Friday, May 31, 2013

Escort Redline Review: Expert Software Makes this Detector a Wolf in Wolf's Clothing

Escort Redline Review: Expert Software Makes this Detector a Wolf in Wolf's Clothing

Escort Redline with Expert Progamming Features
Updated: 31 May 13, By Veil Guy

Hello and best wishes my fellow driving enthusiasts!  Pardon my extended absence (with my radar detector reviews) from the web.  I have been consumed for the last several years designing and building one of the most energy efficient homes in the world and most of my writing has been directed towards documenting its construction for educational purposes.  Now that this project is essentially behind us I now have more time to resume my role in writing detector reviews and discussing topics important to us driving enthusiasts.

And, I believe, the timing couldn't have been better given Escort's release of a revised Escort Redline radar detector, their top-of-the-line windshield mount.  What makes this a significant release is the incorporation of some new firmware (software)--dubbed as expert software.  What does 'expert' mean? For that answer we have to look at another product introduced nearly four years ago from Beltronics, called the Beltronics STi-R remote

The STi-R was the first ever radar detector offered with Ka-band segmentation.  Unlike other radar bands, X and K, Ka band encompasses a broad spectrum.  Conventional radar detectors have to continually "sweep" the entire range of Ka frequencies (ie; listen for police radar like a scanner does). However being so wide, sweeping the band takes time and it also introduces opportunities for false alerting from other radar detectors and transmitting sources that may be detected across the many frequencies encompassed in the entire Ka-band frequency range.

Some brief history and context

Despite the "wideness" of Ka, only three specific frequencies are currently used in the U.S. by police radar--33.8Ghz, 34.7Ghz, and 35.5Ghz.  Many years ago, Craig Peterson (of RadarTest) suggested to Escort and BEL (now known as Beltronics) to focus its sweep patterns on those three bands instead of the entire Ka-band to reduce falsing.  That was sage advice, indeed.  As a consequence, BEL began introducing radar detectors (Pro RX-65) that had two modes of Ka operation--USA and international.  The standard mode, USA mode, of Ka detection narrowed Ka sweeping coverage and the international mode allowed for extended sweeping in international markets where different frequencies were used.  Escort models did not have this feature as BEL was geared more for the international marketplace.

Fast forward to the Beltronics STi-R (later becoming the STi-R Plus), their high-end remote, Beltronics incorporated a feature called "Ka band-segmentation."   This took the two different Ka detection operations to a whole new plateau as I was the first to discover and write about the alert performance increase when Ka-band segmentation was activated.  When the Beltronics STi-R (and the STi-R Plus) are configured to run with Ka-band segmentation it is like running a radar detector on steroids.  The potential performance increases were staggering.  I have always suspected that this has to do with improved quickness in detection, instead of true detection range improvement.  Either way, though, it provides the driver with an appearance of increased sensitivity and ultimately that is all that matters.

There were some who doubted my conclusions that the features introduced to reduce falsing, also increased its detection range.  However, other users eventually began confirming my observations and began lobbying Escort to incorporate this decidedly Beltronics feature into Escort's products, such as the Redline and Passport 9500ci (Escort's high-end remote installed radar detector).

I am happy to say that Escort has listened and given the high-end performance driving community what they had been asking for.  The Redline now includes the same feature-set of the high-end Beltronics remote installed radar detector

First addition of the Redline.

When I first received an early pre-production and subsequent production models for my Escort Redline review, I was certainly impressed with their sheer detection capabilities.  At the time there was no doubt that Escort had created the most sensitive radar detector to date.  However, truth be told, I wasn't completely enamored with it.  To my way of thinking the Redline lacked refinement.  I found that, while sensitive, it felt slow in its responsiveness.  I also had difficulty in distinguishing between instant-on (IO) and steady-state (CO) forms of police radar.  And what was even more concerning was that the signal ramp-up was choppy and non-linear (and for some time, this attribute made its way to other detectors as well).  In total, these characteristics detracted from what was otherwise an incredibly sensitive piece of equipment.

While my honest and candid feedback may not have been welcomed by some, I believe my observations were spot on and were only intended to improve the model.

Well, enough with the history of the Redline, let's get to the present (and hopefully the future)!

Thanks to Tom of Best Radar Detectors, I've been able to get a close and extended look at the newly revised Redline and I am so very pleased that I have.  In short, all of the "issues" I felt plagued the earlier models have been excised, resolved, or flat-out improved.

Quite simply, I believe this to be the very best windshield mount radar detector yet produced, not just because of its no-holds-barred sensitivity to all radar bands of X, K, and Ka or its ability to hide from RDDs (radar detector detectors) or even its ability to detect new police laser guns, but because of its refinement, balance, and unique capabilities enabled through the use of band-segmentation and its accompanying rejection filtering mode.

This detector does two seemingly incompatible things--it provides extreme range but doesn't punish you with excessive falsing like other radar detectors (think an older Valentine One) may.  That's not to say that doesn't false at all.  But it is far more liveable than others.  Escort's engineering team, I believe, has accomplished an extremely difficult (damn-near impossible) balancing act.

Over the course of the Memorial Day weekend I put this new Redline through it paces.  During the unofficial commencement of summer (when patrols are at their highest), I encountered X, K, and Ka radar. The  Delaware River Port Authority has recently started using (relatively uncommon) 33.8Ghz Ka police radar and this Redline absolutely crushed it.  But the Redline's range was equally impressive with 34.7 Ka as well as X and K bands.

Beyond raw sensitivity, there is refinement.  The signal ramp is silky smooth (as Escorts from the past), predictable, and very usable allowing me to effectively gauge the severity of the approaching threats.

Dealing with the noise

Unfortunately, we are seeing an increased used of radar based lane departure, crash avoidance, and adaptive cruise control systems based upon K-band radar.  Those from Audi (and BMW) are especially bothersome.  The transponders used basically are frequency modulated continuous waveform (FMCW) radar operating within the K-band 24.15Ghz frequency.

Without getting into to much technical detail, these devices can often set off radar detectors and generally the alerts feel like you are being blasted with instant-on (IO) police radar.  Despite their approval for use by the FCC, these things present, what I believe, a real road hazard to all drivers. Imagine overtaking an Audi, BMW, Volkswagen, or any other vehicle with these devices installed and your radar detector goes off at full intensity.  The potential for creating rear-end collisions to those following you (if you happen to slam on your brakes in response) I believe is there, totally defeating the safety benefits these things are promoted to provide and potentially making the roads more dangerous. Years ago I attempted to get this message to the manufacturers and, obviously, there was little concern of the unintended consequences of using these things.

Fortunately, for all of us, Escort provides their TSR (traffic sensor rejection) filter which I found not only effectively filters our K-band alerts from the road-side traffic flow sensors, but also effectively filters out spurious alerts from these Hella-based radar transponders.  What is even better is that Escort has shortened the delay in qualifying alerts to around 0.8 seconds, enough to be above the traffic sensor transmission durations, but below enough to still catch I/O or (the rare quick-trigger).  Originally TSR delayed alerts by more than a second, which was a bit too long for my tastes.   Now that is has been finely tuned, my inclination is to leave TSR on.  It appears to do a very effective job at filtering out a lot of junk noise.

Conclusion

The Redline feels like a Beltronics STi-R.  Which is an awesome thing, to be sure.  When positioned high up on the windshield, it is not uncommon to find the Redline out alerting (if even by a little bit) the remotes that I have installed on my bumper--the increased elevation, especially when in traffic, certainly can help its performance with its improved vantage point.

While this detector is not inexpensive, given the rising costs of tickets (the last one I received was in excess of $600!), driving enthusiasts would be well advised to consider owning one.

For those of us who remain steadfast Beltronics fans (I being one of them), I think it is safe to say that we should be expecting, at some point, to see these expert features on future models of the Beltronics STi Magnum as well (and possibly other models).

Those interested in having their Redline models updated, Escort is providing an update service free and charging merely $14 to cover shipping and handling or, for those willing to wait a bit, the update can be performed with the Escort Live hardware and app.

In conclusion, what Escort has done is essentially put the full power of their high-end remotes into the palm of your hands.  The remotes continue to have their place for those interested in clean/hidden installs, GPS redlight photo enforcement protection, and laser shifting capability--in an all-inclusive-package (these additional capabilities can be optionally added to the Redline).  But for those interested in obtaining the very best of the best in windshield mount radar detectors, one need not look further. This new detector, like its sibling remotes, stands head-and-shoulders above all others in the radar detector food-chain.
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