4K dash cams, or Ultra High Density (UHD) dash cams, are the latest hype right now. And yes, they can produce outstanding video footage, especially when recording during the day time. But 4K dash cams are still a relatively new technology, and there are some drawbacks you may want to consider before you decide what to buy.
We’ll start by showing you three great dash cams that record good video at true 4K resolution.
Next, as an intermezzo of sorts, we’ll have quick a look at the pros and cons of 4k technology in dash cams, and why it can still be tricky to implement in car cameras. We’ll also throw in some alternatives that cost less money and still produce high quality video.
Then, we’ll present dash cams that are true 4k, but we recommend you stay away from anyway. And finally, we want you to be aware that many cheaper dash cams labelled “4K” are actually fakes, and can’t record 4K resolution at all! We’ll show you the fake 4K dash cams that we’re aware of at the end of this article.
The Three Best 4K Dash Cams In 2020
So far, we’ve only seen three true 4K dashboard cameras that we’re recommending right now. One of them is the well-known BlackVue DR900S, which has been around for over a year already. The other two are brand new: Thinkware’s cutting-edge U1000, and Viofo’s somewhat more budget-friendly A129 Pro.
Here’s a table to give you an idea how they compare in terms of prices and video quality:
|Model||Thinkware U1000||Viofo A129 Pro||BlackVue DR900S|
|– Video Quality, Day||Very Good||Excellent||Very Good|
|– Video Quality, Night||Good||Fair||Fair|
|– Video Quality, Day||Fair||Good||Good|
|– Video Quality, Night||Fair||Fair||Fair|
You need at least “good” video quality to be able to read license plates. As you can see, the Thinkware U1000 is the only 4K camera that records good video at night with its front camera.
The Viofo A129 Pro records the best video during the day, due to its high bit rates. It doesn’t support cloud connectivity though, and of course higher bit rates use up more storage space, and consume more power.
All three of these are high-end dashboard cameras, with excellent build qualities. They all come with GPS, Wi-Fi, overheat protection, a capacitor instead of a battery, a lock file button, and one or more parking modes.
Rear cameras are optional for all three. You always have the option of buying the forward camera stand-alone if you prefer.
Thinkware U1000: Most High-End 4K Dash Cam 2020
Forward video quality: Very good at day, good at night
Rear video quality: Fair (day and night)
Memory capacity: 128GB
Parking modes: Simple and time-lapse. Buffered with radar module (see below)
Other features: Remote view over cloud, integrated GPS, Wi-Fi, capacitor, lock file button, overheat protection, CPL filter (optional)
The U1000 is Thinkware’s first dash camera to support remote view over the cloud. The U1000 also supports Thinkware’s other cloud functions, such as localizing your vehicle, geo-fencing, and impact alerts to your phone.
Of course you need a Wi-Fi access point in your car for cloud connectivity to work (more info here).
The most exciting feature of the U1000 is the video quality of its front camera. It records very good video during the day, and even at night, video quality is good. As we’ve stated above, the U1000 actually has the best night video quality of all 4K dash cams we’ve tested.
Its rear camera is a bit disappointing though: Even though it records at 1440p, its video quality is only fair, both at day and at night. So it’s a good thing that the rear camera is optional — you can save about $100 if you get the front unit only.
The U1000 supports simple, time-lapse, and buffered parking modes. As with almost all dash cameras, parking mode needs a hard-wiring kit or battery pack to supply the camera with power when the engine is off.
For buffered parking mode to work, you also need Thinkware’s radar module (~$80 extra). The radar module detects nearby cars, and helps to reduce energy consumption. Simple and time-lapse parking modes work out-of-the-box, and don’t need the radar.
To see video samples and learn more about this camera, check out our full review of the Thinkware U1000.
Viofo A129 Pro: Best Value 4K Dash Cam 2020
Forward video quality: Excellent at day, fair at night
Rear video quality: Good at day, fair at night
Reliability: Very good
Memory capacity: 256GB
Parking modes: Buffered, time-lapse, and low bit rate
Other features: 2″ screen, Wi-Fi, capacitor, lock file button, overheat protection
Optional accessories: GPS mount, CPL filter, Bluetooth remote lock file button
The Viofo A129 Pro Duo is the most affordable 4K dash cam to date. Nevertheless it is still a high quality dash cam, and Viofo have a reputation for excellent reliability.
During the day, the A129 Pro’s forward video quality is nothing short of excellent. At night, it is only fair. The (optional) rear camera’s video is good at day, and fair at night.
The reason why the Viofo camera records the best day time video of the three cameras featured here is that it’s the only 4K dash cam that allows you to record at bit rates as high as 50 Mbps. The U1000 and DR900S both operate at much lower bit rates, to save processor power and memory card space.
Of course, the A129 Pro will also allow you to select lower bit rates, trading in video quality for more memory capacity. Play around with this setting to see which bit rate works best for you.
Unlike Thinkware and BlackVue, the Viofo supports 256GB memory cards rather than 128GB. Furthermore, it’s the only one of the three that comes with a 2″ screen, thus making it easier to set up and operate. Of course, it also supports Wi-Fi, should you prefer to operate your dash cam via smart phone app.
This camera comes with three different types of parking mode: Buffered, time-lapse, and low-bit rate recording. It doesn’t support any type of cloud connectivity.
For video samples and more information about this camera, check out our full review of the Viofo A129 Pro.
BlackVue DR900S: Most Trusted And Time-Proven
Forward video quality: Very good at day, fair at night
Rear video quality: Good at day, fair at night
Memory capacity: 128GB
Parking modes: Buffered and time-lapse
Other features: Remote view over cloud, buffered and time-lapse parking modes, integrated GPS, Wi-Fi, capacitor, lock file button, overheat protection
The BlackVue DR900S (-1CH and -2CH) is the oldest, and most time-proven 4K dash cam of the three. It’s been around since mid-2018, so we know what to expect with this camera. It’s video quality isn’t the greatest: BlackVue tend to compress their video files a lot, and some of the 4K quality gets lost in the process. Both the U1000 and the A129 Pro record noticeably better video
That being said, video quality of the the DR900S is still very good during the day, but only fair at night. Rear video is good at day, and fair at night.
BlackVue’s black cylinder casing is a trademark of the company, and while it looks very elegant, it does seem to make cooling a bit difficult. The camera won’t get fried, thankfully, as it comes with built-in overheat protection. However, the DR900S has been known to shut down occasionally when it got too hot in the summer.
All BlackVue dash cams support remote view over the cloud, and the DR900S is no exception to this. Just like the U1000, it needs a Wi-Fi access point your car to be able to connect to the cloud.
For more information, including video samples, check out our full review of the BlackVue DR900S.
Pros And Cons Of 4K Dash Cams
- Highest video resolution available to date in dash cams
- Impressive picture quality, especially during the day
- Great for producing road videos
- Wow-factor of high-end, cutting edge technology
- On screens with lower than 4K resolution, you can zoom in to see details such as license plates
- High prices
- Night video quality can be reduced
- Higher processor load: Consumes more power and generates more heat
- Larger file sizes: Memory cards fill up quicker
The reason why night video is often reduced for 4K cameras is because 4K cameras have a lot more pixels than, for example, 1080p cameras.The majority of dash cams currently are 1080p.
More pixels mean that each individual pixel is smaller (unless you increase sensor size, which isn’t practical for a dash cam). Smaller pixels are less light sensitive, and that’s why higher resolution cameras often have more difficulty recording at night.
That being said, Thinkware’s recently released U1000 has raised the bar considerably. The U1000 is probably the first 4K dash cam that records good video at night with the front camera. Its rear camera still isn’t as good as the SG9663DCPRO’s though.
Bad 4K Dash Cams
Nextbase are a renowned manufacturer of dash cams especially in the UK. Their first attempt at producing a 4K camera hasn’t been a success though. Unfortunately, the 612GW comes with an internal battery, making it more prone to heat failure than a camera with a capacitor.
At 4K resolution, the camera’s CPU has to process four times more data than at 1080p. This in turn generates a lot of heat, which — in combination with a battery — can be fatal.
Some users have reported having no issues with the 612GW, but usually these are drivers who live in places that rarely get warmer than 20°C. Maybe that’s why Nextbase’s camera are so successful in the UK, but not in countries with hotter climates.
For a full review of the Nextbase 612GW, click here.
Fake 4K Dash Cams
Many manufacturers just stick a 4K label on a dash cam which can’t actually record true 4K. A true 4K dash cam should be able to record 3840×2160 pixels at 30 frames per second (fps), without resorting to interpolation.
For easy reference, we’re compiling a list of fakes here that buyers may want to be aware of.
Many fake 4K dash cams come with a sensor that can’t actually record 4K resolution.
A 4K camera needs at least an 8 megapixel (MP) sensor. Let’s do the math: 4K means 3840×2160 pixels. My calculator says 3840 * 2160 is 8,294,400. That’s over 8 million, or 8MP in short.
A 1080p camera has 1920×1080 pixels. 1920 * 1080 is 2,073,600 pixels, or 2 megapixels.
A 1440p camera would have 2560 * 1440 = 3,686,400 pixels, so it needs a 4MP sensor.
Here’s a few that use the Omnivison OV4689 sensor (not a bad sensor by any means, but it only has 4MP):
- Acekool 4K: OV4689 sensor → fake 4K
- Azdome GS63H: OV4689 sensor → fake 4K
- Rexing V1 4K UHD: OV4689 sensor → fake 4K
- Rove R2-4K: OV4689 sensor → fake 4K
Other fake 4K dash cams:
- Aukey 4K dash cam DR02 J: Aptina AR0521 sensor with just 5MP → fake 4K
- Toguard Dash Cam 4K: 4K video is interpolated. (Also the fact that it can’t handle memory cards over 32GB should alert you. 32GB is very little for a 4K camera) → fake 4K
If you find out about other fake 4K dash cams, or have any dash cams claiming to be 4K that you are doubtful about, please let us know and we’ll be happy to update this list if necessary.