanced user steeped in the knowledge of how to unlock these additional performance potentials.  Whistler offers the most simple form of configuration changes.  Escort/Beltronics offers a somewhat more involved program customization, followed by Valentine.  While the programming effort of the Valentine is mildly more involved, its capabilities of fine tuning are the greatest.

K-band filtering

New to the game is advanced K-band filtering.  Starting with the appearance of "pulsed" short-duration traffic monitoring systems transmitted at different durations at different times of the day, depending upon expected traffic volumes, new filtering algorithms appeared from Escort and Beltronics with the introduction of TSR.  Valentine came later with TMF, followed by Whistler with their TFSR.

Each of these systems were designed to add a delay to alerting to detected K-band for a finite period of time, long enough for the "pulsed" signal to disappear before it was alerted to.  The difficulty with static predetermined delays is that the longer the latency in alerting, the greater the chance of missing a brief K-band I/O short from an officer.  This presented a serious challenge to the manufacturers and each one has taken slightly different paths for attempting to minimize this risk (with varying degrees of success).  Whistler allows for the most advanced fine-tuning of the additional alert latencies and is therefore my favorite approach.

As if this weren't bad enough, an even greater nuisance has made its arrival.  The K-band emissions of the latest "nanny" systems being incorporated into an increasing number of automobiles in an attempt to protect drivers from themselves and their poor driving habits, known as the scourge of inattentive driving.  Unfortunately the manufacturers have opted to use a systems of FMCW (frequency modulated continuous waveform K-band radar).  These emissions are proving to even be more difficult to filter out without imposing significant penalty in K-band alerting performance.

For a time, Whistler had devised the best approach at minimizing a performance hit.  Conventional detectors from Escort and Beltronics remain too broad in their approach, while the Passport Max and Max2 have not been able to deliver on their promise of advanced "DNA/HD" digital processing technology.  Valentine, on the other hand, is continuing to fine tune their filtering algorithms to handle both of these sorts of K-band modulations and I would say that it is Valentine that remains is staying most ahead of these continually-evolving technologies.  While the latest version of TMF is not perfect, Valentine is genuinely striving to achieve the best "compromise" of performance and livability.

X-band filtering

Fortunately for most drivers, X-band is not widely deployed throughout the US and most drivers can feel confident disabling the band altogether, with some notable exceptions.  Drivers in NJ, OH, NC, MS, and other confined regions aren't so lucky.  On a stretch of California highway heading out of LA towards Arizona, X-band traffic monitoring systems, directed at commercial vehicles, can set off detectors for many many miles at a time.  The flat desert-like terrain coupled with low humidity really exacerbates the nuisance.  To my knowledge, only Whistler has attempted to filter out these systems effectively.

To make matters worse, I recently came upon a vehicle that I was passing that was causing my detectors to false on X-band.  I am not aware of any lane departure systems designed on X-band, but there it was.  Something was consistently setting of my detectors on X-band.  I am not aware that either Valentine or Beltronics and Escort are attempting to filter out X-band signals such as these.  Given its limited deployment relative to K-band and K-band throughout the US, this is not as much of an issue, in my opinion.  But it would be nice to have anyway.

Laser/Lidar filtering


While certain detectors may appear to filter spurious laser detections out (think Escort Max), in fact, a detector that can barely detect laser to begin with, doesn't really need to filter anyway as the sensitivity is not there to begin with.  Detectors from Whistler and particularly Valentine are sensitive enough that filtering does matter and each company does a very noble job at doing this.  Whistler allows for the selective filtering of pre-established pulse rates emanating from lidar-based systems incorporated in vehicles such as those from Volvo, Infiniti, and Honda as well as airport wind shear monitors. Valentine is more minimalistic in its approach and therefore tends to false more to these systems.

Despite this, both Whistler and Valentine are particularly resistant to falsing from the shadows cast by trees along the side of the highway.  Beltronics and Escort models (especially the remote mounted detectors) tend to false quite frequently to these sources.

In summary, an effective combination  of filtering and muting directly leads to a superior driving experience and at the moment, at least, the Valentine is at the head of the class on this front.  The excessively hyped marketing of the new Max and Max2 promised superior levels of advanced signal processing, but at this point in its evolution, the technology appears to be more "pie-in-the-sky." Maybe in time, that will change, but in the meantime, the Valentine remains the very best at staying quiet when it needs to while providing the driver maximum levels of alerting performance in this ever increasingly difficult landscape of "signal pollution."

Previous: Deep Dive Review: Valentine One with V1connection, PART V
Next: Deep Dive Review: Valentine One with V1connection, PART VII, Conclusion


Saturday, September 13, 2014

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

Valentine One Review with V1 connection, Part V


The King of Kings of Driving Experience

How the Valentine One compares and contrasts to other manufacturers' models

If you've ever read reviews of the Valentine One, their marketing literature, or get into discussions about it, things tend to center around the V1's unique use of arrows.  While that capability is indeed an important one, it's by all means not the most important.

In a previous installation of this review I wrote that the value of a radar detector is greater than the sum of its individual parts--ultimately dictating how rewarding the ownership experience is going to be.  This is where subjectivity really comes into play as some things simply can't be expressed with a chart.

So, that being the case, what does driving with a V1 feel like?

If you are familiar with intricacies of police radar and laser and how detectors handle them, you're probably familiar with the term "false" and why it is better for a detector to false less, as a percentage of its overall alerts--including those coming from real threats.  Certainly you don't want a detector to "cry wolf" at such a rate that it leads you to either discount "real" threat-alerts or worse, discard the use of the detector altogether.

But here is the thing.  There really is no such thing as a false alert, unless there is a defect with the detector itself or RF interference coming from other out-of-band sources. When a radar detector alerts to radar or laser, it's because a signal is actually present and being detected.  I prefer to differentiate detections as being lethal (representative of real traffic enforcement) or non-lethal (everything else).

While it is a fact that non-lethal sources of Ka-radar (signals emitted from older Cobra radar detectors, primarily) are becoming less common, overall the landscape of other false-alerting sources has really deteriorated.

There was a time that X and K-band controlled automatic door openers where the bane of detector falsing, but that is no longer the case.  Yes, those sources are still there, but now a detector must contend with even more junk including stationery K-band and Ka-band drone and speed signs, X-band, K-band, and lidar-based traffic flow monitoring systems and now moving sources of radar and laser originating from automobile lane-departure, cruise control, and accident avoidance systems.

Escort's philosophy has always been to emphasize quietness through the use of sophisticated signal processing and more recently GPS-lockout.  Valentine, on the other hand, has taken a more minimalistic approach preferring instead to allow the driver to make the determination as to whether or not a detected signal presents a threat.

Their reasoning is a sound one:  there is always some measure of risk if a detector is subjected to too much "filtering" and/or is intentionally "slowed" in its responsiveness for the sake of silence. One could argue the virtues of either approach till the cows come home and ultimately it comes down to what the driver prefers. There really is no right answer as to which approach is better and the conditions where one generally drives is often the over-riding factor as to which one is preferred.  Daily commutes to work have the potential to be very punishing.

The taming of these, often conflicting, dynamics of sensitivity and false resistance are not unlike the challenges of manufacturing ultra high performance all-season tires versus dedicated summer and winter tires.  The good thing is that we as motorists can make the choice of which approach works best for our individual needs. It's not uncommon for a true radar detector enthusiast to own more than one detector.  Finding one detector that can do it all always has and continues to be a very difficult proposition.

Irrespective of the preferred approach, I consider a detector's alerting behavior one of the most important aspects of detector performance.  So, how does the latest V1 stack up in this department?

Superior Audio and Visual Alerting

I believe, the V1 offers the very best combination of audio and visual alerting available, bar none.  It's quickness in reacting to varying signal strengths, in real-time, is unmatched. The V1 also provides the best and most accurate alerting duration in the industry.

These superior alerting characteristics enable the V1's owner to differentiate between non-threatening falses, fringe weak detections of constant-on (CO) radar or continuously fired laser from great distances, and approaching speed traps utilizing a most-lethal form of instant-on (IO) radar and laser, used to specifically ambush drivers who drive with radar detectors.

Whistler's detectors are a close second to the Valentine, but products from Escort and Beltronics trail significantly, in my opinion, in alerting behavior and unnecessarily so.  In the case of their uber-performing M3s (such as the Redline, STi-R plus, and Passport 9500ci), these detectors have excessively long trailing alerts (upwards of 10 seconds) after the signal detected is no longer present.  I have long suspected the reason for this is to serve a marketing effort: to suggest a level of sensitivity that simply isn't there, particularly when you pass a radar source.

I believe they have chosen to do this is because their models do not have a dedicated rear-facing antenna, as the Valentine does, which naturally provides greater sensitivity to radar from the rear and hence they have chosen to specifically mimic its alerting behavior.  Doing this, however, blurs the nature of approaching I/O speed traps and makes it harder for the driver to differentiate between a false, a fringe weak detection of constant-on radar at distance, or an approaching instant-on radar trap of increasing strength.

This is most unfortunate and totally unnecessary because the detectors coming out of West Chester today have exceptional sensitivity, even their entry level detectors.  And so, there is absolutely no need to perpetuate this behavior.  In fact I believe it detracts from them their overall performance.

If Escort wishes to continue to utilize this unnaturally long delay, I would, at least, like to see them give us the option to toggle between short alert and extended alert durations.  This would do for their alerting nature what band-segmentation did for their alerting range.

Laser alerts on the V1 are also superior to every other detector ever made.  With the V1 you can tell when you are being targeted, when the officer pans his laser and re-targets you, and when he or she has actually obtained your speed.   This can help you determine if you will be subjected to a speeding ticket or a laser countermeasure like Veil was effective in protecting you from receiving a ticket.  If you manage to get your speed down and the V1 continues to alert to laser, then there is a good chance that your speed wasn't obtained in time and you can feel comfortable, right then and there, that you will be safe.

Superior False Alerting 

Another subtle but very significant benefit to the accurate alerting durations of the V1 is with its falses. A V1 falses better than any other detector particularly with Ka.  Ka falses--coming from other "leaky" detectors often are alerted to with only a single quick "double-brap," followed by an extended delay of a second or two of the directional arrow from which direction it was detected.  It's perfectly configured.  The quick tone gets your attention, the detector then goes silent but the display will continue to illuminate for a little longer so you can confirm the frequency of band detected along with the direction from where it came.


When a false alert occurs on an Escort or Beltronics detector, it trails excessively in duration in both audio and display.  The more I've driven with this V1, the more I've come to appreciate its mild falsing nature and now believe one doesn't even need to rely as heavily upon GPS-lockout. In fact, GPS-lockout doesn't even apply to Ka alerting anyway, only with X and K, making superior falsing to Ka even more important. 

With the Escort and Beltronics models, it is more difficult to tell the difference between a false and a genuine detection which may be another driving force as to why owners of these other detectors may feel compelled to utilize GPS-lockout.  To be clear, the theory of GPS-lockout is a good one, but I believe it remains a bit too broad in its execution.  It simply comes down to which philosophy you identify more.


The V1 also is unique in its ability to tell you that some Ka false alerts are actually false alerts and not from real-threats.  It does so by displaying the letter "J" accompanied with a quick sequence of tones followed by the quick elimination of the entire alert long before an Escort or Beltronics detector would even complete its extended "programmed" alert.

Superior Signal Strength and Audio Alert Ramp

Another critical component to detector behavior is the effectiveness of conveying the severity of an approaching threat (ie; whether or not you are in speed is measurable by the officer).  Once again, the Escort and Beltronics models have trailed significantly in this regard (although they have been getting better at it) and I believe this has been the case historically due to a marketing strategy--to make their detectors, once again, appear more sensitive than they actually are.

I've written about this before when I first noticed a change in their alerting behavior with a pre-production Passport 9500ix a good number of years ago.  Escort used to have silky smooth alert ramps (starting with their very first detector, decades previously, the original Passport).  But they chose to abandoned their roots in pursuit, I believe, of SML's praise which may have looked good on paper to them, but took them backwards in reality and we drivers have been paying the price ever since.

By alerting with greater urgency (higher signal strength) than is merited or with a non-linear and choppy way, the driver is deprived of the very information needed to determine how he or she should respond.  Should one brake quickly (a risky proposition) or more gradually--which is much less stressful and safer?  If the alert signal-strength reported is not accurate the driver has no way to know and may tend to error on the side of choosing the more risky braking response.

No other other detector does as good a job of indicating the exact severity of any given threat as the V1 does.  Whistler's are very very good, second to Valentine I would say, but the V1 ultimately reins supreme.

I wish that Escort and Beltronics would continue revert back to their alerting schemes that have served us so very well over the decades gone by.  Their detectors are too good now for these programmed alerting "tricks."

I apologize to my readers, if my very candid assessments sound harsh--they are not meant to be--but I felt it's critically important to make these distinctions of V1 more readily apparent to the reader since you will not likely find such observations detailed anywhere else.  These are subtle but extremely important aspects of detector behavior which directly determine its ultimate utility as a serious driver's aide and the level of satisfaction a savvy owner would experience.

Superior "Filtering"/Auto-Muting (without GPS-lockout)

Valentine has tended to minimize intrusive filtering techniques, because performance tends to suffer somewhere along the line when doing so, but like all other detector manufacturers has had his hand forced by the proliferation of pulsed and frequency-modulated (FMCW) radar that is used in today's vehicle lane-departure, adaptive cruise control, and collision avoidance systems as well as traffic-flow monitoring devices.

Valentine was late to the game on this front, relative to Escort, Beltronics, and then Whistler, but like Porsche whose Cayenne entered the marketplace late, the V1 quickly established itself as one of the most capable models at what purpose they serve.

Both the V1 and the top-of-the-line Whistlers are most adept at filtering out these obnoxious sources of K-band falsing.  I give even bigger credit to Valentine because the V1 is quite a bit more sensitive to K-band, making the V1's job even tougher.  Its superior filtering comes with less of a risk of missing instant-on radar or resulting in decreased alerting range than other brands and I feel fairly comfortable using this setting on a regular basis even when I drive on K-band-infested Pennsylvania highways.

Unique also to the V1 is quick K-band disabling. With a simple push of its front button, K-band detection can be turned-off and then back-on.  You can't do that with any other detector--one has to rely on using other detectors' programming menus to do so.  This comes in handy when one sometimes drives in states like NJ or other regions where K-band is not utilized by traffic enforcement but you encounter it enough that you still need to use it when you drive in areas that do.

Customized Auto-Muting

I have touched upon a number of different ways that the V1 auto-mutes detections and I wish to conclude this part of the review with yet another unique approach to auto-muting that V1 offers and that is auto-muting depending upon a range of frequencies within each band.  VR calls this "out-of-the-box" muting.  As an example of this capability let's say you are only interested in receiving a K-band alert within 50mhz of the center of K-band's frequency of 24.050Ghz.  You can configure the the V1 to only alert with an audio tone if the detected frequency is between 24.050Ghz and 24.100Ghz.  If the frequency detected is above 24.100Ghz (often coming from an automobile's lane departure system), then the V1 would alert at  muted level.  These same user-defined "windows" can be selected for X-band and Ka-band.  It's a great feature and can only be found on the V1.


Next: Deep Dive Review: Valentine One with V1connection, PART VI
Previous: Deep Dive Review: Valentine One with V1connection, PART IV

Saturday, July 19, 2014

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

Deep Dive 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 is that 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 or actual police radar transmissions.  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 nor 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 it is you that is specifically being targeted when a detector alerts, 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 plays an important in determining its laser sensitivity. Thinner detectors, while nice, have to sacrifice laser sensitivity because the size of the laser detection sensor has to be smaller and other detectors effectively have zero laser reception capability from the rear.  The V1's taller chassis,  allows for large laser sensors, helping to contribute to its stellar performance for both front and rear detections.

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 between a segmented Redline.  On 33.8 Ka band, the V1 appears to consistently dominate the M3 detectors. 34.7 Ka tends to favor the M3s and with 35.5 Ka, even a little bit more--in the most difficult reception scenarios--but the V1 is very much in the running now, out alerting the M3s on Ka 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 believe both detector platforms have begun reaching a point of diminishing returns.  They are both that exceptional.

Valentine generally recommends setting the sweeps at 200 megahertz in total width--100mhz each side of the Ka center frequency.  That equates to:

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 of the six total sweep slots.

But even though these are the standard recommendations, VR doesn't suggest that these settings necessarily represent the most optimal settings either and they've expressed an interest in observing if 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 that I began to observe further improvement:

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 profiles are 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, is that the V1 becomes 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).

Next: Deep Dive Review: Valentine One with V1connection, PART V
Previous: Deep Dive Review: Valentine One with V1connection, PART III

Saturday, July 12, 2014

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

Deep Dive Valentine One Review V1connection, Part III

Valentine One Front View

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.

Arrows

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 almost).  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 rear view, 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.

Next: Deep Dive Review: Valentine One with V1connection, PART IV
Previous: Deep Dive Review: Valentine One with V1connection, PART II

VG

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

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

Deep Dive 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 Detector 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 of 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--or even other detectors that are less profitable to sell. 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 or those that really don't put in the necessary work--despite any appearances to the contrary--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 and most importantly the time they afford you to react to impending real-threats of traffic enforcement monitoring, I also explore 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


Next: Deep Dive Review: Valentine One with V1connection, PART III
Previous: Deep Dive Review: Valentine One with V1connection, PART I

Sunday, July 06, 2014

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

Deep Dive 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

Next: Deep Dive Review: Valentine One with V1connection, PART II

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 are much 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