VHoldR ContourHD Review – First Impressions

by Brian Mullin on June 15, 2009


I recently got the very sweet VHoldR ContourHD for a long term test, and after its first couple of uses, I am amazed of the exceptional clarity of HD. I have extensively tested the GoPro HERO Wide and the VIO POV 1.5 video cameras, and both have some special attributes they bring to the table, but that can’t even hold a candle to the HD medium. This camera truly blows the doors off the other cameras!

Not only does the HD look good on the normal small screen format, such as YouTube, Vimeo, and others, but when it is seen in a full widescreen mode it still retains it clarity. The HERO is very grainy in a full screen mode, while the POV 1.5 is a bit better, it still doesn’t have the crystal clear clarity of HD.

This is a general video test of ContourHD:

VHoldR ContourHD Test – Stoopid Trail Colorado from Brian Mullin on Vimeo.


Highlights

Video: HD (1280 x 720) at 30 fps or SD (858 x 480) at 60 fps, in H.264 Codec using a 5 Mega-pixel CMOS Image Sensor
Memory: MicroSD card (Maximum of 16GB, comes with 2GB), recording time of HD 30min/GB or SD 60 min/GB
Lens: HD 135 degree or SD 90 degree
Body: Water resistant, aluminum and fiberglass
Battery: Removable Litihium-Ion Battery, 3 hour record time

The unit comes with a 2GB microSD card which was good for 44 minutes of recording time in HD mode (20min per GB in HD). I went out and bought 8GB microSD card for maximum recording time, since at that point I will be bumping into the battery limit. I wanted to get a 16GB card, but they cost 3 times as much as the 8GB? I am still doing some battery and recording length testing, so no final iterations on them as yet.

Weight (measured)
101.5 grams (battery and card)
8 GB card .3 grams
battery 21.7 grams
Impressions
I have never used a VHoldR camera before so, so I had a few things to learn about the camera, but fortunately everything is fairly straight forward. The camera has some heft to it for such a small package, but the Aluminum body seems to be pretty tough so it should be able to take some abuse? Basically, the camera attaches to your helmet or bike using one of the mounts from the VHoldR Trail mount system. Unfortunately, it did not come with a vented helmet mount, just a goggle and a flat surface mount, what gives with that? I would like to see a version that comes with a vented mount as standard, that makes sense to me? I rigged up something while I waited for one of their vented mounts, so I used the goggle mount with a large Velcro strap swiped from one of my night lights.

This video test has a lot of shadowy areas, in which I was going in and out of the trees, from full intense Colorado sun to deep shade:

VHoldR ContourHD Shadow Test from Brian Mullin on Vimeo.

Here is a stability test in rough terrain:

VHoldR ContourHD Rough Terrain Test from Brian Mullin on Vimeo.


The camera has a simple On/Off button on the back of the camera, has two leds on the back that informs you of the memory and battery levels (green->yellow>red), an led in front that informs you of the camera is on (green) or in the record mode (red) and on the top of the camera is a slider that turns the recording on and off. On the back if you slide down the cover, on the inside there is the battery slot, a switch to change between HD or SD, a MicroSD slot and a mini USB port.


You just slide the camera onto one of the mounts, and then rotate the lens (90 degrees right or left of top center) to about where you think it is level, turn on the camera, click the switch until the dual laser beams come on that helps you level the lens. It can be a bit tough doing that in the field since the laser can be hard to see, so I suggest doing it at home, or step into a shady spot to level the lens. I freaked out the family the first time I turned on the lasers, and pointed them against the wall, which was kind of fun until the kids wanted to play with it, NOT!

After you get everything set up it is pretty easy to reach up on your helmet and turn the camera on or off, turn on the lasers or slide the record button. It makes a nice loud beep noise as things go on or off.


While it was on my head, I did notice the weight, but it wasn’t significant, and it was nice not to have any wires (a big fault for the POV). It doesn’t stick up in the air as much as the HERO camera, but it still got whacked by trees, and the softer slider material on the body seemed to get the abuse since it was showing gouges and scratch marks.


Once the camera is on and running, there isn’t much to worry about. I only recorded in HD (1280×720) which is at 30fps, I have not tried it but the SD is at 60fps so it is supposed to give a smoother look? However, all of the video hosting sites cannot hold 60fps, so it is really only good for the VHoldR site.

One gripe I have is that if you don’t clear the memory before your ride you are SOL to record much, especially if you are like me and max out the memory. The HERO is nice in this respect since you can delete an old recording, on the ContourHD, I was not aware of any method to do that?

It is really easy to open up the back latch, but it only bends so far so and tends to bow back and gets in the way. The microSD pops out easily, but the battery tends to get stuck in the slot.
Both the ContourHD and the HERO, like a lot of the CMOS video cameras use a Rolling Shutter, which makes videos seem a bit shaky and scattered (think sea sickness), due to motion artifacts (skew and wobble). The POV uses a Global Shutter technology like CCD’s use, which helps alleviate the artifacts to a large degree. A Rolling Shutter exposes different portions of the frame at different point in time, hence “rolling” through the frame, while a Global shutter exposes the entire imager simultaneously. Neither does this in the physical sense. The degree that each camera exhibits the motion artifacts issue depends on a lot of factors. The GoPro due to its extremely wide camera angle (170 degrees) tends to compensate for some of those side artifacts, but it is still there.

This is a video of a multi camera shootout (ContourHD vs HERO Wide vs POV 1.5), I really strapped the helmet down hard so it wasn’t sloppy on my head:

Multi Camera Shootout – ContourHD vs HERO Wide vs POV 1.5 from Brian Mullin on Vimeo.


This is my set up to try and test all 3 of my testing camera at once. Of course the HERO’s batteries were dead, and the stupid cord on the POV got caught and pulled the lens to the side, so on my first test only the ContourHD worked properly!

When you get back home, or somewhere you have access to a computer, just open up the back latch, connect the USB cord and then either download the recording to the computer or watch them directory from the camera memory. I tend to download the video and the use my video editing software (current fave is PowerDirector Ultra) to create a short edited video that I upload to Vimeo. The indicator on the back stays red until the battery is fully charged, which can take a couple of hours depending on how much video was recorded.

Bottom Line
This is plain and simple one of the best sports specific HD (and non SD) video cameras on the market, and it makes the competitors look like wet noodles in comparison. The camera is light weight, durable and is intuitive to use. Its price is competitive and the HD benefits are simply amazing. It has a hint of motion artifacts like most CMOS Rolling Shutter cameras, and is a bit blurry with very distant background objects.

MSRP: $299.99

Detailed Specs:
Video
HD (1280 x 720) at 30 fps
SD (858 x 480) at 60 fps
5 Mega-pixel CMOS Image Sensor
H.264 Codec
Memory
MicroSD card
Maximum 16GB (2GB included)
HD 30min/GB
SD 60 min/GB
Audio
Internal microphone
AAC Audio compression
Lens
HD 135 degree
SD 90 degree
Body
Water resistant
Aluminum and Fiberglass body
Battery
Removable Litihium-Ion Battery
3 hours record time
Charge via USB or Optional Charger
Charge Time 3 hours
Comes with
Countour HD camera
2GB MicroSD Card
Google Mount
Flat Surface Mount
Rechargeable Battery
USB Cable

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous June 20, 2009 at 5:43 am

So thorough. Once again even your initial review sets a standard

~ Lee Lau ~

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Anonymous August 2, 2009 at 11:19 am

Could you comment more on the amount of skew from the rolling shutter vs the POV1?

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Anonymous August 18, 2009 at 12:39 pm

How's the audio? Can you hear voices clearly before you go off for your ride?

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Anonymous September 27, 2009 at 7:25 pm

I tried helmet gopro based partially on your review. You coverted it pretty well but the best comment I read describing it was via mtbr reviews "GoPro Hero Wide: 170 degrees sounds great, right? If your subject is really close maybe. But man, if you are pointing at something a but further away it's like looking through the wrong end of binoculars. 70 of those degrees are pure distortion."
Not to mention horrible usability with the firmware for the hero.
Bullet proof casing but that is about it.

Now the VHoldR camera holds much promise only 130mm wide angle and hd you should be able to actually see things!!!! Just picked one up and have not tried yet.)
I hope so I am trying to do some high altitude leaf peeping videos with the kids and this is my last chance this season.

Btw, thanks for the reverse mount pick which gives me a great idea to get shots of my kids running behind me.
later.
Glovemtb

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Anonymous September 29, 2009 at 12:41 pm

Ok, got it, tried it. Please folks don't waste your time with the gopro hero. The contourHD quality in every way is far superior. Well worth the price. The pictures on youtube really do not do it justice.
Only thing I might suggest is get an inner 26" old inner tube and cut out about an inch section. Put it over the back of the camera so a small portion overlaps the back of the camera. That will prevent the little door from accidently opening. (could be problematic depending on your mounting system.)
Also, for handlebar I use the little 29 dollar univeral mount with the existing hardware that came with the ContourHD to make a great mount that just works on handle bar and also on some seatpost. (depending on your setup.)
Thanks for fine review.

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Brian Mullin - Gram and Pastajet September 29, 2009 at 4:11 pm

The new GoPro HD Hero will have 127 degrees for the 1080p. It is not really fair to compare the old HERO video to the ContourHD. I am looking forward to testing out the video of the new HD Hero for apples to apple comparison. The Hero was done at 170 degrees to capture as many viewpoints as possible, it works best for just looking down the trail a short distance. The Hero has solved the firmware issues, they had a lot of bugs and didn't think it was wise to release buggy firmware to the public?

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Anja December 9, 2009 at 5:17 pm

Awesome! Thanks for the great review. Love the comparison test between the three and the different tests for shadows and rough terrain. Great job! I know what I'm asking santa for this christmas…:)

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Mark March 10, 2010 at 3:10 am

I'm kind of late to the party, but am shopping helmet cams so I can record my commute (the middle six miles are pretty scenic). I need a device that will work in temperatures in the teens and will tolerate lots of rain. VHoldR sells a waterproof case, but some users have claimed that they have used it in rain without protection.

Brian, how has the Contour done this winter? Also, have you used the ContourHD in downpours?

Reply

Brian Mullin - Gram and Pastajet March 10, 2010 at 6:08 am

It does just fine in rain and snow, you would want the waterproof case if you were kayaking or that sort of thing. I have gotten dumped on with rain, snowed on, etc and it does just fine. When it dips into the teens (temps) battery life does degrade somewhat(same with the GoPro), but its not much loss with the Li-Ion batteries, taping a handwarmer to the body near the battery can help.

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