Thursday, March 24, 2011

Whistler Pro-3600 Review: Whistler's New Over-Achiever

Whistler Pro-3600 Custom Installed Remote Complete Package

Whistler Pro-3600 Review: Whistler's New Over-Achiever

Updated: 23 Apr 14, By Veil Guy


Introduction

This past weekend was very special.

It was special because three things happened—two astronomically and one terrestrially. During its course we experienced the vernal equinox (start of Spring) and a rare lunar orbital perigee, but perhaps even more special was that I finally managed to have a productive opportunity to experience Whistler's new remote, the Whistler Pro-3600, in the real-world, after an additional 1100+ mile five state extended road-trip.

I attempted this several weeks ago, but after driving through three states (PA, NJ, NY), and 300 miles, I did not accumulate enough encounters to allow me to learn the personality/performance profile of this new Whistler. All that has changed and I now believe I have a very good feel for the new Whistler Pro-3600 remote installed radar detector.

This is not Whistler's first remote, as they have offered them for some time, it is however Whistler's first remote based on their currently highest-performing "78 (SE)" platform that has appeared in Whistler's dash-mounts including the Whistler Pro-78SE, Pro-695SE, and Pro-690SE.

This product marks an important milestone for Whistler, because if someone is going to go through the trouble and expense of purchasing and installing a remote radar detector, then it is only natural to do so with a manufacturer's highest performing design within their budget.

The Whistler Pro-3600 is a significant offering, because it is their first detector that provides advanced GPS & photo-enforcement capabilities in one integrated package while providing a ton of features that serve the driver more than the manufacturer's own marketing/sales literature.

The core unit is sold without GPS, for those that are on a more limited budget, with a street price of under $350. The RLC-360 module can be purchased at anytime for an additional C note, that adds all of the advanced GPS capabilities.

So, what does $350 really get you?

Deep Dive

In my experiences, the performance of the Pro-3600 is what I expected: excellent performance on Ka-band, fair performance on K, and somewhat lacking on X-band, although I suspect X and K-band reception performance will be sufficient for most of us.


Whistler Pro-3600 vs CO 24.1Ghz K Source


Whistler Pro-3600 vs 2 CO 34.7 Ka Sources Facing Away

The Whistler's effective response on Ka-band, like all SE models, is quite remarkable, often lagging my benchmark dashmount units (Escort Redline, Beltronics STi Driver) by relatively small margins and on other occasions by wider margins, but all appeared sufficient to provide enough advanced warning.


Whistler Pro-3600 vs 2 IO 35.5 Ka Threats


Granted, where I primarily drive in the North East (PA, NJ, NY, DE, MY), the terrain is such that one doesn't always benefit, as much as one would expect, from having a detector with much greater sensitivity. This subtle reality is often lost on many of those preoccupied with performance only in terms of absolute sensitivity observed on long unobstructed straightaways. Depending upon your specific driving routes, your results may differ if the terrain allows for it.

When approaching radar from around multiple curves and/or with heavier amounts of traffic, one typically does not cross into radar beam-dispersion patterns until well within the detection range, resulting in alerts that begin with a signal strength that is higher than level one (1). In many of my instances, radar detectors have immediately jumped from not alerting at all to alerting with an initial signal strength of 4 or 5.

And, as is often the case, brief reflections of radar (as it bounces around and reflects off a objects and moving vehicles ahead) will create short-lasting windows of opportunity for spotting radar.

In such circumstances, a quicker reacting detector can and will tend to out-alert one that requires longer durations of radar before alerting. This will create the appearance of a detector having greater sensitivity than the detector that chooses not to alert, even one with [much] higher-levels of sensitivity.

There is a critically delicate balancing act happening here, as this alerting behavior is a double-edged sword. Being too quick can lead to excessive false alerts, being too slow can lead to missing an opportunity at an advanced warning when another car is being targeted ahead of you. (The primary purpose of a radar detector's function).

Fortunately, Whistler's "reactivity" is user configurable—an especially useful and unique feature to Whistler. (more on this later)

During my travels, I only experienced one laser hit and that was from behind (on highway I-78 in northern NJ) and the 3600 did not alert to it, as it was mounted solely in the front of the vehicle, as all remotes are, with the exception of the Escort Passport 9500ci, which includes an integrated laser shifter ZR4 that includes a rear-facing laser transponder.

This "deficit" can be mitigated, since the Pro3600 can accept an optional rear-facing radar antenna/laser sensor—the only other remotes to have done this, are the less-than-stellar K40s. The ├╝ber high-end Beltronics STi-R+ can also optionally take a rear laser transponder.

SpeedInfo's pulsed K-band traffic sensors can wreak havoc with the 3600, very much like many other brands in the market. Escort and Beltronics have since introduced a feature known as TSR to quiet their detectors to these pulsed K-band traffic flow sensors and when invoked makes driving with them much more enjoyable, to say the least.


Pro3600 Filter-mode Reactivity vs. Short-Pulses of K-band
Since the reactivity/responsiveness on the Pro3600 remote can be tweaked, the driver can choose the responsiveness that is best suited for him/her (as is the case with its Whistler dashmount counterparts).

I have determined the combination of POP OFF and FILTER 2, does indeed filter out the vast majority of false alerts to these problematic sensors. The selection of FILTER 3, serves to completely eliminate them and with a minimal amount of responsiveness "penalty"—leaving you at less risk at missing bonafide radar shots ahead of you.

With respect to the Pro-3600's GPS and photo-enforcement capabilities, I must first admit that during my drive in Virgina, Washington D.C., and Maryland, the Pro3600 failed to alert to any RLC monitored intersection! I began having some serious reservations about this feature.

What I failed to realize is that the RLC-360 photo-enforcement database is not loaded by default when the GPS module is added to the 3600—my bad! After a quick call to Whistler, I managed to successfully load the database on to the system.

This is a two-step process initially, followed then by one recurring procedure each month to update the database.

The Pro3600 has a wonderfully unique capability in this regard.

Instead of requiring the remote to be tethered to an Internet-connected PC, the Pro3600 updates its firmware and database requiring only a USB key-drive (no PC required!)

This is the easiest and most elegant solution I have yet seen.

The process is simple but a bit lengthy as it currently requires a person on the other end to send you the files. I am told that this may become automated upon the next website update. You must register the RLC-360 online at Whistler's web-site and wait for them to send you the files during business hours—an updated firmware and the current photo-enforcement database file.

Pro3600 USB Interface Dongle

First, copy the firmware file to the USB key-drive and make sure it is the only file placed on the drive. Second, connect the key drive to the USB dongle of the Pro3600 while the power is OFF. Then, power the unit on.

During the power on sequence, the Pro3600 will identify the file on the drive, and prompt for accepting the update to the system. Once approved, the system will automatically apply the file update. This process is repeated for the database file update. Once the firmware has been applied, subsequent updates to the database can be applied without the need for another firmware update.

Being armed with this new capability, I set off to Delaware where I knew photo-enforcement was being utilized. What I found is that Whistler's Verilight database appeared to do a good job at alerting to the presence of redlight cameras located in the two cities I drove in Delaware, Newark and Wilmington.


Whistler RLC-3600 vs RLC of Newark & Wilmington, DE

While it is very difficult to provide a thoroughly accurate assessment of the overall quality of a photo-enforcement database without driving on a regular basis around the entire country to check every location, the 3600 appeared to turn in a respectable performance and did appear to offer a somewhat higher level of accuracy (where I drove) as compared to Cobra's Aura database, found in Cobra's top-of-line models and iRadar smartphone application.

So I'll instead focus on the operating nature, I observed, of their system. The Pro3600 appears to be using a "hybrid" (for lack of a better term) vector and proximity based alerting mechanism. This appears to provide for a more stable distance countdown to photo-enforcement areas (especially around curved roads) and reduced false-alerting. But, it does not appear to be in the same league as the industry-leading Cheetah Trinity database (that has been essentially re-branded as the Defender database by Beltronics and Escort).

However, just being alerted to the fact that a general area is utilizing photo enforcement (at least in the form of redlight cameras), I believe, is sufficient for most drivers (including myself) as I tend to scan intersections whether I am being alerted or not, just to be on the safe side.

Also, just knowing that these scameras are around, I tend to be especially cautious when following other vehicles particularly when lights turn yellow for fear of the tendencies of drivers to nail their brakes often in an overreaction to even shorter-duration yellow-to red-light timing transitions specifically designed to pop that rate of these money making tickets for the for-profit companies that implement them.

Pro3600 Alert and Security LED

Beyond its performance, the Pro3600 incorporates a number of cool features (some completely new), such as user-configurable variable speed filtering (ie; reactivity) modes, configurable over-speed alert, customized user-marked GPS locations, GPS clock, announced direction of travel, GPS compass, outside temperature gauge, additional filter mode (totaling four), two ramp-rates, and an additional heads-up alert LED with a faux-security blinking feature when the vehicle is parked and powered off.

Pro3600 Connection Module

The Pro3600 provides a well-marked connection module with RJ-type connections and an integrated display and control module. The module provides more useful user-customized programming features than any other detector that I have ever encountered (exceeding those of even the V1).

With respect to some of Whistler's unique and especially useful additional features:

The proximity based alerting nature of the photo-enforcement marked locations can be changed from a larger to a smaller radius (which can be useful for heavily monitored city streets, like those found in Washington, DC.) User marked locations can be deleted as a group within a user-selectable radius, or be removed from memory in their entirety.

Another very useful capability, again unique to Whistler, and will be absolutely essential to international drivers, is user selectable and configurable laser pulse sequence windows that enable the Whistler to be able to additionally see and alert to a plethora of European lasers that have pulse-sequences outside the scope of U.S. made lasers. In fact, Whistler appears capable of detecting the Traffipatrol XR, an incredible feat for a radar detector, regardless of brand or price.

One feature, I very much appreciate is the Whistler's ability to obtain live time and date using the GPS NMEA protocol and selectable time-zone and DST offsets. I am not aware of another GPS-enabled detector, that offers this. Having that ability could pave the way for Whistler to offer a lot of interesting new capabilities in the future...

Currently, the 3600 does not automatically account for daylight savings time, and I have already made a request to Whistler's engineering team to consider a firmware update that would enable this capability. This was a timely discovery, as we just crossed into DST. As it stands currently, one must manually enable DST from the menu.

Another aspect of the Pro-3600 I appreciate is the cabling/power fault detection circuitry. When the unit experiences an electrical fault or connection issue of some kind, it alerts with a high-pitched tonal sequence and displays the fault message on the integrated display/control module.

The one-piece display and control module can be mounted in the most-flexible of positions, as the display read-out can be inverted or made to read sideways (for vertical mounting).

The unit has the a GPS odometer and an elapsed travel time log that can be reset, at a push of a button—a handy feature for extended long-distance multi-state trips.

A design element, I don't particularly care for is the speaker attachment. I find its use, to be a distracting element to an otherwise clean and factory-looking professional install. As it currently stands, the speaker module is designed to attach to the A-pillar and comes with an integrated volume control. I generally regard it as an unsightly component, in my particular vehicle.

Separate Volume Controlled Speaker

Furthermore, the speaker never seems to get as loud as the more conventionally designed dashmounts or the high-end remotes from Beltronics and Escort and depending on placement, the visor can be blocked from opening and closing.

My preference would be for the addition of an external speaker box that can be mounted below the dash and out of sight, that has sufficiently high levels of volume to really overcome ambient in-cabin sounds and whose volume can be changed simply by the press of a button located on the main control/display module. Having an extra audio output to feed into car stereo systems could be a nice touch, as well.

I would also prefer to see some improvements made to the audio signal ramp in two areas. Firstly, the audio alert ramp-up to approaching radar sources appears, by comparison to a dashmount SE, to be a bit lethargic. Secondly, the level of urgency of the 3600's maximum alert-rate also appears to lag behind the dashmounts.

Other than these little gripes of mine, I believe the Whistler Pro3600 is a thoroughly thought out and refined package, replete with features and capabilities, not found elsewhere, whose subtle utility become more and more apparent (and appreciated) with each passing day.

Conclusion

Some of you have asked me whether or not, I believe, it is worth upgrading to the Pro 3600 from one of their windshield-mount SE detectors. To this question I must offer a nuanced answer.

I say "yes," if you care to own one remote that provides GPS photo enforcement capability in one package and have a limited budget.

But I wouldn't suggest doing so, if you are merely looking for increased performance to radar as the detection performance of the Pro-3600 appears generally on par with Whistler's existing SE dashmount models.

Pro3600 Radar/Laser Receiver Head Grill Mounting

While Whistler's engineering has informed me that K-band detection has improved a little bit over the dashmount SE models (something that I occasionally noticed), the increase in sensitivity to K was generally offset by the remote's lower grill mounting location (having given up a height-advantage that the dashmount SEs enjoy).

For everyone else, I believe the Pro-3600 is a viable purchase offering a lot of value for those desiring a budget-priced fully-featured remote.

Happy and Safe Motoring!

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