ContourHD 1080p Review

by Brian Mullin on September 18, 2010

The ContourHD 1080p is a small, light and compact video camera, that is easy to use. It has an excellent usage factor, combining a mechanical start/stop recording slider, loud and distinct indicator beeps for mode changes, a 180 degree rotatable lens and a superb dual Laser leveling feature for horizontal alignment. The camera 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 realistic colors.


ContourHD
The ContourHD 1080p is a POV (point of view) high definition sports CMOS camera, that can record video footage in 1080p, 960p, 720p and SD formats. It records data onto a MicroSD card (2GB included) up to 16GB in size, and is powered with an internal rechargeable Li-Ion battery that gives around three hours of recording time. The small and light camera is mostly made of plastic, and use a fiberglass lower body, with a protective anodized aluminum barrel surrounding the lens and electronics, and its impact, shock, and water resistant. The camera attaches to an assortment of mounts, including a goggle, flat surface, universal adapter (camera and RAM), vented helmet (optional) and handlebar (optional), using their proprietary TRails system.

The kit comes with the ContourHD 1080p camera, a flat surface and goggle mount, an instruction guide, a USB cable, a rechargeable 3.7V 1050mAh Li-Ion battery and a 2GB MicroSD card.

Video Resolutions
The ContourHD 1080p can shoot in High Definition, in five 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 Contour’s Easy Edit software on your local computer, since the camera itself doesn’t have a user menu interface for configuration. You can preset two video resolutions for the camera, which can then be changed by using the Hi/Low switch on the inside back of the unit. The camera records in two viewing angles, unique to its video resolution, so 1080p and SD are 110 degrees, while 920p and 720p are at 135 degrees. It uses the H.264 video codec, AAC audio compression, and a .mov file type.

Camera Features
On the back of the camera is a simple on and off button, along with two LED’s that informs you of the available memory and battery levels, and they fluctuate from green (80-100%) to yellow (20-80%) and finally red (0-20%). The front has an LED that indicates if the camera is on (green) or in record mode (red). The lens rotates 90 degrees right or left of the top center, which allows the camera to be mounted at varying angles, and the dual Lasers can be focused on an object to indicate the horizontal alignment for proper recording. Contour’s TRails mounting system, is sort of like tongue and groove, and the camera has two female groove’s, and the mounts have two male tongue’s (insert joke).

On the top of the camera is a mechanical slider that turns the recording mode on and off. Inside the rear door, is the battery slot, a switch to change between preset video resolutions (aka Hi/Lo), a MicroSD card slot, a mini USB port and a battery charging indicator.

Impressions and Usage
Mounting
The camera only comes with a flat surface, and goggle mounts, while the more useful vented helmet is an optional accessory. Not having the helmet mount as a basic item in the camera kit is a huge faux pas on Contour’s part, as anyone who rides a mountain bike have a need for that item. I found that goggle mounts were useful if you had a wide Velcro strap, which I procured from one of my night light kits.

The TRails mounting system is pretty easy to use, just line up the male and female parts, and push the camera backwards until it reaches the front stops. Unfortunately, there is some subtle inherent sloppiness in the system, which is difficult to get rid of, and rough trails and loose helmets, exacerbates the issue. I found that the goggle mounts displayed the least amount of slop, and was the most stable to use. The latest version of the helmet and handlebar has greatly improved the issue, but has not alleviated it. For additional safety in case the unit falls off, each of the mounts has a lanyard that snaps into an accompanying one on the camera.

The helmet mounts have a small amount of pitch control, so the camera can be tilted up and down. The handlebar mounts works decently once it’s set up properly, and the ball socket system let you point it just about anywhere, though the clamp only works on the narrowest part of the bar.

Weight:

  • Camera – 102.1 grams
  • 8 GB MicroSD card – .2 grams
  • Battery – 21.6 grams
  • Total – 123.9 grams

Size:

  • 96mm long x 55mm tall x 34mm wide

Camera Usage
To turn on the camera, just push the rear power button, and it announces that it’s alive with loud and distinct beep, which was easy to hear no matter what the outdoor ambient noise level was like.

It’s alive! It’s alive!

Leveling the camera was super simple and fun, and a quick press of the power button, illuminates the Lasers, and you point the camera at a stationary object, like a tree, rock or the ground, and then rotate the lens until the two beam spots are horizontally aligned. Although it can be hard to discern the Laser spots in bright daylight while looking down the trail, you can get a general idea of what the video will be capturing. 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! To begin the recording, just push the slider towards the lens, and it beeps once, and the front indicator light turns from green to red. To stop recording, push the slider away from the lens, and it beeps twice. The loud beeps and mechanical nature of the recording switch were very intuitive and reassuring, and inform you of exactly what’s transpired, and if needed a quick check of the switch’s position quickly assured you of its status. I give extremely high marks to the Contour for its usage factor!

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, all with the reinforcement of the nice loud beeps as things go on or off. The rear on/off button was less distinct when wearing gloves, but the loud noise it made, more than made up for it. The camera has an automatic shutoff if the camera is idle (not recording) for 15 minutes, and it beeps twice as it powers down.

While it was on my head, I did notice the additional weight, but it wasn’t significant, and after riding any distance it slowly disappeared and wasn’t noticeable. It doesn’t stick up in the air as much as the toaster oven camera, but it still got whacked by trees. I did actually break one set of rails, but it was a pretty abusive happenstance, and Contour sent me a new replacement.

Memory and Battery
The rechargeable Lithium-Ion battery fits very snugly into the back of the camera, and there is a latch to hold it securely in the position, which greatly helps the jarring vibrations that mountain places on the battery. A loose connection means loss of footage, data corruption, and anomalies can be introduced. The 3.7 volt and 1050 milliampere-hour battery, gave me anywhere from 2-3 hour of usage, and its limit varied on the video resolution used, and the number times that I cycled the on/off and stop/start recording switches.

The unit comes with a 2GB MicroSD card which was good for 30-60 minutes of recording time in HD mode (15-30min per GB in HD). I went out and bought a 8GB MicroSD card for maximum recording time, since the memory gets maxed out when the battery limit is reached. I will probably get a 16GB card, but I currently carry an extra battery and MicroSD card, if I desire more footage.

Interfacing with the Computer
To download or view the video’s you recorded, open up the back door of the camera, and connect the mini USB to the camera, and then the other end of the connector to a computer USB port. The unit will appear as a Removable Disk, and just navigate down to the appropriate directory (example: F:Removable DiskDCIM100MEDIA) and either download or view the video straight from the camera. For faster downloads, use a standalone SD card reader, and bypass the camera as the downloading interface.

To configure the camera you use Contour’s Easy Edit software on your computer, which can be installed directly from the MicroSD card or downloaded from their website. The Easy Edit software lets you do camera configurations, video downloads, editing (primitive) and uploads to their community site. You can configure the bit rate, Hi/Low switch video settings, microphone gain(0-59), and lighting conditions such as contrast (0-100), exposure (-4 to +4), sharpness(1-5), metering weighting (spot, center, avg) and set the time. I played with the bit rate and lighting settings, and they were fun to play with, and did make a discernible difference.

I didn’t use their Easy Edit software very much, except to change camera configurations, as I much preferred a more robust video editing software package, such as Cyberlink’s PowerDirector Ultra (my current fave), but they are plenty of other brands on the market. The Easy Edit wasn’t bad, and it a least gave you something to use for editing, plus you can upload 60fps videos, which isn’t the case with any of the popular video sites, such as YouTube or Vimeo. I usually manually download the footage to a local directory, and either upload to Vimeo as a raw file or use my video software to create a short video.

While it’s hooked up to the computer, 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.

Video
I tested all the different HD video resolutions, and my preference was full frame 960p, since it gave more of the trail viewpoint of what is perceived when actually riding a trail, meaning taller and narrower FOV (field of vision). The 720p was nice and I used it regularly, and it was easy to edit and splice, and was more conformable to the video upload sites. The camera can have two preset video resolutions, which are set up with the Easy Edit software, and then are chosen with the Hi/Low switch, and I usually did a 960p and 720p pairing.

The captured footage had good clarity and sharpness, with realistic colors, although they were slightly cool and muted. It did well in bright sunshine, especially when panning directly into the sun, but it wasn’t the best when alternating between sunshine and shade. 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.

If the terrain was smooth, or you could tighten down your helmet or use a full faced version, the 1080p looked really sweet, as the additional clarity was outstanding, and the widescreen captured an expansive viewpoint. Unfortunately, with rough terrain encountered during typical mountain biking, and loose fitting helmets, the 1080p format had significant jellovision, and made those recording undesirable.

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, or as jellovision. Attaching the camera using a more stable mount so that it literally becomes part of the attachment point helps this issue. 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 ContourHD, like a lot of the CMOS video cameras use a Rolling Shutter, which makes videos seem a bit shaky and scattered (think sea sickness) and jellovisioned, 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 final output can also display spatio-temporal aliasing, which has a rippled or watered appearance.

Quibbles
The back door would loosen sometimes, and pop open slightly when turning the record slider on and off, but it never did actually fully flop open, and it was easy to slide back into position, even on the fly. The unit doesn’t do very well in rain storms when mud gets kicked up, and although it still recorded (it’s water resistant), mud would get caught in the nook of the lens, and cause issues. They do have a new waterproof housing, which should help, but I haven’t tested it as yet, but it will come in handy next time I am submerged. If you don’t clear the memory before your ride, your SOL, since there isn’t a method for in the field deletion, so it’s a good idea to always have a spare card. Even if I played with the microphone gain, I still didn’t find the sound recoding very useful, it either had extraneous wind noise or was too muted, although I usually add music to my edited videos, so it was a moot point for me.

Bottom Line
What I really like about the camera was the usefulness of the mode switching. When turning it on, or switching recording on and off, you get a loud and distinct beep, and in addition the mechanical feel for what is happening. The Laser sighting is the best on the market for leveling your FOV, and you get a real time sense of what will be recorded, which is really nice, since once it’s on top of your head, you lose visual alignment cue’s. The camera is compact and light, and the Aluminum and fiberglass body haven proven to be tough and durable, as it has taken lots of tree impacts, an occasional drop into the rocks, and a couple of good crashes. The TRails mounting system leaves something to be desired, and the rail and groove system is a bit sloppy, and no matter how I used it, there was some inherent wiggle. The Vented Helmet mounts need to be part of the camera kit, since it is a key item for mountain bike usage.

The ContourHD 1080p took excellent high definition video footage, and it had great clarity with realist colors, and it has the best usage factor of all the sports camera I have used.

Strengths
– Laser leveling system
– Rotatable lens
– Loud indicative beeps
– Mechanical slider
– Light
– Great video quality

Weaknesses
– Lens can collect mud
– Microphone
– TRails Mount system can be sloppy
– Lack of Vented Helmet mount in kit

MSRP: $279.99

ContourHD Specs
Video

  • HD 1080p (1920 x 1080) at 30 fps
  • HD 960p (1280 x 960) at 30 fps
  • HD 720p (1280 x 720) at 30 fps
  • HD 720p (1280 x 720) at 60 fps
  • SD WVGA (848 x 480) at 60 fps
  • 5 Mega-pixel CMOS Image Sensor
  • H.264 Codec (AAC Audio)
  • File Type *.mov

Recording Time

  • 1080p,960p,720p(60fps) – 15min/GB
  • 720p (30fps) – 30 min/GB
  • SD – 60min/GB

Memory

  • MicroSD card
  • Maximum 16GB (2GB included)

Audio

  • Internal microphone
  • AAC Audio compression

Lens

  • 960p and 720p – 135 degrees
  • 1080p and SD – 110 degrees

Body

  • Water resistant
  • Aluminum and Fiberglass body
  • TRails mount system

Battery

  • Removable Litihium-Ion Battery 3,7V 1050mAh
  • 3 hours record time
  • Charge via USB or Optional Charger
  • Charge Time 3 hours

Camera Kit

  • Countour HD camera
  • 2GB MicroSD Card
  • Google Mount
  • Flat Surface Mount
  • Rechargeable Battery
  • USB Cable

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