For some time now, Magellan has offered a line of massive GPS navigation devices with wide 7-inch screens, the newest of which is the RoadMate 9055-LM. Who would want or need to mount what basically amounts to a tablet on the windshield? RV and large-truck drivers often find these larger units useful because the mounting point can be farther away from the driver's seating position than it is in the average passenger car.
Odds are that if a vehicle is large enough to merit a 7-inch GPS device then it's got a blind spot the size of a Toyota Yaris in its wake, which can make tricky tasks out of the simple acts of reversing out of a garage or parallel parking. This is why Magellan offers the Wireless Back-Up Camera as an upgrade to the 9055-LM.
The Wireless Back-Up Camera consists of four major components: the camera itself, a wireless transmitter, a wireless receiver, and a 12-volt power adapter. Essentially, these components work together to deliver a wide-angle view of the area directly behind the vehicle to the 9055-LM's large screen without your having to run cables all the way to the back of your recreational vehicle. (We did our testing in a little yellow hatchback, a vehicle too small to merit wireless video transmission or a gigantic screen.)
Also included in the kit are a pair of wire taps, a pair of spade connectors, a power adapter that enables the camera to be used with Magellan's RoadMate 1700 as well, and a multilingual installation guide.
Installing the camera and transmitter
The camera itself is fairly simple to install if you're familiar with basic hand tools and don't mind using a few of them on your precious ride. I did our entire installation with only a pair of Phillips screwdrivers of differing blade thicknesses and a wire crimper, but your specific vehicle may require socket wrenches or other tools to remove some of the bits that I'll be describing momentarily.
The first step of installation is mounting the camera. This is as simple as removing the top two screws that hold your rear license plate and frame in place, and then using those same screws to attach the camera assembly to the license plate and car. If your plate is attached to the car with four screws, you only have to remove the top pair, which should make positioning everything much easier. Also note that thicker license plate frames may interfere with mounting the camera, so you may have to give up that chromed-plastic, chain-link frame in the pursuit of safety. (It never did look right on the back of your minivan anyway.) Just like that, you're halfway done. Owners who park their cars on the street and want a bit more security should consider upgrading their license plate screws to a less common type, perhaps one that uses a hex key or, even better, a pin-in-hex security socket, to protect the camera from being carried off by garden-variety thieves.
Next, you'll need to connect the camera's transmitter to power. In the case of the Magellan Wireless Back-Up Camera, your car's reversing lights provide both power and notification that the vehicle is backing up, so you've only one connection (two wire taps) to make. Using your screwdriver (or socket wrench, if necessary), remove one of your vehicle's rear light clusters and locate the connection for the reverse light. Note that not all cars house their reverse lights in the main cluster: the Scion xB springs to mind, for example.
The hard part, depending on your vehicle's setup, is going to be getting the wires from the transmitter box to reach the reverse lights and then getting the camera's connections to reach the transmitter box, so take a minute (or a half hour) to figure out how you're going to run your wires before making any connections. Vehicles with bumper-mounted license plates are easier to figure out than those with their plates on the trunk or hatch, which introduces the additional complexity of moving parts, weather sealing, and longer cable-routing distances. Every model of car is different, so you're on your own in figuring this step out. Best of luck to you.
Once you have a plan, locate the supplied wire taps and lock them around the power (white) and grounded (black) cables leading into the reverse light housing. You can do this with a pair of pliers, your wire crimper, or -- and I don't recommend this -- your teeth. Next, locate the spade connectors and, using your wire crimper, attach them to the stripped end of the transmitter box's power cables. I should note that these spade connectors really are the weak link in the installation process as they're not exactly matched to the gauge of the power cables and are prone to slipping. I'd have liked to see Magellan ship the Back-Up Camera with these spade connectors precrimped (or even soldered) to the wires. You'll just have to be extra careful and crimp that connection down extra hard and possibly reinforce the connection with electrical tape.
Now connect the spade connectors to the appropriate wire taps that you placed earlier (black to black, and red to white), secure any slack in the cables, and reattach the light cluster to the vehicle. Finally, connect the transmitter box's power and video connections to the camera assembly and you're done.
Installing the receiver
The receiver is even easier to install than the camera and transmitter. Essentially, the receiver black box attaches to the back of the RoadMate 9055-LM's car cradle with a tongue-in-groove connection. The unit ships with a 12-volt power adapter that terminates with two Mini-USB connections, replacing the 9055-LM's power cable and powering both the PND (personal navigation device) and the receiver. Finally, a 3.5mm video cable connects to an input on the bottom edge of the 9055-LM. Now just power up the 9055-LM as you normally would and you're done.
If installed properly, the Magellan Wireless Back-Up Camera should require no specific interaction on the part of the driver. There are no options or settings to adjust. Putting the vehicle in reverse gear causes the reverse lights to illuminate, powering up the wireless transmitter and the camera. As soon as the receiver at the front of the vehicle senses the transmitter's activity, it interrupts the video feed of the 9055-LM PND with a view from the rear of the vehicle.
The ultrawide-angle lens has a 120-degree-wide field of view, a 100-degree vertical field, and 45 degrees of vertical adjustment. The video transmitted to the 9055-LM's 7-inch screen is a noisy 640-by-480-pixel image with a fairly low frame rate. It's not what I'd call pretty, but it's not as if you're going to be watching a feature film through it, so I'd call the video quality passable. More importantly, the Wireless Back-Up Camera offers pretty good low-light sensitivity -- I'd gladly put up with a bit of daylight noisiness to be able to see what I'm backing over at night.
Of course, the Magellan Wireless Back-Up Camera's simple nature precludes it from having some of the more advanced features that we like to see in OEM and aftermarket camera systems. There are no guidelines, distance markers, or trajectory lines. The nonlinear way that wide-angle lenses present depth can make judging distance a somewhat tricky affair if you're trying to get within a hair's width of a target. Mostly, however, what you see is what you get, and almost any view out of the back of the car is better than a massive blind spot.
The Magellan Wireless Back-Up Camera's approximately $150 price tag lands it squarely in the center of the wireless rearview camera price range. Whether that's a good value or not depends on a number of factors. For starters, many competing camera systems include a display, while the Magellan unit does not. We've only discussed using the Magellan Wireless Back-Up Camera in conjunction with the manufacturer's own RoadMate 9055-LM GPS navigator. However, the kit can technically be used with any in-car display that accepts (or can be adapted to) a 3.5mm video input, which adds a bit of flexibility.
If you already own or plan to buy the Magellan RoadMate 9055-LM or other compatible display, the Magellan Wireless Back-Up Camera is a great way to upgrade both the functionality of that display and the safety of your vehicle.