Review: Escort Passport SC55 Red Light Camera Detector
Photo-enforcement camera protection for BEL and Escort radar detectors
Last updated 6/1/2011
Escort Passport SC55 operates as a stand-alone red light camera warning system or can interface with high-end BEL (Beltronics) and Escort Passport non-GPS-enabled radar detectors to add protection from photo enforcement threats.
Drivers weary of being pestered by red light and speed cameras often want protection from these nuisances. But this has meant moving up to one of the GPS-enabled radar detectors like the Escort Passport 9500i, Escort Passport 9500ix, Escort Passport 9500ci or the BEL (Beltronics) GX65. Great radar detectors, but not inexpensive. Now, with the arrival of the Escort Passport SC55, it's possible to combat photo enforcement cameras without having to retire your detector in favor one with integral GPS.
The Escort Passport SC55 ($159.95) GPS detector is a dual-role device. As a stand-alone unit it acts as a red light camera detector, its Defender camera-location GPS database allowing it to warn of cameras ahead. With the addition of the Detector Kit ($20) it can be linked to high-end Escort Passport and BEL (Beltronics) radar detectors including the Escort RedLine and Escort Passport 8500 X50 or the BEL (Beltronics) STi Driver and BEL RX65.
The Escort Passport SC55's red LED text display looks like that of the Escort Passport 9500i GPS-enabled radar detector and they share a number of features. A quartet of top-mounted controls operates the unit: at the outer front corners are the power on/off (left) and Mark Location (right) buttons; these flank two smaller, adjacent buttons, V/M and Cruise. Pressing this pair simultaneously enters Preferences mode, letting the user select from a menu of options.
The perpetually confused will find solace in one of the available displays—a compass heading showing current direction of travel. This can be combined with vehicle speed or either can be displayed separately. Other options include a vehicle system voltage readout or a scanning red dot. Display brightness is four-step manually adjustable or auto-dimming and there's a choice of voice announcements or tones. Auto power-down is a unique feature that kills the power to the SC55 and an attached radar detector after a few hours to limit battery drain.
Escort Passport SC55 with Detector Kit, linked to an Escort RedLine with the special combination mount. Once connected, the Escort RedLine is controlled through the Escort SC55.
Aside from adding protection from red light and speed cameras, the Escort Passport SC55 will also cut off audible radar and laser alerts below a threshold speed, making the detector considerably quieter in town, even when set to maximum-sensitivty highway mode
The better GPS-enabled radar detectors can vary radar detection sensitivity automatically according to road speed, maximizing protection when you're at risk and dialing back sensitivity in low-speed traffic to reduce false alarms. When the Escort Passport SC55 is connected to a radar detector, it can use its real-time speed monitoring to simulate variable-speed sensitivity in the detector.
To do this, the Cruise button is used to select a threshold speed below which no voice alerts are sounded for radar encounters; a double-beep audio tone is heard instead. This in turn controls the radar detector's audible alerts.
To test this feature I linked the Escort Passport SC55 with an Escort RedLine, the most sensitive radar detector we've tested, with a world-record 14.25 miles of radar-detection range in our recent shootout of two of the best radar detectors: Valentine One versus the Escort RedLine. Placing the Escort RedLine in maximum-sensitivty highway mode, I drove a local route that's infested with radar-controlled automatic door openers. Right on cue, the RedLine reported each signal visually but this time remained silent, a major advancement in driver peace of mind.
When alerting to photo enforcement cameras, the Escort Passport SC55's red text display shows the nature of the threat and begins counting down in 100-foot increments as it approaches. Voice alerts also provide threat identification, spelling out whether the camera is set to monitor only red light violations or speed-on-green as well (an increasingly common practice). Warning distance varies by speed, giving adequate time to react but without becoming a pest through premature, needlessly-long alarms.
The Passport SC55 with Detector Kit ($179.95) comes with a special windshield mount to accommodate select late-model BEL and Escort non-GPS radar detectors and has cords to link their power and audio jacks to the Escort Passport SC55. Once everything is attached, the Escort Passport SC55 is ready to be powered-up and configured prior to first use. Entering programming mode, the user is asked to select the brand of radar detector: BEL or Escort. Since we were using a BEL STi Driver at the time, we selected the former setting.
Once that was done, we set user preferences and waited a few moments until the unit confirmed that it had locked-in a GPS signal. Then it was ready to roll, the Escort Passport SC55 now in control of our BEL STi Driver's power, audio and alerts.
Unlike with the BEL and Escort GPS-enabled radar detectors, the BEL GX65, Escort Passport 9500i, Escort Passport 9500ix and Escort Passport 9500ci, the Escort Passport SC55 doesn't allow users to add nuisance signals to the database. This means that, like with Cobra GPS models including the XRS R9G and XRS R10G, Cobra XRS 9960G and similar units, the detector will continue to alert whenever you pass these locations. But with the Escort SC55, these will be visual alerts only, provided the Cruise speed-threshold feature has been engaged. This dramatically lowers the annoyance factor when driving in microwave-saturated urban locales.
BEL (Beltronics) STi Driver (left) is one of only three radar detectors that are completely undetectable by the Spectre (Stalcar) RDD (radar detector detector). Many who use the BEL STi Driver conceal it behind the upper windshield tint. We did likewise and mounted the Escort Passport SC55 next to it. Tucked away under the headliner, both are invisible from outside the vehicle.
The Escort Passport SC55 visually counts-down the distance to a marked location in hundred-foot increments. Arrival is greeted with a "You've reached your marked location" voice confirmation. Or, if voice alerts are disabled via the preferences menu, they are replaced by a double-tap audible tone upon first alert and when the marked location is reached. In addition, the nature of the threat is spelled out, e.g., Speed Camera or Red Light Camera. This is useful information and helps the driver react appropriately to the threat.
The Escort Passport SC55 benefits from improvements to the Defender camera location database. After an exhaustive comparison test, we called the Escort database "...weapons-grade camera protection" when it demonstrated class-leading accuracy in a recent review of competing GPS camera-location systems. Camera alerts are directional, meaning that if an intersection is camera-monitored along only a single axis (known in the trade as an approach) rollng toward the intersection from a right angle on the non-monitored road poses no threat. The microprocessor knows this and as a result, generates no audible alert. As a result the Escort SC55 is far quieter than some competitors.
To reduce radar false alarms the Passport SC55 has the Cruise Alert feature, a user-set speed threshold below which no radar alerts are sounded. It works as promised, allowing even hypersensitive radar detectors like the BEL STi Driver and Escort RedLine to be run in unfiltered highway mode in town. Either will continue to alert to non-police radar signals, mostly from radar-controlled automatic door openers, but these alerts are visual-only; the audible alerts are disabled by the Escort Passport SC55. Only when vehicle speed exceeds the threshold will audible alerts again be heard.
This ability to keep a lid on urban false alarms isn't casual marketing hype. The biggest consumer gripe about radar detectors is excessive false alarms, particularly in town. The Korean-made radar detectors sold one large company are perhaps most famous for this trait but others are similarly afflicted. For many manufacturers, false alarms rise in lockstep with radar sensitivity. For example, even diehard fans of the extremely sensitive, hair-trigger Valentine One, currently the record-holder as the noisiest radar detector we've ever tested in town, will admit privately to being pestered by endless false alarms. If Valentine were to emulate Escort, adding GPS to the V1, it might well assist in quelling the din. But given Escort's stranglehold on the patents controlling GPS radar detector technology, that's very unlikely to happen.
The Escort Passport SC55 counts down the distance to a marked location in hundred-foot increments. Precision in GPS location-marking is important: too early and you're slowing prematurely, too late and it's, well, too late.
For those not easily annoyed by back-seat drivers, the Overspeed feature can be engaged. Whenever a threshold speed is exceeded you'll be admonished, the voice of a concerned woman bleating "Warning! Overspeed!" as if perhaps the sunroof is in danger of blowing off. Depending upon your tolerance for being scolded, disabling the voice alerts while using Overspeed may be useful. Otherwise every trip north of that speed results in another tongue-lashing, exactly like having a mother-in-law sitting in back. (Mercifully, disabling the voice alerts takes about eight seconds using the preference settings menu.)
We did note a downside to using the SC55: complexity and bulk. As an add-on device, when combined with a BEL STi Driver or an Escort RedLine, both of them extremely heavy radar detectors, the extra weight caused the pair to jiggle noticeably in reaction to even minor bumps. The combination detector/GPS unit also occupies a big chunk of windshield real estate and it can't be mounted low, just above the upper instrument panel. That's because the supplied heavy-duty windshield mount inexplicably has its release catch on the bottom, making it impossible to reach when low on the windshield. Those who are wise enough to protect this $680 investment and remove it from the windshield when parking may quickly tire of juggling the mass of electronics while trying to get it mounted again.
We sampled the Passport SC55 with several different BEL and Escort models including the BEL (Beltronics) RX65 and the Escort RedLine, finding it to be a highly effective antidote to photo enforcement cameras while also significantly reducing urban false alarms. On the flip side, packaging both functions in a single radar detector is the more elegant and wieldly solution. We suspect that Escort offers the SC55 as a stopgap measure to owners loathe to shelve a perfectly usable 8500 X50, BEL STi Driver or RedLine. But an alternative would be to dump the old detector on eBay--where experience has shown that a well maintained unit will still command a hefty price--and devote the funds to an Escort 9500ix instead.