GoPro HD HERO – Impressions

by Brian Mullin on November 20, 2009

Go to for the full review!

The longingly anticipated GoPro HD HERO has finally been released, and at first glance and usage it has met a lot of my expectations.

I really liked the original GoPro HERO Wide that I tested and reviewed about a year ago, it was rugged, lightweight and got the job done in a simple fashion. It brought a lot of unique features to the table, such as its waterproof and durable housing, and an incredible assortment of attachment accessories, such as the best quick release vented helmet mounts in the business. Unfortunately, it was lacking in high quality video, especially in comparison to some of its competition of late.

GoPro HD HERO Helmet Kit

The new GoPro HD HERO can now shoot in High Definition (obviously)! The HD HERO can shoot in 1080p (widescreen) at 30fps, 960p (full frame) at 30fps, 720p (widescreen) at either 30 fps or 60 fps, and SD at 60 fps. The 720p 60 fps allows for slow motion playback, how cool is that! The resolution settings are done within the camera’s menu system, so they can be done in the field, something that the VHoldR ContourHD 1080p cannot wholly perform. The ContourHD 1080p can be hard switched to either 1080p/30 or 720p/60, but the other 2 settings must be set from a computer. In addition the ContourHD software allows adjustment of bit rate, lighting ( contrast, exposure, sharpness, and metering) and microphone levels. Another attribute I always liked about the GoPro camera, is the ability to delete files through its menu system, something that neither the VHoldR Contour HD nor the VIO POV 1.5 can do in the field. The camera angle is different in each format, so 1080p is 127 degrees, while 920p, 720p and SD are at 170 degrees.

Here are some videos that I have taken at the 1080p setting. I am still playing with the editing of videos in the HD format, and I am trying out different settings within the editing software that I use, so it is still a vast learning experience that I am venturing into.

If the videos load slowly go directly to vimeo, just click under each embeded video!

GoPro HD HERO – First Test from Brian Mullin on Vimeo.

GoPro HD HERO Test – Lower Dog, Rattlesnake and Bones from Brian Mullin on Vimeo.

HERO HD vs ContourHD 1080p – Hooters Canyon from Brian Mullin on Vimeo.

GoPro HD HERO Test (bar mount) – 960p Hooters Canyon from Brian Mullin on Vimeo.

Jump/Shake Issues
In comparison to the VHoldR ContourHD, the jump/shake issue seems to be more subdued and softer, but it is still there. Perhaps the jump/shake issue has to do with HD, and some of the compromises that have to be made to get a rugged outdoor sport video camera to function within its design and cost parameters? More than likely, it is a common issue with rolling shutters with CMOS sensors? I just started testing the new VHoldR ContourHD 1080p, so I will have a more direct comparison shortly.

Here was an excerpt from my VHoldR ContourHD initial impression review:

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 a 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 they still exist.

Dealing with Light Conditions
Very low light (night, dusk, etc.) usage is decent with some pixelation, but there isn’t much to see at night anyway! I still think that the HERO camera line deals extremely well with difficult light conditions, ones in which you go in and out of sunshine and shade, and it just seems to deal with that adjustment in a more subtle manner.

Camera Operation
The camera is operated using the power/mode (located on front) button, and the shutter/select (located on top) button. Once the desired camera options are set using its deep menu system (viewed from the status screen), a simple push of the shutter button stops and starts the camera’s recording operation.

There is a subtle beep to tell you whether it started (indicator light starts blinking) or stopped, but I found it wasn’t quite loud enough. The ContourHD is loud and very distinctive, so you know what it’s doing, and in addition the recording switch for the Contour HD is a long slider switch, so you know the recording status due to the obvious mechanical nature and placement of the switch. The ContourHD just has a very obvious usage, you slid it forward to turn it on, and slide it back to turn it off. I really liked that difference with the while I am riding because, I can easily turn the camera on and off while riding, to capture portions of the trail that are more photogenic. The HERO was problematic in that I am not sure what it is up to without taking it off my head, and looking at the indicator light or the status screen. It can be a moot point sometimes if I just leave the camera running continually, but that uses up battery and storage space.

What is it Capturing?
Another point of contention is that is sort of hard to know what you are capturing on the HD HERO. The old view finder is now gone, so you have to use the alignment of the camera body itself to know what it is shooting, which is even tougher since once you put it on your head you really aren’t sure where it is pointing? Trial an error (look at the video post ride) will eventually get you to know what angle works best. The ContourHD, on the other hand, has nice dual leveling laser beams, which can be easily engaged when it is on your head, so you can tell where the camera is actually pointing.

One of the most dramatic changes is that the memory/storage capacity is now up to a whopping 32GB capacity! Much better than the measly 2GB that was the standard, although GoPro just recently released the 4GB memory firmware. Unfortunately, since the 32GB cards are fairly new, they are brutally expensive, anywhere from $75 to $200+, ouch! I think I will stick to the cheap 8GB cards for now, and just swap them out as needed, although I did just purchase a 16GB Class 6 card for $38 from my favorite manufacturer, Transcend.

Housing w/ Optional Open Door Memory Slot

The GoPro engineers vastly improved the sound reception of the unit, which I can attest to, the new sound pickup is readily apparent. You can also use the optional non-waterproof back door, which has cut outs on it for even better sound quality. I need to experiment more with sound, but I usually add music to my videos, so it was always a moot point while editing.

The camera now has an internal rechargeable Lithium Ion 1100mah battery, so no more having to swap out your AAA batteries for another recharge, just plug it into your computers USB port for its replenishment. The battery fits very snugly into the back of the camera, so that it won’t give any issues with high vibration activities, like mountain biking! The battery is supposed to last 2.5 hours per charge, but so far it seems to last a bit less than that. I need to do some more experimentation into battery life, via each video resolution setting, since each one will load the camera differently. A future expansion pack will have a longer life battery, so until then with the larger storage capacity of 32GB, a spare battery might be desired on longer rides.

The back of the camera has an expansion port, that will allow optional expansion packs (called Bakpacs) to be connected. The current Bakpacs list to be released sometime in 2010, is an LCD screen (to view videos/pictures), and a battery extender. The Bakpacs will come with an expanded back door, so that the fatter camera (camera with attached Bakpac) will fit inside the waterproof housing. Future Bakpacs are supposed to include a battery warmer for those ultra cold days when batteries give up the ghost at the most inopportune moments.

Expansion Port Input/Output

One of the things that changed since the Interbike show is they got rid of the upside down output of LCD screen. The HERO Wide had the upside down viewpoint, and it was very annoying. The upside down screen output was a leftover from the HERO’s surfing roots, in which the camera was attached to your wrist, and upside down was right side up! I am glad they went to a normal screen output.

Abby Normal!

The LCD screen is where you see the current status, such as the battery level, video resolution setting (1-5), shooting mode (photo, video, triple shot, timer), picture count, deletion status and exposure setting. As you go through the menu system, using the power/mode and shutter/select buttons, various icons, numbers and 3 letter anachronisms are highlighted on the LCD screen, allowing multiple camera options to be set. One thing that is missing in the current firmware is the upside down mode, which allows you to record with the camera upside down, while recording it right side up. The user manual (ok, a single large double sided piece of paper), does a good job of covering everything, even if it is sometimes ad nauseum!

Measured Specs:
98.9 grams – camera with battery and SD card
26.1 grams – battery
1.7 grams – SD card
90.5 grams – waterproof housing with connector
19.3 grams – connector
189.4 grams – total

60mm x 42mm x 30mm – camera size
13mm x 16mm – LCD screen size

When comparing the HD HERO to the HERO Wide, the size is mostly apparent in the depth of the camera, its rear end got fat!. When you compare them side by side, the HD HERO is just slightly larger, but not appreciatively so. The waterproof housing has been slightly increased in size, for the larger HD HERO. The only thing that has been retained between the models is the attachment system, which IMHO is still the best one on the market.

Outside of the new HD settings, the camera has the same look and feel (albeit heftier), and uses the same buttons, status screen and indicator light. What is gone on the new camera is the view port, which I found handy to see what the camera would capture, but it was a bit redundant since the angle of the housing sort of gave you a general idea anyway? The camera’s menu system is better and deeper, but it still used in the same general manner.

Another nice new feature, is that it finally has a date function! I always found it annoying when the HERO Wide would store the date as 1/1/2098 for any video. It made it very tough to organize files.

The sensor is .4 inch HD CMOS with 2.2 micrometer pixels, and the video format is H.264 compression, which is saved as a MP4 file. It uses a fixed focus lens, with a f2.8 aperture and has an angle of view of either 127 or 170, depending on the chosen video resolution.

I am highly impressed with the short time I have spent with the new GoPro HD HERO. It still has the features that I liked from the original HERO, and added a few new features and kicked it up a big notch by adding HD (1080p, 960p and 720p). One of the new features I really like is that the 1080p uses a 127 degree angle, I just usually found the 170 was a bit much for my taste?

MSRP: $299

Detailed Specs
Recording times are:
12 min/GB for 1080p
14 min/GB for 960p
16 min/GB for 720p/30fps
11 min/GB for 720p/60fps.

HD settings:
1080p – 1920×1080 pixels, 127 degree viewing, 30 fps, 15 Mbits/s data rate
960p – 1280×960 pixels, 170 degree viewing, 30 fps, 12 Mbits/s data rate
720p – 1280×720 pixels, 170 degree viewing, 30 fps, 8 Mbits/s data rate
720p – 1280×720 pixels, 170 degree viewing, 60 fps, 15 Mbits/s data rate
WVGA – 848×280 pixels, 170 degree viewing, 60 fps, 8 Mbit/s data rate

up to 32GB SD card, average w/ 32GB is
1080p – 4H 21M
960p – 5H 26M
720p (60 fps) – 4H 21M
720p (30 fps) and SD – 8 H 9M

Mono with automatic gain control, recorded in 48kHz AAC audio compression

Rechargeable 1100 mAh Lithium-Ion, 2.5 hours life, charged via USB

Waterproof Housing:
Polycarbonate and stainless steel, rated to 180 feet in depth

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Patrul November 20, 2009 at 8:24 pm

Very good review. I have ordered the cam and excited to receive. Excelent post! Thank you!

Only a suggestion, I have RSS feed of your blog and have received this as a new post 9 times during this week. Please mark the new information with different color of at the end of the review.


Brian Mullin - Gram and Pastajet November 20, 2009 at 9:27 pm

Sorry about that, my system and/or blog went crazy, I actually had 8 different versions of the same article 'GoPro HD HERO – Early Review' that were from different points in time, this last one is the official copy!


Patrul November 25, 2009 at 7:05 pm

What software do you use for editing the mp4 videos of GoPro HD?


Brian Mullin - Gram and Pastajet November 25, 2009 at 7:18 pm

Cyberlink PowerDirector Ultra


Patrul November 26, 2009 at 10:14 pm

Don't you have problems with MP4 and choppy video? Need to convert before? Worse quality?



Constantin March 26, 2010 at 9:42 pm

really thorough review!
And good detail pictures as well.


Constantin March 26, 2010 at 9:42 pm

Really thorough review!
And good detail pictures as well.


Brian Mullin - Gram and Pastajet March 28, 2010 at 9:16 pm

Thanks, I should have a full review done shortly…


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