Drift Innovations HD170 Review

by Brian Mullin on November 4, 2010

The Drift Innovations HD170 is a rugged outdoor sports video camera, that is easy to use. It has an excellent usage factor, combining loud indicator beeps for mode changes, a fully rotatable lens and a useful LCD screen, that does horizontal alignment and recorded viewing. The camera records high definition video resolutions of 720p and 1080p, and has proven itself to take excellent footage with great clarity and beautiful colors.

Note: This article is meant to be read in conjunction with Lee Lau’s article, where he discusses usability of the HD170 for shooting video, mounting setups, and a plethora of excellently done video footage.

Drift Innovations HD170
The HD170 is a POV (point of view) high definition sports CMOS camera, that can record video footage in 1080p, 720p and SD formats. It records data onto a SD card up to 32GB in size, and is powered with an internal rechargeable Li-Ion battery that gives around 2 and half hours of recording time. The somewhat large oblong camera has an LCD viewing screen, is made of plastic and fiberglass, with a rubberized strip around its circumference and screen, has a fully rotatable lens, and is impact and shock resistance, and waterproof to half a meter. The camera attaches to an assortment of mounts, including a goggle, flat surface and helmet, and handlebar, using their proprietary universal clip system, which attaches to the camera via a quarter inch universal camera adapter.

HD170 Camera Kit

The kit comes with the HD170 camera with its universal clip, a wireless remote with a wrist strap, a flat surface/helmet, goggle and handlebar mount, head strap, stick on Velcro pads, an instruction guide, a USB cable, a rechargeable 3.7V 1110mAh Li-Ion battery and an HDMI TV cable.

Video Resolutions
The Drift HD170 can shoot in three video resolutions, two of them HD. It can shoot in 1080p (widescreen) , 720p (widescreen), and SD, all at 30fps. 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 viewed from its LCD screen and managed by four buttons. The camera records in two viewing angles, unique to its video resolution, so 1080p is 127 degrees, while 720p and SD are at 170 degrees. It uses the H.264 video codec, AAC audio compression, and a .mov file type. The 720p is the default mode for the camera.

Photos
The HD170 can shoot 5 Megapixel still photos in either a manual or automatic mode. In the manual mode, it can shoot a single photo, while the automatic mode allows photos to be taken every X number of seconds, where X is 3 (default), 5, 10, or 30 second intervals.

Camera Features
On the top of the camera is rubberized area that contains the 1.5 inch LCD viewing screen (thin film transistor liquid crystal display), and four buttons that perform various functions, such as menu engagement and on/off, and a speaker. The four buttons, are comprised of a Select button (menu select, on/off and stop/start recording), an Up menu button, and a Down menu button and a Menu button (menu and back page). The speaker gives an indication of the camera turning on and off, and stopping and starting of recording, in addition to a subdued playback of a previously recorded footage. There is a small LED on the Select button that indicates the status mode, green with the camera being on, red when it is in recording mode, and blue when the camera is charging.

On the back of the camera is a waterproof latched door that houses the interface and device ports. In the inside of the door are the slots for the rechargeable battery and the SD card, the port for the mini USB to the computer connector (or power charger), and the HDMI connector, which can be used to hook up to a TV monitor or as an input for an external microphone. The main built-in waterproof microphone resides on the right side of the camera.

On the front of the camera is the 170 degree FOV (field of view) lens, which can be rotated full 300 degrees, and it has hard stops to prevent excess movement. The wrist mounted remote control unit, uses a Velcro closure strap, and has a large start and stop recording button, and communicates wirelessly via RF (radio frequency).

The bottom of the camera has a 1/4″ universal camera adapter, which can accept any normal camera mount, but is meant for their proprietary universal clip. The clip and the camera have a male and female notch system so the clip can be adjusted in 10 degree increments in relation to the camera.

Measured Specs

Weight:

  • Camera – 132.6 grams
  • SD card – 1.5 grams
  • Battery – 26.9 grams
  • Mount – 10.9 grams
  • Remote – 29.1 grams
  • Helmet mount w/ Velcro – 21.6 grams
  • Total – 171.9 grams (camera, battery, card, mount)

Camera Usage
To turn the camera on, just press and hold the Select button on the top of the camera, and the LCD screen comes on and the LED light (embedded on the Select button) turns green. The LCD screen will eventually go into the Live Preview Mode, displaying a live image of whatever the camera is pointing towards, and icons on the outer edge of the image, which indicate recording mode, current memory and battery levels. To level the camera, just point the camera at a stationary object that has a good horizontal or vertical orientation, like a tree, log or your finger held in front of the camera, and then watching the LCD screen, rotate the lens until the object matches up with the proper horizon. It can be tough to get things exactly right, due to the small screen and 170 degree lens causing skewing at its outer circumference. To turn the camera off, press and hold the Select button for 3 seconds, and then it will shut down. The camera also has a zoom capability in photo, and video modes (not in 1080p), and it can be engaged by pressing and holding the Up button, with an indicator bar on the screen, and it can be reversed with the Down.


Live Preview Mode – Zoom usage

To begin the video recording, just push Select button on the camera or the Start button on the remote, and it beeps once, and the indicator LED turns from green to red. To stop recording, push the Select button again or the Stop button on the remote, and it beeps again. When taking photos, pressing the Select button or the Remote’s Start takes a picture, and the camera beeps and the indicator turns red, and once the LED returns to green another picture can be taken.

The menu system for the camera is highly intuitive and a joy to use, and has a normal camera feel to its interface.

See me, feel me, touch me, heal me.

Press the Menu button to get to the main menu screen, and you’ll see four icons, for the Video, Photo, Video Configuration and Setup sub menu’s. The icons are browsed using the up and down buttons, and once highlighted, using the Select button brings you to the chosen sub menu. Pressing the Menu button again, returns it up one level in the Menu tree or back to the Live Preview mode. If there is a number next to the Video or Photo icon on the main menu, that is the number of recorded files that reside on the SD Card for those formats.

If the Video or Photo sub menu is selected you will get a picture of the initial recording or photo, the current file being viewed vs the total number of files, and the video length (in video view mode). You can browse through the recorded files (videos or photos) using the up and down buttons, and then press the Select button, and you’ll get three choices, view, delete and delete all. In the video view mode, you can use the Down button for fast forward, the Up for rewind and the Select for play. In the Photo view mode, it will go into a slideshow mode, and change pictures every few seconds, and can be paused and restarted by using the Select button. It can be hooked up to a TV monitor via the HDMI cable for a big screen experience, and is controlled using the same button sequences.

Menu: Main Menu and Video View Mode

The Video Configuration sub menu lets you set the camera to record in video, single photo or timed photo modes. Once any of those modes is chosen, different options will be displayed on the configuration screen, only the video mode has a resolution setting, while the time photo has a sequence entry. The video resolutions are 1080p, 720p (default) and SD, while in timed photo the sequence interval is 3 (default), 5, 10 and 30 seconds. All the modes share the ability to change exposure setting or light sensitivity (-2, -1, 0, +1 and +2), and a night mode setting which is either off or on, which enhances darker recording conditions.

The Setup menu is very deep, with three pages of settings, so I will only touch on some useful items, such as microphone sensitivity, remote control and remote pairing, and LCD and Camera auto turn off. The camera comes paired by default with the remote, and can be controlled by any remote within a 5 meter range, so if other remotes are near by, you can pair it again to prevent interference. Another unique feature is that you can control multiple cameras to work off one remote by pairing them all together.

Menu: Video Configuration and Setup

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 biking places on the battery. A loose connection means loss of footage, data corruption, and anomalies can be introduced. Although the battery slot has a spring for easier extraction, the battery was so securely in the camera, that it was difficult to pry it out. The 3.7 volt and 1110 milliampere-hour battery, gave me anywhere from 2-2.5 hour of usage, and its limit varied on the video resolution used, and the number times that I cycled on/off and stop/start recording, and in addition the ambient air temperature. They have recently released a 1700 mAh battery, which should bring it up towards the 4 hour usage, which will work ideally with a 16 or 32GB SD card.

The camera can use a maximum 32 GB SD card, although I found a 8 GB card ideal for most mountain biking rides, giving around 2 hours of footage, which also blends well with the battery usage limit. Depending on the chosen resolution setting, you get around 12-15 minutes of recorded data per GB.

Interfacing and Charging with the Computer
To download or view the videos or photos 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 DiskDCIM100DRIFT) 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.

Whoa, baby, I’m a back door man
The men don’t know
But the little girls understand

To charge the camera, turn it off, open the back door, plug in the USB cable to the computer and then the camera USB port, push and hold Select button for 3 seconds, and the LED turns blue until it’s done, which can take a couple of hours depending on how much video was recorded.

Handlebar Mount

Video
The HD170 records in three resolutions all at 30fps, High Definition at 1080p (1920×1080 pixels) and 720p (1280×720 pixels), and Wide Video Graphics Array at 480p (848×480 pixels). It does not include the other usual HD resolutions of 960p mode (fullframe), and 720p at 60 fps, which allows slow motion playback. I sort of missed having the 960p mode, and I consider that a real loss in otherwise a nice resolution package.

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 or blur 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, but it’s not alleviated.

A great deal of the issue is due to the motion artifacts produced by the inexpensive CMOS sensors used in these types of cameras, and the HD exacerbates the issue, since anomalies are more perceptible. The HD170, like most 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. The HD170 was less suspectable to some of these issues, but they were still very discernible.

Like any of the sports cameras, I found the 1080p gave rise to extraneous jellovision from the bumpy conditions of mountain biking, although the HD170 was much better than its competition. It did quite well when alternating between sunshine and shade, something that is tough to deal with, especially in high mountain bright light conditions. Pixelation was good, with mild amounts of aliasing, and edge artifacts.

Helmet Mount

Impressions
I really liked the Drift Innovations HD170 camera, as it was robust, rugged, weather proof, had a LCD screen, and was easy to use. The menu system was intuitive, and it was simple to change settings as desired, and review or delete photos and video footage. Although I accidentally hit the Back/Menu button instead of the Select often, and ended up having to backtrack. The LCD was small, being only 1.5 inches, but it was useful and bright enough for what was needed to be accomplished in the field. After positioning the camera on its mount, leveling the camera was greatly benefited by the LCD screen, both for prerecording orientation check (using a tree, log or your finger), and post check using the recorded footage to verify the results. The camera beeps to inform you of stop and start recording mode changes, and it was decently loud, although I wish it had another notch of adjustment (to 11!). I would have liked a speaker or perhaps a LED light on the remote, especially when using the helmet mount, since it wasn’t always obvious what mode it was in. The remote was really nice to use, especially when using a helmet mount, since it was hard to locate the Select button when reaching up onto the camera. The remote allowed quick video sequences to be performed, even on moderately difficult terrain, and it was easy to stab at its buttons, even with gloves and fat fingering them.

The video footage was excellent, with warm and very vibrant colors (a real standout), good contrast, and sharp images. I preferred the 720p mode, since 1080p gave rise to jellovision in mountain biking conditions.

Note: Refer to Lee Lau’s article for video footage and mounting setups.

Their mount system worked really well, and was the most stable of the sports cameras on the market. It was easy to slide their universal clip into its mate, but the lack of good non vented helmet strap is a real bummer, as the best method is using the stick on Velcro, so you end up with a semi-permanent attachment. Again, once properly attached there is very little movement from the system. The 1/4 universal camera adapter on the bottom of the camera, was a nice feature, though I didn’t use it much, it allows a connection to a tripod, or on some of the RAM mounts. The ability to alter the exposure settings on the menu was really a handy feature, and it came in useful for adjusting things for local conditions (weather, location, time of the day), and the results could be viewed, and then changed, making for an instant A/B comparison.

You had to be somewhat careful of the camera’s bulbous lens, which sort of sticks out, and it was easy to bump into objects, as I would be worried about its longevity and getting scratches? Even though the camera is pretty rugged, the body seemed to scratch easily, though it didn’t damage anything other than the surface, so call it a cosmetic nuisance. The camera is weather proof, so its not made to take out for aggressive whitewater kayaking or any sort of intensive water sports, but it works fine for a mountain bike environment, as it made it through quite a few ugly hail and rainstorms and worked just fine.

Bottom Line
The HD170 is an excellent HD outdoor sports camera, that has 1080p and 720p resolutions, has an LCD screen and a wireless remote, is bombproof, and can take a beating from inclement weather. The very functional LCD screen is used for leveling, camera settings, menu selection and recorded material viewing. The camera video recording can be operated from its own button or from the wrist mounted remote, which was an excellent accessory item that added incredible amounts of functionality and usability. I do wish the camera had 960p for a resolution, since I think it is a nice feature. The menu system was highly intuitive and easy to use, and made any changes and viewing of recorded material a breeze. The mount system is the most stable in the business, but the kits lack of a vented helmet mount is troublesome, since a semi-permanent stick on is the only solution.

Strengths
– Remote control
– LCD screen
– Stable mount system
– Universal clip
– Menu system

Weaknesses
– Lens prone to damage
– Camera body scratches easy
– Lack of 960p
– Lack of vented head mount
– Portly shape

MSRP: $329.99

Technical Specs:

  • Maximum Video Resolution: 1080p High Definition
  • SD Memory Capacity: up to 32GB
  • Still Photo: 5 megapixel with Photoburst Mode
  • Digital Zoom Support: Yes (in 720p and WVGA mode)
  • Lens Angle: 170° Fully Rotatable Wide Angle Lens
  • LCD Screen: 1.5″ Colour TFT
  • Waterproof: Up to 0.5 m.
  • Remote Control: Wireless RF (5m range) Hands Free Video and Photo
  • Mounts: Multiple Mounting Design
  • Audio: Built-in Microphone & Speaker
  • Menus: User Friendly Control Panel in 7 Languages
  • Sensor type: CMOS
  • Water Resistance: 0.5m
  • Video resolution: 1080p, 720p & WVGA
  • Video format: H.264
  • File format: .MOV
  • Frames per second: 30 FPS
  • Video format: 16:9
  • Lens Rotation: 300°
  • Recording Angles: 127° in 1080p, 170° in 720p & WVGA
  • White balance: Auto
  • Exposure: Auto / Manual (advanced users)
  • Zoom: Digital x4 (in 720p & WVGA mode)
  • Remote range: 10 ft. range
  • Built-in Microphone
  • Inputs: Optional External Microphone
  • AV Output: HDTV out (cable included)
  • Battery: 1110mAh rechargeable lithium-ion/ Optional 1700 mAh Li-ion rechargeable.
  • Power-Save option saves batteries by powering down the screen
  • Built-in memory: 32 MB
  • SD memory capacity: Supports memory cards up to 32 GB
  • Photo resolution: 5 Megapixel
  • LCD screen: 1.5″ colour TFT
  • Lens focal range: 0.5m to infinity
  • Dimensions: Camera – 133 (L) x 50 (D) x 33 (W) mm / Remote Control 52 (L) x 40 (W) x 13 (D) mm
  • Power: Camera – DC 3.7V / Remote control: DC 3C, 1x CR2032 battery (included)
  • RF: Receiver (Camera): 433.92MHz ISM band / Transmitter (Remote): 433.92MHz ISM band
  • Weight: Camera – 138g / Remote control – 19g
  • Operating Systems: Compatible with Windows XP & Vista; Mac OS 10.2

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