Audi RS7: Rubber-burning tech toy (CNET On Cars, Episode 23)Secrets of the black box, CNET's favorite car cameras, Top 5 car navigation features, and the civilized, sizzling Audi RS7.
-We show you our favorite tools for shooting cars. Meet the car that will never allow you to drive drunk, meet the stool pigeon under your hood, and see five things you want in your car's nav rig. Time to check the tech. We see cars differently. We love them on the road and under the hood, but also check the tech and are known for telling it like it is. The good, the bad, the bottom line. This is CNET on Cars. Hello, everybody. I'm Brian Cooley and welcome to CNET on Cars, the show all about high-tech cars and modern driving. And normally, here at the top of the show is where we take you to our featured car, but this time, we're doing things a little differently responding to a slew of e-mails from you asking us to go around the other side of the lens and show you the gear and the techniques we use to shoot cars. So, here you go, all of our secrets. How we shoot them? Now, top of the stack is this old war horse, the Panasonic HDX900, the 900. This is a pro-camera. It's a pro news camera, technically speaking, and pro means expensive. The body of the camera, the camcorder part, is about $30,000. Lenses, like this Fujinon zoom lens, can push $30,000 pretty easily. That doesn't include battery pack, wireless audio receiver. You got your choices of viewfinders. This is the real deal. Those pro viewfinders, by the way, are almost always black and white because the pros know that critical focus is easier to eyeball without color. Now, as I mentioned, this guy is a camcorder. So, it's got a tape that go over here. You can run a DVCPRO HD tape in there. We only use that for backup. Instead, for primary, we have what's called the Samurai these days that mounts on top of the camera and that's got a built-in hard drive for full-res capture and also a touchscreen for control of recording as well as being a built-in preview and playback monitor. You really can't say too much about this camera. It has a beautiful image. However, with its roots as a news camera, an ENG camera, it's not given to those shallow depth-of-field effects everybody likes and it's a handful to lug around. This is why Charlie's vertebrae all make noise when he moves these days. He's been lugging this in cars for a long time. Oh, and when you're out using one of these, someone always seems to ask you if you have a permit. Now, next down the stack is this guy, the Panasonic HVX200. This is our favorite run-and-gun camera. You can see it's a lot more compact and it's way cheaper than the 900. This guy costs several-thousand dollars, a fraction of the price of the big boy. Notice a few differentiating features from the 900, though. This zoom lens is fixed to the camera. It's permanently mounted. You can't change it out. As a result, we often use this giant, pro-quality, wide-angle adapter that screws onto the front of the lens like so, but it weighs almost as much as the camera itself. But with this adapter on there, this guy is really wide and a wide lens is also very stable. So, this is a great lens for shooting those interiors of the cars you've often seen or just running around without a tripod grabbing details on the outside of the car 'cause wide angles take out shake. Now, on the back of the camera, you'll see one of the key features. These are P2 memory cards we record to. They're kind of like a very expensive version of an SD card, but these allow you to get the video on here in really high res and then transfer it quickly to your edit machine without having to didge in a tape which this does record too. We just never use it. And lastly, like the 900, this guy's sensor design lends it to getting everything in focus or a lot of the field in focus. It doesn't really like to do short shallow depth of field. Now, of course, everyone's in love with the shallow depth-of-field look these days and two cameras we use that nail that are the Sony FS100, this kind of odd box-looking body here, and of course, the Canon DSLR 5D Mark III is the one everyone's in love with. What's interesting about these cameras is they have sensors that allow you to use lens and sensor combos that give you very shallow depth of field or shallow depth of focus if that's the look you're trying to achieve and just about everybody is these days. You can also use a wide variety of pretty affordable lenses, both zoom lenses that are basically still lenses as well as prime lenses like this one. It's actually a cine lens and prime lenses are interesting because they're very fast. They gather light really well because they're very simple and that lets you use aperture more creatively to handle focus and composition and not just exposure. Look at this same shot done with our 900 and the DSLR. Because we can do such tight selective focus, we can really call your attention to one part of a busy scene with the DSLR. On the other hand, working with shallow focus can be very picky especially for something that moves like a car and you need to use the look sparingly since everybody is doing it and overdoing it. Next up is the action camera. This might be the biggest accessible revolution in HD video in the last couple of years and we, of course, use a slew of them. And the best known of them all, probably 'cause they throw money at marketing, is GoPro. They have several models of these right now. They're all kind of in this cube shape and these are great cameras. They have an amazing array of video settings and types they can capture, and generally, really good image quality. The thing I don't like about them is the ergonomics. You gotta work with this clear case to get a tripod mount, which isn't the only camera like that, but once you get it in there and start to fiddle with these buttons on the top and the bottom, I find it's a real pain to access the one you want and this included mount always swivels in every way except the way you need it to which brings me to the Contour camera. I like the simplicity of these guys, more of a bullet shape and a square-cube in the air, simple big ole switch here that tells it to start rolling or to stop. And the other cool feature about this guy is it's got a rotating objective on the front. You can rotate this almost all the way around the compass. So, no matter which way the camera is pointing, the lens can be lined up the way you want it without worrying about critical alignment of the body of the camera. Now, couple that with a nice PanaVise mount with a ball joint on the top and you've got unlimited flexibility on top of unlimited flexibility. Thus, as long as you get this thing stuck somewhere, the camera is gonna follow and eventually get lined up the way you want it, either through the objective lens or moving the body around. This is really convenient for a fast setup. Now, new on the scene and I'm really big on these are Sony's AS10 and AS15. These cameras are noted for really good optics. They've got that typical Sony Zeiss lens. The 10 is the basic model. The 15 here has this Wi-Fi ability which I find is a waste of money. It's cumbersome to deal with and it doesn't really get you very far, but if you wanna be able to frame this thing up and start and stop it from your smartphone, you have that option. I'd pass on that. Get the AS10 instead. By the way, both of these have really good image stabilization which is important with a camera like this that's gonna be on a car getting lots of vibration. Instead of getting the Wi-Fi model, spend your bucks on this optional LCD case for either model and when you dock that guy in there, you've now got the option of a traditional framing LCD that you can also turn around to face yourself and it also gives you a tripod mount which the camera itself does not have on it, kind of like a GoPro. Action cameras can get the shot easily from places you could never mount a camera before. They all run real wide. So, vibration is minimized as well as the need for critical composition. On the downside, they often shoot at fisheye angles which can kill detail and composition. And here's an odd little camera I use from time to time. It can be a lifesaver. It's a Samsung DV300. What's interesting about it is it's got a front-facing framing monitor. See that one right there? It's actually in the panel of the camera. That's great when you're using it and you have to frame yourself up in the car. -Take two on the driving rear, all the way through. -You can actually see what you're pointing at, which is tricky on this one because you typically use it zoomed a little bit. That's its advantage over the typical action camera. So, when it's zoomed, you've gotta make sure it's pointing the right way and that little monitor helps you. Plus having that zoom lens means you can use it for detail work. If you see a shot of a gauge or an instrument doing something while the car is driving, you couldn't get that with a Contour or a GoPro, it's too wide. A camera like this can nail it. On the other hand, when it's zoomed in, you've gotta manage vibration 'cause it gets real shaky. Now, by the way, regardless what the manufacturers will tell you, all those action cameras sound like hell. They have lousy built-in mics. You can connect an external mic. That's really cumbersome with what is supposed to be a very easy to use stick-and-go camera. So, when I'm using an action camera, I always capture sync audio on a portable recorder. I like this one a lot. This is the TASCAM DR-08. I've tried a lot of these. This one is my favorite partly because it has two articulated and very good quality microphones here on the top. Now, of course, these mics need to be covered with these little windscreens almost every situation where they pick up a lot of wind noise in a moving car, but they work really well. Also, I like to use a little foam boot like this whenever I'm mounting it on the car whether it's taped or up in the windshield visor, which I do a lot, that isolates the body from vibration which would be picked up by the mics. And in those cases where we have a car with a great sounding exhaust and we wanna record that sound, we use the unfortunately named Dead Kitten which slides over the top here. It's a small version of what's been known in the business forever as a dead cat and this fluffy thing blocks wind noise outside the car amazingly well. You will pick up exhaust sound well and almost no wind. If you've seen the time lapse we ran during the credits on CNET on Cars, that's done with the Brinno 200 Time Lapse camera. It has an articulated lens that makes it easy to frame and it seems to run forever on four AAs. I don't think I have ever replaced them. Coupled with a magnetic GorillaPod, you can make this thing fly on the wall almost anywhere. So, there you go, a look at the tools we've learned to love in almost a decade of shooting cars here at CNET and it matters less than you would think if your camera costs 200 bucks or 60 grand. If it gets the shot you need to tell the story and the video quality is good enough to not call attention to the camera you use, you're in pretty good shape. -All right. -All right, good deal. Excellent. Oh, by the way, our current project is to mount a motorized pan tilt [unk] head off a telescope onto our Chase vehicle. Anything for a new angle. A little later, we're talking about data recording in your car, which brings up the hot button topic of alcohol monitoring, both of interest to the smarter driver. We're at San Francisco Auto Repair Center where they are one of the few licensed installers and maintainers of the current state of the art of alcohol detection interlocks. Okay, here's today's technology. Here is the SmartStart System installed in this vehicle and this is sort of the handset of a head unit with a display and a place where you blow in. It connects through this big ole coily cord to a logger box, a brain box basically, which is up onto the dash. Here's how it works. I'd turn the key to on 'cause I wanna go drive somewhere. Of course, this system has to okay that and you just see it initializes for a moment. It's analyzing me now and I've got a pass. I'm okay to drive. Now, I can start the car. It gives you two minutes and counts down for you to do that. Okay. I had to blow and then when it gave me a tone signal, I had to make a humming sound while still blowing. Now, why is that? So that you haven't hooked up a balloon or a tank of air to this thing, you gotta do something that basically only a human can do. But I'm not done. As I drive, it's gonna keep prompting me for random retest. Now, a few of us are ever gonna have one of these installed in our cars, but there is a vision in the future of having alcohol detection in every vehicle from new. It's part of something called DADSS, the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety, partly backed by the Federal Government. Now, for alcohol detection to be in every car and be acceptable to the car-buying public, it has to meet three criteria as I see it. First of all, it's gotta be nearly imperceptible. Most of us would never do this every time we drive, no matter what the safety benefits for society. Second of all, it's got to work quickly. This is a bit of a timely process. And third, it has to be foolproof, but it also has to have a little leeway for real world living. One envision technology is a touchpad on the steering wheel perhaps that shines infrared light on the surface of your skin to show blood alcohol concentration in your body. Another technology is breath-based, but not with the device you blow into. Rather, the car would automatically sample the area around the driver in the car testing for exhaled indicators of alcohol impairment. Now, those two technologies as amazing as they seem are actually being demonstrated right now in the labs. They are real. The bigger hurdles come in three other areas. First, preventing the passenger or another person from sitting in for a drunk driver to start the car, facial recognition tech could help there. Second, calibrating whatever technology is used to allow someone with, let's say, a 0.07 to drive, but not someone with a 0.08. That is giving tacit consent to drive after some degree of drinking, quite different from the sort of don't drink and drive mantra that we operate under today. And third, another issue will be the confluence of what DADSS Technologies learns and the automative black boxes that are soon to be required in every car under Federal regulation. Will the readings from the alcohol testing system be stored in the black box? And if so, for how long and who can see that? Our partners at State Farm are encouraged about what could be a potential breakthrough in drunk-driving technology by something like DADSS whatever technology is used and they point to a frustrating number that makes it worth pursuing, some 10,000 people every year dying in drunk-driving accidents in the U.S. That number has been coming down, but not much below that level. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety thinks 7,000 of those deaths could be prevented by a technology like DADSS once it propagates in the markets. The black box in your car and the black little secrets it knows when CNET on Cars continues. Welcome back to CNET on Cars, I'm Brian Cooley. Coming to you from our home here at the Marine Clubhouse, just north of the Golden Gate. Now, you've heard about black box data recorders in cars, right? They're in many cars today. They may soon be required in every car. So, how they work and what they can tell the world about how you drive? That's an interesting car tech 101. Now, the first disappointment is this silver box is a black box. There really aren't any black boxes. It's kind of like in airliners. And what this really is, is the airbag controller from a 2003 Camry. You see, airbags can only work if they know what's been happening to the vehicle so they can predict if they need to blow the bags in the next few milliseconds. This becomes a data recorder for that purpose and a data processor, hence, its existence. Now, here is the business end of it. Do you see all of those connectors in there? A couple dozen, maybe three-dozen metal connectors. This is where the sensors are wired in from all over the car that this thing is monitoring and recording. And those sensors can include a lot of different things including G forces interacting on the car; the accelerator and brake pedal position; steering wheel angle, what way were you pointed; wheel rotation and vehicle speed, kind of the same thing but not always depending on the traction situation; and whether the seat belts were buckled and even if you had someone in the passenger's seat. There's a lot of information coming in here. Now, what's not coming in, as far as I know, none of these devices yet record GPS coordinates or cellphone status, were you on the phone texting, what have you, but probably it's a matter of time. Oh, by the way, in addition to these sensors and many more, Mercedes cars even capture the position of the sunroof. Because of an imminent rollover, they close the windows and the sunroof. Thanks to the computations of their black box. Now, what's inside the black box? It's basically one circuit board that has got several processors, but what's key about all these processors is they also have storage attached to them and that's where this thing can record some degree of look back of all those sensors we talked about. It could be a few seconds up to as much as 30 seconds, I understand. Now, about 96% of all new cars sold in the U.S. have a black box right now, but the U.S. government is on the verge of requiring every car have one going forward which brings up four interesting questions. First of all, what data points will be required? They wanna conform that to every carmakers gathering the same stuff. How long of a snapshot is going to be held of those data points? What kind of technology, software or hardware, is needed to read what's in here? There's no USB port, believe me. And most importantly, who has the right to that data and when and under what conditions? Now, at the state level in the U.S., about 13 states have laws that specifically govern who can get the information off these memory chips on a black box in your car after an accident. It's a very contentious issue. Another 12 states or so aren't considering laws. The rest are, if you will, a black box. The ownership of this thing is interesting. It's in your car, so it belongs to you, but the rules of investigation under criminal code will often trump that. And then, what if your car is totalled? It just got blocked from you by your insurance company. Now, it's their black box. Now, I know what you're gonna ask. How do I read the black box data in my car? So far, it's a very arcane process and the readers can be really pricey? If the Feds mandate these things, look for the data to get conformed in a very regularized way across all cars, and then, there might be a market for a more affordable easy to use black box code reader. We'll let you know when all that happens. Now, a car that would throw off some really interesting acceleration and G force data would be the Audi RS7, the new hottest version of their really well-selling four-door-hatch-coupe thing. And the boy is out at the XCar team in the U.K. Got the early drop on this hottest version of Audi's four-door-coupe-hatch. -In 2009, Audi released the Sportback Concept. It was a four-door-coupe kin to the Mercedes CLS, albeit with Audi's typical design flair. It previewed two cars, the A5 Sportback which is a more practical take on the A4 derived A5 coupe and the A7 Sportback, a more stylish take on the A6. It's the kind of car you go for if you want a halfway house with practicality between a saloon and estate, the one style neither can provide. -The A7 is a fine-looking car, and since its 2010 launch, Audi is so fit to inject some spice into the mix. In 2012, a 414-brake horsepower, 4-liter twin-turbo V8 S7 was launched. It's very brisk, but not brisk enough for Audi because it's just really this, the indecently powerful RennSport 7. Its shares its engine with the S7, but the wick has been turned up somewhat. It's got a dizzying 553-brake horsepower and is beyond silly. That number may seem familiar to you because this car shares an engine with the RS6 which means it can hit 62 in just 3.9 seconds and if you take the right options box, you can hit 189 miles an hour. Big, big speed. It's also worth noting that the engine in here is where it's being shared with the RS6 is also shared with the V8 Bentley Continental GT which means it sounds pretty than awesome. You know what? The RS7 is a massively confidence-inspiring car and I say that because of the quattro/four-wheel drive system. It means you do have that extra safety net. Each wheel has 140-brake horsepower to deal with, but that can be shuffled around. Thanks to Audi's really smart torque-vectoring system. So, the power is where you need it, when you need it, which means you can go into a corner quite hot and you can go in a little bit too hot, the car will sort you out. Now, this is obviously the first RS7, but this is the first time that there have been so many RSs available. You can have the RS3, which is the old shape. You can have the RS4, the TTRS; the RS5 and all of its many guises; the RS6; and now, the RS7. This thing released in 2013. It actually makes this almost something of a milestone car. You see 2013 is the 30th anniversary of quattro and that's an Audi thing. You will only ever find a RS car with a Quattro system on it because Audi firmly believes that it will make it the most capable vehicle available and I can't help but agree. As far as lineage goes, this thing has a pretty awesome grandfather. It was the original Audi Quattro, the one-- the beasty Group B, the one that was a king of the road, and the lineup just has stunning powerful cars all the way along it. There hasn't really been a properly duff one ever. The RS7 is a type of car you look at. When you see other cars and its performance and price set, you'll think, no. It doesn't have the mentalness of an AMG nor the driving precision of an M car. What it does have, though, something Audi does wonderfully -- easy speed. You put your foot down and off you go to the horizon as many times as you see fit in perfect comfort. It also offers that halfway house between a saloon and estate, so you get practicality as well. In short, the RS7, yes, please. -Coming up, buying a new car? Wait until you see my list of top five features you want in its navigation system when CNET on Cars rolls on. Think this is an early car phone hardly. This is an early car phone. In 1946, rigs like this Western Electric trunk full began operating in about 13 cities around the U.S. They looked like phones, but were actually two-way radios patched into the landline phone network. Only a few dozen people in a given city could be on a call at once. I recall using these into the early '80s and constantly having to wait for an open frequency. Today, you can still get mounted car phones, the Motorola M800 and M900, for example, also available as luggables. But why have a phone mounted in your car? Simply put range with their fixed external antennas. The FCC lets them put out at least three times the power of any smartphone. In my line of work, I see a lot of navigation systems. So, as you might imagine, I've got a short list, just a handful of features I look for right off the bat to see if one is any good makes for a great top five. Okay, number five is traffic. This is actually a triple header. Your system should have traffic, duh, automatically reroute you around traffic problems when you're under guidance, and third, even alert you to major traffic ahead when you're not under guidance. I'm actually less concerned with the traffic data source because they all seem pretty good these days. Number four, is it fast? Some in-car nav systems move like there's a little man inside reading a map. A little menu on this triangle. Look for a lightning fast operation to reduce distraction and your frustration. This will hinge on both things like touchscreen response as well as internal processor. Number three, natural voice. The best nav systems today let you dictate an address by voice as one string like being able to say, "235 Second Street, San Francisco." Instead of separate tedious operations like 235, then Second Street, then push the button again and say San Francisco like you're talking to a moron. Number two, does it work while it's moving? We'd all like to think drivers are conscientious enough to pull over to enter a destination. We all know they're not gonna do that. They're gonna reach for their smartphone if they have to which is even worse. Rolling destination entry also acknowledges that your passenger could be the one entering the address while underway, and of course, this also ties back to good voice command. Before we get to our number one car nav feature, here are a few I can't live without. 3D buildings, I'm not a bird, rooftops mean nothing to me. Photo realism, I like street view, but satellite view slows down the current systems more than it's worth. And most points of interest, they usually have no context to rating. I'm not gonna pick a restaurant from my car. The exception here is for gas stations and ATMs because they're generic. My number one favorite in-car navigation feature is connectivity. A connective car navigation system, especially powered by Google, fundamentally transforms it into that same-grade experience you have online, not that weird stilted one you have in most cars. Now, a few cars offer this today. More will do so every model year. Demand it. Hope you enjoy the show. Judging by the e-mail we've been getting, you have been. Thank you very much for that. Don't forget you can find our feed links at cnetoncars.com along with all the back episodes and a few notes I had about what went on in the background every time we pulled an episode together. Look forward to seeing you the next time we check the tech.