Lifetime Premium Member
- Jul 19, 2012
- Reaction score
- Washington State
In addition to the noPhoto and the chinese eBay flash, there's another product that does the same thing. It's called the ProDB.
They're made in the USA out of Longmont, CO and they're designed to shoot the light down at the plate to blind a RLC/speedcamera while minimizing blinding other drivers.
In this American style version, the whole unit is basically contained in a little black box that sits above the plate. Your license plate attaches to the back panel, you plug the ethernet style power cable into a control box, and there ya go. Here's a look at the ProDB itself.
It was designed by ex-military engineers, people who've been specializing in electronic countermeasures from back since Vietnam. Pretty cool stuff.
For this review, let's go straight into the test results first (because if it doesn't work, who cares) and then we'll take a closer look at the unit itself.
(Full disclosure. I showed my noPhoto review to the guys at ProDB and once they saw it, they then decided to send me a review copy as well. I didn't pay for this unit and I get to keep it after the test in return for doing this review.)
So when it comes to testing, doing so in the shade works really well because it lets me set my camera close to settings you'll see with a real traffic cam. This gives me the most realistic realworld-like look possible.
[ISO 1600, f/8, 1/640th]
Like before, the Chinese flash is on the left and the ProDB is on the right. I love how the flash is right in the center of the plate so it's focused on getting as many digits as possible. Because both flash pops are the same, there's no possible way that anyone could photoshop two photos together of the left and right side and figure out your plate. Doing that wouldn't stand in court, but somehow I feel better knowing that they couldn't do it even if they wanted to. It's just psychological I suppose. The more of the plate it blocks per shot, the better.
These things work best when the license plate takes up a small portion of the image, so here's the full frame that those images are from.
and here's a quick video showing me firing off the 3 rapid shots back to back (you often don't see the flashes on video) and then taking a closer look at the two plates.
We can take a look at what it looks like in bright sunlight. These settings are well beyond the worst case scenario you'll ever encounter in the real world so I thought about not even posting them in the first place, but here's the test in direct sunlight. I'm also much closer to the plates than a real camera ever would be which makes it much much harder on these devices.
Bright sunlight test:
[ISO 640, f/8, 1/640th]
One thing you can see from this really demanding test is how much more of the plate the ProDB covers up under extremely challenging conditions compared to the chinese flash. My noPhoto is still out and about floating between testing elsewhere and getting updated and when it comes back, I can run it alongside these two.
You know how to make these things look really effective? Shoot 'em at night!
[ISO 1600, f/8, 1/160th]
Cool cool, looks pretty good in the test shots. Something I noticed is that in some of the pictures I've seen online and elsewhere, the pictures look almost Photoshopped, like they just whited out the area of the plate. However, the look of the flash is similar to what I've seen in my testing so it looks legit. (In my test photos, I pulled the exposure back 2 stops in Photoshop in an effort to try to recover the data covered up by the flash and accurately mimic techniques used by actual traffic cameras.)
ProDB supplied sample test photos from actual traffic cameras:
Anyways, something I saw in the noPhoto testing is that even if it looks good in my own testing, unexpected things can crop up in the real world which can still give you a ticket, and so testing out against a traffic camera is necessary. I went out to the same RLC last night and slowly made a cautious rolling right hand turn at the light to trigger the camera.
This was my second pass that evening as there was too much traffic the first time. There were a few cars for this pass so I went super slowly, to the point where I was surprised to see the RLC go off at all. The GPS speed display I'd turned off on my dashcam earlier and forgot to turn it back on, but the GPS shows me approaching the intersection at just 15 mph and going through the light at all of 12 mph. Apparently that's fast enough to trigger the camera.
One thing I really like about the ProDB is that it that you can get it with a speaker that'll go off when the ProDB gets triggered. (More on this later.) It also comes with LED's that notify you that it activated so you get a visual alert too. This is a really nice feature, especially if you're wondering if it actually went off in response to the light. You'll hear the beep in the video. That's the ProDB's "Hey, I just fired" alert.
Now if you watch the video, you'll see that it goes off in response to only the first RLC flash, but not the second one even though it should go off to both. The first flash is the one where they take a photo of your plate so that's the important one. The second one is the one where they show you rounding the corner, but your car is barely even visible. Here's what that would look like.
So yeah, as long as the timing and all is right, it should work against that first and more important photo taken.
Why the second flash didn't trigger the ProDB, I don't know. The ProDB rep I spoke with was surprised to hear this so he's gonna look at the video too. Maybe the angle was too steep. Looking back at the video, I don't think the pole was blocking the ProDB's view. The ProDB allows for a delay of just over 4 seconds between flashes and will still trigger. Longer than that and it won't flash and starts recharging the flash. The two flashes in this test were about 2.5 seconds apart so the ProDB should still trigger based on the timing of the two flashes.
In the video I posted above, I put some quick pauses in there so you can see the actual flashes going off. Here's the same video, except it's the continuous version with no pauses.
Last time it took 11 days for the ticket to show up in the mail. I'll be out of town next week and so the following week, if the ProDB failed, I should get a ticket in the mail and I'll post it up here.
Their policy at ProDB is that they don't reimburse customers in case they get a traffic cam ticket with the unit installed. However, Martin, the brand manager at ProDB I've been speaking with, said that he will reimburse me the cost of the ticket if I do get one specifically when doing this test, and I really appreciate that.
Now we wait...
Update: No ticket in the mail! Well done, ProDB!!
So that's the testing. Probably the most important part. Let's take a closer look at the unit itself.
ProDB, hands on look
Here's a hands on video look at the unit up close and personal.
Let's do a photo tour of the unit as well.
View attachment 22109
The actual flash unit sits on top of the black panel that your plate attaches to. Out the side is a rounded ethernet cable that runs into your car and plugs into a control box.
This is the main event right here. The housing is 6" wide and 1.75" deep. The front panel is a transparent piece of plastic they actually spent 4 years developing. It's designed to pass 750-940nm light which is in the infrared spectrum. There's four receiving diodes in here, one on each side, one pointing straight back, and another one pointing up at 30 degrees for bridge cameras.
(The bridge cameras are currently in the UK and in Los Angeles. They have two cameras 1.5 - 2 miles apart seeing how long it takes drivers to get from A to B and they calculate your average speed between them. They fire off infrared flashes for their cameras so you can't see them with your naked eye, but the ProDB can see them.)
Detection ranges of the unit is upwards of 200 feet day or night. I haven't tested this out, but this is what they state. They're currently working on a newer version of the unit that uses a thinner wall for the plastic, a more advanced polycarbonate, which is giving them a range of 325 feet. How far away the farthest cameras are, I don't know, but the minimum distance is 60-65 feet.
Let's take a closer look at the business end of the unit.
Across the top you'll see a long bulb. That's the main flash head. On either side in the top corners, you'll see a pair of clear LED's. Those are the night time license plate LED's to make sure your plate is visible. If you go for a dual ProDB setup, you can turn off those LED's for the front plate since you're not supposed to have lights on the front plate.
Between the clear plastic cover and the black housing, there's a weathersealing glue which melts the plastics together. Martin, the ProDB rep I've been talking to, has been running this unit for two years up here in the Pacific Northwest and hasn't had any issues so far. (We get a lot of rain up here.) They're also doing weathersealing and cold weather testing using various other techniques so they can keep making improvements over time.
The top of the unit can actually be painted if you want it in a different color.
You'll notice the shape is a little different. It doesn't have the back panel. This is an older model of the unit.
The current model actually rests the unit above the plate, not on the plate itself.
Speaking of model changes, they're going to make the wire come out of the back of the unit for the next version for a cleaner install. They suggest drilling a hole into the car and they're going to supply their customers with a rubber seal for the hole. Personally, there's no way I'm gonna wanna drill a hole in my car for this. Keep in mind the hole has to be large enough to pass an ethernet cable head through, unless you're gonna cut off the head and recrimp your own.
On the back of the unit is actually this wide hook. It's there because apparently in Japan, people like to cut a slit in their car and rest the ProDB in the slit rather than using the normal screw holes. I've never heard of this being done but hey, you learn something every day!
You can see the wide hook I'm talking about at the very top of the rear of the unit.
They have models of the ProDB for other countries which are designed differently. European plates, for example, are long and skinny, so the ProDB designed for those countries actually uses two flash heads to cover the wider plates. American plates also have raised lettering where the numbers are stamped into the plate and thus have some depth and can cause shadows. European plates have flat lettering which makes it easier for a device like this to do its job.
The one I'm showing you is made for the US market. They also have versions designed specifically for motorcycles as well.
Mounting the unit to your vehicle is pretty straightforward.
You'll see there's four holes on the back panel. The two lower ones are where your plate attaches to. They give you these four special plastic screws that screw together front to back and hold your plate on from either side. (You'll see me do it in the video. It's really quite simple.) So your plate attaches on the lower two holes. Something I noticed is that those plastic screws they give you don't let you tighten them all the way so the plate can still wobble around a little bit when attached.
The two license plate screws at the top of your plate that normally hold your plate onto your car, you use those two screws to mount the ProDB to the car itself through the top two holes. You'll notice the holes aren't circular but rather sorta halfmoon-ish. This prevents the screws from passing right in and out of the holes. You actually have to screw the screws through the holes and make them thread their way in. I'm guessing this is to make a tighter fit so the ProDB doesn't bounce around, even once you tighten the screws down.
Here's what it looks like mounted on my car.
Looks pretty good. Nice, compact unit and you probably can't even tell it's there. One thing I did notice when installing is that the top of the unit presses up into my backup camera, like uncomfortably hard to the point where I thought I was gonna damage the ProDB or my backup camera because of how much I had to press the ProDB up to get the screw holes to fit. If it was just 1-2mm shorter, that'd make a big difference for me. Everyone's car is different of course so it may or may not be an issue for you. In future versions the unit should actually be shorter and have less depth (but still be just as wide) and this should solve the backup camera issue as well as give you more room for your fingers to get in there and pop the trunk.
Something else I noticed is how much of the view of my backup camera it blocks. Here's how it normally looks:
At the bottom of the screen you can see the blue of my bumper and even my plates (blurred out) in the lower corners.
With the ProDB mounted, it blocks a significant portion of the camera.
It may not look like much at first, but that's the part where I can tell how close I am to something when I'm getting really close which is when the camera is actually the most useful. You can still see kids or cars behind you and all, but it makes parking much tougher. (The white part on the lower left is the sun reflecting off the top of the unit. Usually, when the sun is at a better angle or gone altogether, it's all black like on the right side.) Anyways, the backup camera issue may not be the same for your car, even if you have one too, as all cars are designed and fitted differently.
The actual flash unit sits on top of the black panel that your plate attaches to. Out the side is a rounded ethernet cable that runs into your car and plugs into a control box. Unlike the noPhoto which gives you two thin bare wires which are easier to route through tiny places but require you to make a connector for yourself and hardwire somewhere in your car, the ProDB uses a thicker cable that has an end that's ready to be plugged into the control unit. I do wish the cable was a little thinner to make it easier to route through your car's license plate lights or backup camera or wherever you want to pass the cable into your car, as well as to make it a little easier to tuck into the trim panels around your car as you run the cable back.
Passing a big ethernet cable through some cars may or may not be an issue. You guys have seen this when doing your jammer installs.
In an upcoming design, they're going to move the cable to exit out the back of the unit so that it looks better, and they're also going to make the cable thinner, two very good changes IMHO.
Now the cable is designed to plug into a control unit which'll then allow you to change modes between normal operation (LED lights on and photo flash on), photo allowing toll booth mode (LED lights on but photo flash off), and completely off altogether.
The cable that runs out of the ProDB is about 7' long. Chances are, that's gonna be too short (to run through your trunk, past the rear seats, and up to wherever you have your control unit mounted in your car). If this is the case, they've included a coupler to let you extend the length of the cable. It's one of these things:
The thing isn't the tiniest thing in the world so hopefully when you're running the cable in your car, you can find a place to hide this thing. You may be better off just getting a really long second ethernet cable, tucking this in the trunk somewhere, and running a thinner and more flexible ethernet cable up to the front of your car.
Once you get it up to the front, it plugs into the control unit.
I'm going to make a second post just for this. (This is actually an optional extra you can buy.) The back of it looks like this.
It's got spots for up to two ProDB's (front and rear), plus some other toys. This control box then has a cig. lighter cable. This makes it extremely easy to plug into your car and start playing with immediately. If you want to hardwire it, you can always get one of these to do it.
Controlling the ProDB
Once you've got one or two ProDB's installed on your car, you can control it from the driver's seat using that control box we just looked at. That rotating switch lets you change between a variety of modes.
The standard mode is to both have the LED lights on and to have the ProDB respond to any camera flashes that occur. (Mode 3)
If you want to stop the unit from firing, such as when your'e going through a toll booth or border crossing and want cameras to take a picture of your plate, you can put it into passive mode where the LED lights will stay on, but it will no longer respond to camera flashes. (Mode 1 and 2)
You'e also got a kill switch to turn the whole thing off altogether. (Mode 0)
The control switch is identical to the one used to control the Blinder HP-905's.
If you opt to not get this control box, you get a slightly different control switch. It's a two way rocker switch that cycles between the same three setups.
Is This Thing On?
If you get the upgraded control unit like I've got here, there's a speaker built-in that can buzz when the ProDB is activated, letting you know that it fired which is a great reassuring confirmation. It also beeps (for a long time for some strange reason) at startup, as well as when you switch to certain modes.
The speaker has several volume levels:
2) A decent normal volume that's a little tough to hear over music, but you do hear it.
3) OMG WTF TURN THAT OFFFF!!! Seriously. It's a 60 dB buzzer that was designed to scare people. Not kidding. I think they know they succeeded a little too well because the next version is actually going to have a smaller speaker just a third of the size. They're also going to replace the dip switch controls with a rotating wheel so you can set the volume where you want. Awesome.
The front of the control unit also has a pair of LED's, one to tell you what mode you're in, another to change colors when the ProDB goes off.
When a traffic camera flash goes off, it's really nice having the LED go off, as well as the audio alert to let you know.
If you don't get this unit and get just the ProDB itself, you also get a separate notification LED. I don't have any pictures of the unit and I don't have the basic version so I'm not sure of the details beyond this, but once I get a photo from ProDB showing this, I'll update this post and show you.
Okay, so this is an important section. In a perfect world, a device like this should do two primary things:
1) Successfully blind any and all traffic photo cameras (that use a visible or infrared flash)
2) Not false and flash at drivers behind you
When it falses, it can actually stun or temporarily blind drivers behind you. It's basically a camera flash. This thing is bright, especially at night when your eyes have adjusted for the lower light. There's a story of a guy in Italy who was using a device like this that flashes straight back just like the chinese version shown in this testing. He was going through an intersection when the thing falsed. The driver behind him was driving pretty close and got blinded which made him crash into a pole. The driver with the chinese-like device got a 1,500 euro fine because of it. This is one of the main reasons while the ProDB is designed to fire its light down towards the plate and the ground, not towards drivers behind you. So for both legal and safety reasons, you want this thing to ONLY fire when it needs and for everyone to be safe on the road.
However, like radar detectors and laser jammers, there are things that will cause this thing to false. One thing that always makes the ProDB false is lightning. It is ~830 nm light that looks exactly like a camera flash so it'll make the unit false every time. There's also things like the sun being low on the horizon, light streaming through a picket type fence on the highway, the sun bouncing off of certain rounded hubcaps, or some cars' xenon headlights that can cause this thing to false. The ProDB is designed to recognize when it fires the first false and not fire a second shot. It then takes 30 seconds for the unit to reset before it's active again. Theoretically if you're driving along a road that's causing falses, the ProDB could fire once every 30 seconds in a worst case situation.
When I was driving down to the RLC test site, I mounted the ProDB on my car before leaving home and left it on for kicks. On the way down the freeway, I suddenly hear the beep of the ProDB so I quickly turn off my music to confirm that I'm hearing the beep, and in my RVM I see some bright construction lights. It looks like the bright lights actually made the unit false.
On the way back home, I passed the same area and it didn't make the unit go off. Wanting to see if it'd false again, I took the exit and looped back again the original direction that made the unit false and sure enough, it did. Here's the video from a variety of angles. Pay attention to the bright construction lights on the left. Those are the source of the false.
When the ProDB falsed this second time, there was a car right behind me and I felt bad for them. It's not a big deal in the daytime, but at night especially these things are BRIGHT.
This I consider to be a very big deal. I'm actually really cautious when it comes to stopping at red lights and have never had issues running them (which makes it kind of ironic that I'm testing such a product, I know) and I don't have any speed cameras in my area, so if I were to run this thing, I think I would actually be blinding other drivers more than actually preventing tickets, and this is a concern to me.
Now the way this unit is designed, it's designed to defeat the fastest cameras available today, as well as what's going to be soon coming to market. It's got some futureproofing built in in this respect. While it does have some basic software built in that controls the unit, it does NOT have a firmware that can be updated. I was told that firmware updates for camera flashes are not necessary or required since it's already effective against pretty much everything out on the roads. They've done a LOT of research and testing (even with SML, with Law Enforcement, and with the traffic camera manufacturers themselves which I'll get into in just a moment), and they've found that the product is very effective. Everything is now basically hard-coded into the unit. This makes me wonder what options they have in terms of false management, even though some falsing is unavoidable.
Comparing this unit to the noPhoto, the noPhoto does have an updateable firmware built in. At the moment it has to be sent back to home base to be updated, but eventually it's going to be updateable via Bluetooth. This I find to be a very useful feature, both to update the unit to work against newer cameras, as well as to update the filtering algorithms and minimize falsing.
I didn't test the noPhoto much against falsing and when I'm in the car I have no way of knowing when it goes off anyways since there's not yet any notification in the cabin like there is with the ProDB, but testing more to see how they compare in this category would be great. When my noPhoto returns from its current round of tests and being updated, I'll look into testing these two more in for falsing. (I'm not sure yet how to mount both the ProDB and the noPhoto on the rear of my car simultaneously or how to know when the noPhoto goes off, but I'll think of something. Gotta make sure they don't trigger each other either).
Testing by ProDB
When I originally contacted ProDB regarding testing, they declined, saying that they've tested with SML who's verified that their products work. They said that you can't completely match what you'll see with a traffic camera by testing with an SLR like I've been doing, and this is true. I agree with them. At the end of the day, the proof is in the pudding. They only changed their mind regarding sending me a sample unit after they saw the noPhoto review I posted.
In any event, they've tested at SML with Law Enforcement present, as well as tested with the traffic camera manufacturers themselves. (!!) While there may be a conflict of interests in that they're educating the other side, so to speak, they've also been able to get access to what the photos look like when the ProDB blinds the camera and they're able to confirm that the product is effective. This has also helped them understand what's coming down the pipe in terms of new cameras which helps them develop their product around not only what's currently on the market, but what is to come over the next few years.
I talked to Martin about SML and he wasn't aware of all the discrepancies that we've seen between what they've said about the Max and what basically everyone else has noticed, along with some of the other issues that people have had with the way they operate their tests. I've never met anyone at SML or been to their tests. I simply share what I find here in an unbiased way and document all the results, good or bad, and share them with you guys so that we can all have the best understanding possible of all aspects of these types of units.
Warranty & Customer Service
The ProDB comes with a 1 year parts & labor warranty, and they're pretty flexible about it. I haven't had to use their warranty for anything, but they've been pretty cool when I've spoken to them over the phone so far.
In fact I've given him some feedback regarding some things I noticed when using the units, he thanked me and quickly took it back to his engineers, and they're going to be making some changes to upcoming units based on the feedback. It's always great seeing companies take the feedback and using it to improve and continue to develop their product.
How Do I Buy One?
At the moment, ProDB doesn't sell directly to their customers, but rather through their different dealers and through various shops. You can view ProDB's American site at http://www.prodbusa.com and their UK site at http://www.prodbuk.com, but they're basically the same thing. Their website has limited information right now.
If you'd like to get one for yourself, you can go online and visit sites like http://www.1stradardetectors.com/SpeedCameraPhotoBlocker/index.php. I have no affiliation with them. They're simply one of the places that Martin mentioned when I asked where people could buy these.
They also sell them in auto shops like Escort does with their 9500ci's and you can have it professionally installed. They're also going to be selling them at Car Toys stores here in Washington State and are expanding to more stores and dealers.
The ProDB retails for $399.
If you want the optional control box, it costs $229 if you want to get it separately, or $100 if you buy it along with a ProDB.
Trading up and new models
A couple times I've mentioned that they've got new models coming out. Should you get one now or should you wait? It sounds like the next version should be coming out sometime around the end of 2014.
ProDB has a loyalty program where if you purchase a unit and they come out with a new version within 120 days, you can send your unit in and they'll give you a direct swap. If it's been longer than that, you can send it in for a credit towards a new unit, and the amount of the credit is graduated and depends on how long you've had the unit (newer units are worth more, if you've had it longer it's worth less).
So what we've got is a pretty effective product, in and of itself. It does a great job of blinding cameras and its flash placement on top and center pointing down does a good job of maximizing its area of effectiveness while also minimizing the impact to other drivers around you. It's my favorite flash orientation I've seen yet.
The compact design makes for a really clean and good looking install, provided that it fits on your car of course.
The cables are a bit thick which may make routing the wire into your car an issue, but the cables are decently long and very easy to connect without having to have any fancy wiring skills or specialized equipment. It's totally plug and play.
Being able to control the unit from inside the car and receive notification that it has gone off when your car's photo is taken is a great feature, both for letting to know that it just protected you, as well as to know when it accidentally falsed.
Falsing does look to be an issue with these things, and some falses are avoidable while others aren't. These are pretty bright to other drivers, particularly if they're close to your car, and when these go off, they have the potential of affecting other people in ways that other CM's like RD's and LJ's don't. That said, if you have a ton of RLC's or speed cameras in your area and you feel that the pros outweigh the cons, this very well may be a good unit you can consider adding to your vehicle.