Cowon Auto Capsule AC1 review: Cowon Auto Capsule AC1

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MSRP: $199.00

The Good The Cowon Auto Capsule AC1 is simple to operate. It automatically captures a 30-second HD video clip when it detects a bump, including up to 15 seconds of video preceding the trigger.

The Bad The manual alludes to secondary features that are never explained. No Mac-friendly video playback software is included in the box.

The Bottom Line The Cowon Auto Capsule AC1 HD dashboard camera is so simple that it requires almost no interaction from the driver, but its MSRP is a bit high for its feature set.

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8.4 Overall
  • Design 10
  • Features 7
  • Performance 9
  • Image quality 6

Review Sections

The Cowon Auto Capsule AC1 itself is a pill-shaped device that measures about 4 inches long and 1.5 inches around. The device is split into two halves that work independently of each other. At one end is a round button surrounded by an LED indicator and the AC1's 2-megapixel 720p camera. A removable door on this end hides a microSD card slot and a speaker. Meanwhile, at the other end of the device is a pair of connections for a 12-volt power adapter and an analog video output.

The unit mounts to your car's dashboard or windshield with a plastic bracket that attaches via one of the two included adhesive pads. After mounting the unit, the AC1 is connected to your car's 12-volt power port with an included DC adapter. This cable is about 12 feet long, so you should have no trouble routing it around your windshield to your car's 12-volt power source. Cowon includes a trio of adhesive clips to help hold the cable in place.

Cowon Auto Capsule
The Cowon AC1's combination of glossy and matte black finishes is attractive and not distracting. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

The AC1 cannot be used without the power cable in place, but it holds enough residual charge when disconnected from power to finalize any video that it's currently recording and shut down.

When connected to power, the AC1 automatically powers on and settles into what is called real-time recording mode. In this state, the status LED surrounding the unit's only button glows blue and the device begins to maintain a video cache of its view out of your windshield. HD video is captured in a 16:9 format with a resolution of 1,280x720 pixels at a rate of 30 frames per second. The lens features a 150-degree field of view that is more than reasonably wide, keeping the entire front end of our test car (a 2013 Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec) in view. With its built in microphone, it can also record monaural audio, but don't expect the quality to be amazing.

Cowon AC1 button
The AC1 only has one button and one indicator light, which changes colors to indicate status. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Users can initiate a manual recording at any time by tapping the AC1's button, which causes the status LED to blink red. The 15 seconds of cached video preceding the button tap and the 15 seconds following will be stored on the microSD card as a 30-second AVI file.

However, the AC1's best party trick is its ability to automatically trigger video capture when its internal accelerometer detects a shock. So if you're driving along and the vehicle experiences a bump that the AC1 thinks is serious, it will automatically capture the 15 seconds of video preceding and following the event. Of course, this can lead to a number of false positives. At the end of my first test run, I found the SD card to be filled with videos capturing little more than potholes, hard starts to 0-60 runs, and aggressively tackled corners. However, I'm of the school of thought that it's better to have more footage than you need than not enough to protect yourself, so I didn't mind this.

AC1 in the car
From its perch on the windshield, the AC1 automatically captures 30-second clips of events. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

At the moment the AC1 is triggered (whether manually or automatically), the unit sounds a chime that is audible on the captured clip, making it easy to spot the moment of the event in question.