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Jack & Danielle Mayer
Rear View Camera and Monitor
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6.8" Monitor
monitor.jpg
The monitor is positioned so the Jake Brake switch is easily reached

In my opinion, a big negative of everyday use of our Volvo 610 (or any sleeper) is restricted rear vision - especially in parking lots. Yes, you get used to using the mirrors and getting out and looking, etc. But stuff that is close is still in danger, no matter how careful you are. I find having a rear vision system convenient. As of 7/2005 we have three cameras on our tractor. One on the back of the cab, one on the right mirror bar, and one directly behind the hitch.


The Cameras

 

I wanted a cheap system, but still effective. This meant assembling the pieces myself. The pre-packaged systems are great, but run upwards of $800 (as of 4/2004 you can find nice systems on Ebay for as little as $350). After researching it, I decided to buy a good monitor and a cheap camera. I thought this would suffice for my needs and it has turned out OK. I used an X10 Anaconda color wired camera as the primary camera on the back of the cab. Using a wireless camera is iffy, according to the people that have tried it - some work out - some don't. And since you have to supply 12-volt power to the camera you are running wires anyway. This X10 camera has 60-degree field of view. This is the minimum you need. I can see three lanes behind the tractor - one on each side of my lane. More field of view would be better, but this camera only cost $49 - which met my price goal. The image quality is acceptable for rear viewing of cars and other stuff, but marginal for hooking up. The issue is partly a function of the size of the monitor, in combination with the size of the lens on the camera, and the distance of the camera from the hitch - the hitch is a pretty small object as it appears on the monitor. I put white alignment stripes on my hitch plate and hitch head and this allows me to get real close to perfect alignment. A better quality camera would improve hookup tremendously, as would mounting the camera lower on the truck cab. The disadvantage of mounting the camera lower (say on the lowest grab bar) is that it is more difficult to route the wires invisibly. Everything is a tradeoff. The position I chose gives me good rear vision but is not optimal for hookup, but we pretty much do the hookup without the camera anyway.

 

To make hookup super-simple you could mount the camera on a stalk right behind the hitch. Several people who hookup without assistance have done this, and it works well. This does minimize your rear view, though. To solve this "quandry" we recently installed a third camera dedicated to hooking up. It is directly behind the hitch plate itself. This camera is a "Sams Club" $39 color camera with IR capability. The image quality is about the same as the X-10's, as is the field of view. The real difference is that the Sam's camera is not weather resistant, so you have to build some sort of enclosure to protect it. I used PVC pipe.

 

My primary camera is mounted below the rear (little) window, resting on the horizontal rain gutter. The wire is run within the gutter, and down the gutter line along the vertical airfoil, then under the truck. It is not very noticeable, being nestled into the gutter line of the vertical foil, but you might want to paint the wire the color of your truck. The camera and wire is held onto the truck with white adhesive door/window caulk (good thing we have a white truck - if you have a colored truck, you might want to consider black caulk). It holds it fine. The camera comes with 60' of wire - more than enough. Everything (power/data) runs through one wire set, so hookup is simple. Check the X10 site for details - www.x10.com.

 

This camera is intended for use with home automation and security systems, so it uses 120-volt power reduced to 12 volts by an integral power brick. Just cut the brick off and wire the camera directly to an ignition-switched 12-volt power source in your fuse block. The camera uses minimal power, so don't worry about overloading whichever circuit you tap. I just found an unused fuse block that was ignition-switched and plugged in there. Make sure you maintain polarity - the white-striped wire is the positive feed. My ground is supplied from the back of the CB Radio power supply. The X10 wire code and pinouts is in a diagram at the bottom of this page. After using the camera for a year, I added a sun hood to it (the white cover in the picture, below). The camera would occasionally blank out, due to direct sun on the LCD. I used some PVC pipe and cut it to an appropriate size. It is held on with adhesive caulk.

 

The Monitor


I used a Mobile Authority M681 6.8" color monitor. This has reverse image and flip screen (horizontal/vertical). Also, a credit-card size remote control that allows direct access to the major functions. The quality and brightness (300 cd/m) is fine for application with the X10. Hooked to my sat system the image is much better...the camera is the limiting factor in this setup. However, I would not buy a monitor with less than 300 cd/m - monitors with up to 500 cd/m are available, but are significantly more expensive. The monitor also supports two video sources so you could attach a second camera and easily flip between them with the remote. There is a reverse-sense wire that would allow you to detect when reverse is engaged and flip to the video feed with the reverse camera automatically.  I did not use this. The monitor comes with a stand that is easy to mount on the verical flat panel on the right portion of the drivers dash area. (the vertical fuse cover). This is the only area I found that allowed unrestricted view of the fender spot mirror by both my wife and myself. She is so much shorter than I am that mounting the monitor on the dash interfered with her view of the spot mirror. I thought of integrating the monitor into the door of the overhead storage bin above the driver, but it was too awkward to view there.

Total cost was - $49 camera, $196 for monitor (off of Ebay, including shipping/insurance). There were no extra costs, since the stand that came with the monitor was sufficient.

 

Future Additions

 

There is a blind region around 4-o'clock on the truck, because there are no windows on the passenger side of the sleeper. This makes it exciting to pull out of any intersection that Y's to your right. I do not have a powered passenger mirror, which would help minimize this problem. Because the monitor supports two video feeds I'm thinking about mounting a second camera on the passenger-side vertical foil angled out to the right of the truck. This would help with blind-side back-in campsites as well. Adding the second camera for $49 is a lot cheaper, and probably a superior solution, to adding a powered right mirror.

 

Update: after almost 2 years of living with limited vision to the dead area at 4 o'clock I installed a second camera. Joe Johnson gave me a "spare" X10 B&W camera (thanks Joe) and I mounted it on the mirror arm with "tacky-tack" (used to mount things in the RV). I'm a little concerned with impact from closing the door affecting the camera over the long-term. We will have to wait and see. It works great when you need it,  especially for blind-side backing - no more guessing where you are when backing the trailer into those "backwards" campsites! Of course, if you have a powered mirror you can pretty much circumvent this problem that way.

 

I will probably paint the camera on the back of the cab white at some time - it will blend with the truck better this way.

 

So far, glare on the monitor has not been a problem, but shrouds are available that will help keep glare from the screen, or you can easily make your own. If this proves useful, I may add a shroud in the future. Positioning the monitor up on the dash would make it more subject to glare, and I think a shroud would be necessary. [Note: after using it without a shroud for over two years I've realized a shroud is not necessary.]

 

Managing Multiple Cameras

 

If you have a monitor that supports multiple video inputs then managing multiple cameras is not a problem, unless you want to have more than two cameras - the typical number of video sources monitors support. Since we now have three cameras I thought I would put in a switched system to feed the monitor, and circumvent the selector in the monitor itself.  

 

If you use X10 cameras, they only power up when they are "selected" by the base module. They take a little time to warm up, so ideally you want them all powered up and ready to use. The easiest way to do this is with a "selector box", which you will build yourself.

 

In order to do this you need to know the pin-outs on the cameras RJ-45 connector. The X-10 pinouts, left-to-right, as viewed from the end of the connector, with the tab on top is: 1 - ground, 2- video (yellow wire), 3 - ground, 4 - 12 volt (red wire), 5 - ground, 6 - audio (white wire) - see the diagram at the end of this page.

 

I built my selector box from a medium size plastic project box obtainable at Radio Shack. I used a 6-position rotary switch, also from Radio Shack. This switch requires you to solder the feed lines on, but it is a fairly simple process. To feed the camera outputs from the back of the truck to the dash I used category 5e ethernet cable with connectors already on - 25' was more than enough. I ran this from the truck electrical panel mounted in the drivers compartment to the dash. Camera power is supplied by an ignition signal sent down the cat 5 cable on one of the lines from the fuse box at the dash to a relay. The relay controls power to the camera bank at the rear. The relay is used to simplify the wiring run from the cab - everything goes across the very light gauge cat5 cable. All cameras are "hot" when the ignition is on. This allows instant switching between cameras with no warmup time.

 

At the project box on the dash the cat5 cable terminates in an RJ-45 jack mounted in the box. Within the project box the various camera inputs run to the appropriate switch position. A single output from the switch feeds the monitor. This way, the switch allows you to flip between camera views, while maintaining power on all cameras. It sounds complicated, but is really quite simple.  It is best if you solder the connectors onto the rotary switch.

 

At the driver compartment electrical center, where the rear camera inputs are centralized, I built a video jack board to plug the cameras into. The excess camera cable is tied to the frame under the truck.  You could easily cut this excess cable off, and just patch the raw wire ends to the cat5 cable. I used the plugboard to make changes easy. To interface to the cat5 cable I cut the plug off and used a terminal strip to terminate all the ends. The plugboard is wired directly to the terminal strip. This way I can move things around easily. You certainly would not have to do this complex of termination...you could simply wire-nut the appropriate camera ends to the cat5 cable.

 

Camera Mounted on Truck. Note sun hood.
backupcam.jpg
Mounting on the lower grab bar might be an improvement, but it would be harder to route wires.

The camera is tiny - fits well
mirrorbackcam.jpg
Tacky-tack seems to hold it on the arm OK

For X 10 cameras here is the wire breakout
x10_modularplug.gif