GoPro HD HERO Review

by Brian Mullin on April 12, 2010

The longingly anticipated GoPro HD HERO was released early this year, and I have gotten around 6 months of testing experience with the camera. It brings 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. The HD HERO records in a vast array of high definition video resolutions up to 1080p, and has proven itself to take excellent footage with great clarity and vivid colors.

“Being a hero is about the shortest-lived profession on earth.”

Note: I am cross comparing the HD HERO to the old HERO Wide and VHoldR ContourHD 1080p

HD HERO

GoPro’s HD HERO is a POV (point of view) high definition sports CMOS camera, that can take video and still shots. It can record video footage in 1080p, 960p, 720p and SD formats, and 5MP photos in several modes. It records data onto SDHC cards (not included) up to 32GB in size, and is powered with an internal rechargeable battery that gives around 2.5 hours of recording time. The camera is encased within a plastic waterproof housing, that attaches to a plethora of mounting accessories, and can be mounted to a wide array of objects. The camera can be used for an assortment of outdoor activities, including motorsports, biking, kayaking, surfing, skiing, base jumping, etc.

Video
The HD HERO can shoot in High Definition (obviously), in 5 video resolutions. It 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, which is pretty cool to watch. Each of the video resolution’s are captured at different bit rates, which entails varying recording times and storage requirements, meaning greater resources are needed for the higher usage formats. The resolution settings are done within the camera’s menu system, which is managed by its 2 buttons. In fact, any of the programmable features and settings can be done through the menus, allowing in the field changes as required. The camera records in 2 viewing angles, unique to its video resolution, so 1080p is 127 degrees, while 920p, 720p and SD are at 170 degrees. The default setting is 960p.

Photos
The HD HERO can shoot still photos in either a manual or automatic mode. In the manual mode it can be set to shoot either a single or triple sequence of photos, and even has a 10 second timer if desired. The automatic mode allows photos to be taken every X number of seconds, where X is 2 (default), 5, 10, 30 or 60 second intervals.

IMPRESSIONS AND USAGE

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. The camera’s settings are accessed through a combination of the 2 buttons, using the menu system as a visual aid. This can be a bit tricky, since it isn’t always intuitive, and the menu icons can be difficult to see and interpret. Perhaps a slightly large screen might help? I was always clicking past the video icon, which meant I had to cycle back through the menu to get there again.

HD HERO Functional Layout

To turn on the camera, just push the front power button, and it announces itself with 3 subtle beep. The beeps were not loud enough to be heard over the typically noisy outdoor conditions. The wind, terrain, and loud compatriots all make hearing them difficult. This meant you spent a lot of time looking at the front of the camera to verify its status. LOUDER beeps please!

“Eleven. Exactly. One louder.”

After choosing the video resolution, you push the shutter button to start the recording. The camera beeps once, and the indicator light begins to blink. To stop the recording, push the shutter button, and it beeps 3 times, and the light stops blinking.  The buttons were a bit soft, so it was tough to tell whether it actually started or stopped, exacerbated by the subtle beep, so a visual check was required, which meant a lot of face shots at the beginning of recordings.

The HD 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. Cameras with a more mechanical on/off lever alleviate that issue.

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.

Status LCD Screen
The HERO Wide had an upside down viewpoint of the LCD screen, which 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 the right side up! I am glad they went to a normal screen output with the HD HERO.

“Abby Normal!”

LCD Screen Layout

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. The upside down image capturing mode is missing (upside down records right side up), hopefully a firmware upgrade will be released soon. 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 nauseam!

I would have liked a slightly larger screen, since a lot of information is packed into it a small area. The mode icons are difficult to see, and they are tucked up high on the screen.

Weight:

  • 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

Size:

  • 60mm x 42mm x 30mm – camera size
  • 72mm x 65mm x 46mm – housing size
  • 13mm x 16mm – LCD screen size

Housing
The housing is a really nice unit, that is durable, waterproof and resists contamination. The housing is made of polycarbonate, with stainless steel hinge pins. I have used the camera kayaking, and biking in the snow and mud, and can attest for its tight seals and protection it affords. Which is a good thing, since the camera itself is a bit fragile, so it really needs to be used within the housing? On the bottom of the housing is a slotted connector to hook it up to the mounting system.

Housing

Mounts
The mounting system connects up to the bottom of the housing, and includes a vast array of parts and pieces (some are optional), that allow placements on the frame, helmet, handlebars and seatpost. The HD HERO is sold in different kit formats such as Helmet, Surf and Motorsports. The Helmet version is what most bikers will purchase, and includes mounts for vented and hard shell helmets.

The kit includes a vented helmet strap, a unvented helmet strap (a.k.a the jock strap), stick on mounts, and a side arm swivel. The mounts allow attachment to bikes, cars, kayaks, helmets and more. You can purchase additional more specific adapters for motorsports, surfing, and other sports uses. I tested the optional adapters that allow connection to a seatpost or handlebar, and the “Chesty” which is a chest strap system. These two accessories are a necessity to make full use of the camera’s abilities.

HD HERO Kit Contents

Using the easy to mount helmet strap, the housing unit has a fantastic quick snap in capability that is a dream to attach to the helmet strap mount. All that are required is a quick backwards push of the buckle onto any of the mounts, and the housing is installed. The quick release system just plain rocks, it’s so easy to take the camera on and off. I wish my bike lights all used this system.

Quick Release Mounting System

The mounts, adapters and swivel arms can be set up to shoot a lot of variations and viewpoints, making some interesting footage. Everything fits together like a small tinker toy set, with clamping and connection done by a plastic ended screw with a nut, which are tightened by hand. Although everything is easy to use and set up, it’s difficult to make things tight enough, and things always seem to move in the middle of a ride. Even when tightening with a screw driver, things can move accidentally and screw up a shot.

I really liked the helmet mount, which was simple to use and could be clamped down pretty tightly (fewer movements). I did think it looked like a freakin toaster on top of your head! I also enjoyed the handlebar mount, which could give some interesting perspective, and in addition it kept the camera out of my way. I found that the seatpost setup seemed to get caught on my bike shorts on occasion, which was very annoying.

Handlebar and Seatpost Mounting

The “Chesty” was pretty cool, and was excellent for skiing and kayaking, where it ruled. I didn’t like it as much as most people, since I tend to move around too much, and saddle and stuff got in the way.

The Chesty

Memory/Storage
One of the most dramatic changes from the older model 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 did release a 4GB memory firmware for the old HERO Wide. Unfortunately, since the 32GB cards are fairly new, they are brutally expensive, anywhere from $75 to $200+, ouch! I got a 16GB Class 6 card, which was a good compromise, especially considering the battery cannot make it to 32GB.

  • Memory statistics per single battery charge: 1080p @ 12.5GB, 960p @ 15.9GB, 720p @ 15.7GB

The SD Cards are formatted with a FAT 32 partition, which has a 4GB file size limitation. While recording, a new video file will be created once the currently recording one reaches appropriately 3. 84GB, due to the FAT limitation, so you will need to piece the files together in an editor to have a full timeline.

This brings up an issue that has been problematic for many HD HERO users. Not all SD cards seem to work properly with the camera, although this can be a common issue with a lot of digital cameras, not just the HD HERO. It seems to be hit and miss for which cards might work, for instance, all my Transcend SD cards work fine for me, but others have had issues with them. Per GoPro support, “For what it’s worth, internally we use Kingston or Patriot brand cards: 16GB, Class 4.” Issues that have been reported are short video recording times, or an inability to record.  I did not have any of these issues, and all the cards I have used have been fine. Caveat emptor.

Housing w/ Optional Slotted Sound Door and Memory Slot

Sound
The GoPro engineers improved the sound reception of the unit  in comparison to the old unit, which I can attest to. The new pickup is readily apparent when using the optional non-waterproof back door, which has cut outs on it. I usually add music to my videos, so sound is sort of a moot point for me.

Battery
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 it seems to vary depending on the chosen video resolution.

  • Battery time statistics: 1080p @ 2:20hrs, 960p @ 2:40hrs, 720p @ 2:16 hrs
  • Battery recharge: 2 hrs

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 multiple hour rides. I always carry an extra in case of unforeseen issues.

Expansion Port
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 and Output Ports

RECORDED VIDEO
I recorded all the video resolution except for the SD with the HD HERO. The 1080p gave the best clarity, and its widescreen gave a great scenic value to some shots, but I preferred the 960p since its full frame viewpoint captured the maximum field of view, giving rise to what is perceived when actually riding a trail. I liked the handlebars or the helmet mounts, which worked at the best for my riding style, and also gathered footage that I preferred.

The captured HD HERO footage had good clarity and sharpness, with warm and vivid colors. I think that the HERO camera line deals extremely well with difficult daylight conditions, especially when alternating between sunshine and shade, and it just seems to deal with that adjustment in a more subtle manner. Like many of the CMOS sensors, straight on sun will cause some vertical colored bands (usually purple) and flares. Pixelation was good, with a mild amount of aliasing, and some slight edge artifacts. The framing was smooth, but heavy shocks and vibrations caused distortion.

Jump/Shake Issues
When recording in rougher mountain biking terrain, all the POV outdoor video cameras have an issue with what I call the “jump or shake” syndrome. It can be seen in the recorded media as in abrupt jump in the field of view, almost like one is in an earthquake. Attaching the camera using a more stable mount so that it literally becomes part of the attachment point helps this issue, but does not alleviate it. A great deal of the issue is due to the CMOS sensor, but the HD exacerbates the issue, since anomalies are more perceptible. Of course, in the price point range of the POV’s, compromises have to be made to get a rugged outdoor sport video camera to function within its design and cost parameters.

The HD 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). A Rolling Shutter exposes different portions of the frame at a different point in time, hence “rolling” through the frame, while a Global shutter (CCD cameras use this) 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. The final output can also display spatio-temporal aliasing, which has a rippled or watered appearance.

GoPro HD HERO Mount Tests from Brian Mullin on Vimeo.

Hooters Canyon – Pueblo South Shore (chest mount) 12/29/09 from Brian Mullin on Vimeo.

Editing
Raw footage looks the best, but to make the most use of things you need to do some video editing. There is plenty of video editing software on the market, from freeware to products that can cost several hundred dollars. I ended up using Cyberlink’s PowerDirector Ultra, which costs around $99. Most of the products allow a trail period, so you can test out their software and find one that suits your preferences. Editing allows cuts and piecing together of footage, and music and titles can be added, making a more professional and appealing product, even though it’s destined for the cyber world.

Download and Viewing
To download or view the video’s you will need a PC or Mac. Take the camera out of the housing, and connect the mini USB to the camera, and then the other end of the connector to the computers USB port, and click the power button (USB will appear in the screen). The unit will appear as a Removable Disk, just navigate down to the appropriate directory (example: F:Removable DiskDCIM100MEDIA) and either download or view the video straight from the camera. You can also remove the SD card, and use a SD card reader or other device, and bypass the camera as the downloading interface. The video’s are in a MP4 (MPEG-4), and you can use them as is or edit them in your favorite video editing software.

You can also view video’s directly from the camera on a TV using the HDTV or Audio out connections. You use the camera’s buttons to tab through, and start each of the video’s stored on the camera’s memory. The controls are very rudimentary, but they do work. For a small video camera watching the video on a large screen is pretty impressive.

Technical Camera Fodder
The sensor is .4 inch HD CMOS (Complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor) 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 believe the unit is made in China by Sky Light Industrial, a company that makes  electronic products for multiple partners.

BOTTOMLINE
The HD HERO is an excellent high definition POV camera, that is light and small, with a vast array of software settings that can be changed in the field. The recorded footage has good clarity and vivid colors, and looks nice on a large TV monitor. The camera can deal extremely well with difficult daylight conditions, especially shadow to bright sunshine interactions. It’s easy to pop the card out and into a SD Card reader, for faster downloads on a computer. The polycarbonate housing is a really nice unit, its durable and waterproof, which makes it great for inclement conditions or water sports. The mounting systems (highlights to the quick release) are highly functional, and allow a plethora of placements on almost any object. The optional handlebar/seatpost and Chesty mounts are well engineered, and really add usefulness to the kit.

I did not like the soft non-positive buttons, nor the subdued on and off beeps, and it often required a visual inspection for camera status. It was hard to know what the camera was capturing due to the lack of any sort of positioning system (view finder, etc.). The mounting system is somewhat flexy and lacks shock proofing, and it’s difficult to lock down to prevent accidental movement.

The HD HERO would be a great addition for any sports enthusiast, even though it looks like a toaster oven.

Strengths
-Waterproof and durable housing
-Vivid colors
-Great video quality
-In the field software setting adjustments
-Low artifacts on edges
-Good assortment of mounts

Weaknesses
-Poor shock proofing
-Soft and non-positive shutter button
-Indication beep are not loud enough
-Visual inspection required for recording status
-Mount systems can move, is slightly flexy and hard to clamp down

MSRP: $299

Overall Rating:

GoPro url: http://www.goprocamera.com/

GoPro HD HERO Specs

What’s Included:
* 1 HD HERO Camera (5 megapixel)
* 1 Rechargeable 1100 mAh Lithium-Ion Battery
* 1 Waterproof Quick-Release Housing (180’/60 m)
* 1 Headlamp-Style Head Strap
* 1 Vented Helmet Strap
* 2 Curved, 3M™ Adhesive Mounts
* 2 Flat, 3M Adhesive Mounts
* 1 Three-Way Pivoting Side Arm Assembly
* 2 Quick-Release Buckles
* 1 USB Cable
* 1 Component Video (HDTV) Cable
* 1 Composite Video + Audio Out Cable
* Warranty: One Year

Tech Specs:

Camera Optics
* Lens Type: Fixed Focus (2ft/.6m – ∞), glass
* Aperture: f/2.8 (high performance in low-light situations)
* Angle of View: 170º ultra wide angle in WVGA, 720p, or 960p mode
* Angle of View: 127º wide angle in 1080p mode

Video
* HD Video Resolution Modes: (subject to change, pending final firmware release)
– 1080p = 1920×1080 pixels (16:9), 30 fps, 15 Mbit/s data rate
– 960p = 1280×960 pixels (4:3), 30 fps, 12 Mbit/s data rate
– 720p = 1280×720 pixels (16:9), 60 fps, 15 Mbit/s data rate
– 720p = 1280×720 pixels (16:9), 30 fps, 8 Mbit/s data rate
– WVGA = 848×480 pixels (16:9), 60 fps, 8 Mbit/s data rate
* Sensor Type: 1/2.5″ HD CMOS, 2.2µm-sized pixels
* Light Sensitivity: Super low-light sensitivity (>1.4 V/lux-sec)
* Video Format: H.264 compression, saved as Windows- & Mac-compatible MPEG4 (.mp4) file
* Exposure Control: Auto with user selectable center weighted average and spot metering settings
* White Balance: Auto

Audio
* Microphone: Built-in, mono with AGC (automatic gain control)
* Audio Format: 48 kHz, AAC audio compression

Photo
* Resolution: 5 megapixel
* Capture Modes: Single shot, photo every 2, 5, 10, 30 or 60 secs.; 3 photo burst; self-timer

Storage
* Memory: SD card, up to 32GB capacity (SDHC)
* Average recording times (using 32GB SD card):
– 1080p (30 fps): 4h 21m
– 960p (30 fps): 5h 26m
– 720p (60 fps): 4h 21
– 720p (30 fps): 8h 09m
– WVGA (60 fps): 8h 09m

Camera Connectors & Cables
* PC Connection: USB 2.0 (data connection and battery charging)
* HDTV Out: HD NTSC & PAL (component cable incl.)
* Audio Out: Combo 2.5mm jack with stereo audio and composite video out
* PC Compatibility: Windows® XP (Service Pack 2 or later) or Vista; Mac OS® X 10.4.11 and later

Power & Battery
* Battery Type: Rechargeable 1100 mAh lithium-ion
* Battery Life: Approx. 2.5 hrs
* Charging: via USB to computer or optional power adapter
* Charge Time: 80% capacity after 1 hour with optional power adapter; or 2 hours with a computer’s USB port

Waterproof Camera Housing
* Depth Rating: Up to 180 feet / 60 meters
* Construction: Polycarbonate and stainless steel
* Hardware: Stainless steel

Size & Weight
* Dimensions (H x W x D): 1.6” x 2.4” x 1.2” (42mm x 60mm x 30mm)
* Weight: 3.3oz (94g) incl. battery, 5.9oz (167g) incl. housing

Optional Accessories
* Additional Rechargable 1100 mAh Lithium-Ion Battery (not yet available for pre-order)
* Full Line of Mounting Accessories

Optional Expansion Bakpacs™
An innovative expansion port on the back of the camera, the HERO Bus™ accepts optional Expansion Bakpacs to expand the functionality of HD HERO cameras:
* LCD Bakpac for on-camera preview and playback (not yet available for pre-order)
* Endurance Battery Bakpac for double battery life (not yet available for pre-order)
* More Bakpacs and expansion devices coming soon

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

schmoo December 31, 2010 at 11:21 pm

Wondering if you think the head strap mount would work well on a helmet with no vents? I'd like to avoid gluing things to my ski helmet. Thx.

Reply

Brian Mullin - Gram and Pastajet January 2, 2011 at 6:25 am

I am sure it would work, though I have never used it in practice. The stick-on tab is pretty small, and isn't really a nuisance, and is does give a much more solid platform.

Good Luck and thanks for reading!

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