Hands-on review: Viofo A139 3CH triple-channel dash cam
Image credit: Viofo
Keep an eye on the road ahead, as well as on the road behind and any in-car companions, with this triple-channel dash cam from Viofo
Dash cams have become increasingly popular in recent years, with more and more drivers adding them to their vehicles. Some insurers even offer them as a welcome gift or as an incentive to qualify for cheaper insurance, as the recordings can unequivocally settle any dispute in the event of an accident. The police and the courts have also begun to use dash cam footage to secure prosecutions for dangerous drivers - even when the offender thought they might have got away with it. Citizen power from the comfort of your own car.
Accordingly, a virtual bombardment of dash cams have hit the market in recent years, offering a range of features. Viofo has been one of the leading active brands in this space and has now debuted its first triple-channel model, the cryptically named A139 3CH. Triple-channel? This means the system can record a view of road ahead (140° field of view, aka FOV), the vehicle interior (170° FOV) and the road behind (170° FOV) simultaneously. That's basically all angles covered for your car, wherever it is.
The resolution of each camera varies, although full HD is the 'lowest' on offer from the F1.6 aperture seven-element glass lens. The front-facing camera is capable of 2,560 x 1,440P at 30fps or 60fps, with the interior and rear cameras capturing footage at 1,920 x 1,080P 30fps resolution.
This high resolution allows for the capture of some impressively detailed and clear images, for all-round protection and a reliable record of both journeys taken and any in-car incidents. Family arguments about a sequence of events can be settled very easily.
The in-cabin footage is obviously ideal for any situation, whether you're casually transporting family and friends or working as a professional driver, such as for a taxi firm or ridesharing operation like Uber or Lyft. The legal caveat here is that if you are operating a dash cam and you carry passengers, they must be made aware that a recording is in progress - otherwise, your footage will almost certainly be dismissed by the authorities and your insurer in the event of any dispute.
The reason for the quality of the Viofo's images is that all three cameras in this setup are equipped with Sony 'Starvis' image sensors, for some very impressive video capture - especially in low-light conditions, e.g. night-time driving (an especially fractious time for taxi drivers and inebriated passengers). The 'Starvis' are CMOS image sensors with back-illuminated pixel technology and a sensitivity of more than 2000mV per 1 µm2, capturing high picture quality in the visible-light and near-infrared light regions. The internal camera also incorporates a six-element infrared LED lamp, enabling the camera to record any cabin activity even in complete darkness.
There's also support for an external microphone, if you want to record best-quality sound (although the built-in mics are absolutely fine); remote-control operation; dual-band Wi-Fi options of either 2.4GHz or 5GHz, with up to 8MB/s download when using the latter; a GPS logger, which captures and overlays route information onto recordings, as well as keeping the system camera clock in sync with GPS time, and an advanced parking mode. In the event of an accident, the A139's built-in G-sensor automatically protects the footage from being overwritten.
The Wi-Fi connection can be used in tandem with the Viofo mobile app (available for iOS and Android) to access setup options; to receive a live view of the three camera channels directly on a smartphone; to play back recorded video, and to download and share video files.
The advanced parking mode is very useful for drivers concerned about leaving their vehicle on the street or in a busy parking garage. Auto event detection mode will, in the event of any force impacting the car, capture video for several seconds both before and after the incident, so you'll have a record of exactly what happened. There is also a time-lapse mode, similar to standard CCTV camera, and a low bit rate recording mode, so you can leave the cameras running all day and all night, capturing continuous low-resolution footage of your pride and joy.
Various options for 'Video Loop Mode' are also available, the length of loop capture ranging from one minute to 10 minutes. In this mode, the camera will automatically record over the oldest files to make room for the newest. You can turn this feature off entirely, if you prefer.
The physical footprint of the full system installed inside a vehicle is almost negligible, with the three cameras being black and minimalist in their styling and relatively unobstrusive. The main front-facing camera - the biggest - can easily be tucked behind the rear-view mirror in virtually any vehicle, whilst both the interior and rear cameras are tiny: a mere 7cm x 3cm. All three cameras have a strong 3M mount so they can be securely stuck to the windscreen, rather than relying on a suction cup.
One of the attractions of the A139 3CH is that it is a genuine three-camera system, with each camera a separate entity. Some other three-channel systems house two of the cameras - e.g. interior and rear - inside a bigger enclosure. Having each tiny camera as individual units allows you greater flexibility in positioning them. The lens of the front-facing camera can also be rotated 300 degrees, so you should be able to find the sweet spot for best results.
The A139 setup also uses nice slim coaxial cables and miniature connectors for the interior and rear camera connections, which means cable runs around the vehicle can be more discretely managed. Connections for this A139 set are also USB-C, which means more power and stability for the system overall. The system has also been designed to automatically shut down in the event of the chip reaching a high temperature in extreme heat conditions, preventing premature component failure.
In case you're wondering why there isn't a screen on any of the cameras, this is deliberate by design. You don't need the distraction whilst driving and there are strict highway regulations that forbid screens on cameras from displaying footage at any time while the vehicle is in motion. A screen would also be an unnecessary drain on the battery. The main unit does have buttons for typical repeat actions, such as starting and stopping recordings and the ability to instantly protect a clip from being overwritten.
The A139 3CH isn't meant to be watched like an in-car infotainment system. It's there simply to capture a continuous stream of high-quality video footage (.mp4) to any Micro SD Card (Class 10, up to 256GB) and to give you peace of mind. On that front, the Viofo scores very highly.
For reasons of privacy, we're not including any footage we recorded whilst testing the system for this review, but we are confident in stating that the captured image quality was excellent, in our opinion, at any time of day or night. We never got any unusable footage. There are many user images available online - e.g. on the Amazon product page - so you can judge for yourself.
The Viofo A139 3CH is not a cheap dashcam, but it is one of the best out there at this time. If you drive a lot, and you cover a lot of miles, visiting myriad locations, and possibly with a high passenger turnover rate, you'll definitely appreciate the peace of mind a three-camera system such as this one assures you.
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.