First GoPro HD Hero Helmet Camera Review



gopro hd hero camera review

We're stoked to be the first people to get their hands on the new GoPro HD Hero cameras. GoPro HD Heros are the first video cams from GoPro that shoot at full 1080P resolution. GoPro bypassed the whole 720p era and jumped right to 1080P at an amazing price. The GoPro brand is well known among sports enthusiasts and can boast to be the best selling helmet camera for the last couple of years. The GoPro HD Hero 1080P is one at the pinnacle of the latest camera improvements. We had a chance to check out an early prepoduction model at Crankworx this year. This is our earlier Gopro HD Hero review review, which you can compare to our final one here.

GoPro HD Hero Specs At A Glance

  • 1080p = 1920x1080 pixels (16:9), 30 fps, 15 Mbit/s data rate
  • 960p = 1280x960 pixels (4:3), 30 fps, 12 Mbit/s data rate
  • 720p = 1280x720 pixels (16:9), 60 fps, 15 Mbit/s data rate
  • 720p = 1280x720 pixels (16:9), 30 fps, 8 Mbit/s data rate
  • WVGA = 848x480 pixels (16:9), 60 fps, 8 Mbit/s data rate
  • Large 1/2.5" HD Cmos sensor
  • Waterproof camera housing good for up to 160 feet/60 meters depth
  • 5 megapixel sensor
  • single and burst mode still photo options
  • H.264 codec, saved as PC & Mac-compatible MPEG4 (.mp4) file
  • Auto exposure controls with user selectable center weighted average and spot metering settings
  • Auto white balance
  • 127 to 170 degree wide angle lens
  • AAC audio, 48khz compression
  • built in mike with auto gain control
  • SDHC memory card support up to 32GB (largest supported industry) – Up to 8 Hours of video
  • Rechargable lithium Ion Battery – Up to 2.5 hours per charge
  • Charging via USB to computer or optional power adapter
  • HDTV Out: HD NTSC & PAL, component cable included
  • Audio Out: Combo 2.5mm jack, includes combo stereo audio and composite video out cable
  • Full line of mounting accessories
  • Innovative Hero Bus expansion port accepts LCD and extra battery Bakpacs with more on the way

Huge Resolution In Only A Slightly Larger Box

The first GoPro cameras shot video at a relatively low 512x384 video resolution, similar to other first generation helmet cams. Unlike the other helmet camera manufacturers, GoPro decided to bypass production of a mid range 720p camera and went straight to building 1080p models, resulting in the GoPro HD Hero series. In the hand the exterior of the GoPro HD Hero is similar to the earlier GoPros but slightly thicker. The seemingly extra denseness of the new GoPros is due to a new lithium ion battery pack that encompasses the full width and height of the camera back. Previously, the cameras used 2 standard AAA sized batteries housed in a compartment that stuck out in a bump.

gopro hd hero helmet cam review

Smokin' Hot Video Quality

We have had a chance to play with the other new 1080p sports videocam and upon our initial review we think the GoPro has the absolute best video quality of any HD point of view camera out there. GoPro apparently hired the best video people in the business to help them tweak the HD sensor to best represent outdoor video colors and contrast and it shows.

Additionally, GoPro does not go overboard with their H.264 compression settings meaning you get slightly less video recording time per GB but that is made up by video sharpness and color that seems is bright, vivid and almost 3d in clarity. Having a good monitor to view it on really makes the distinctions obvious.

Overall, we are blown away by the video quality of the GoPro. We will have further videos posted here over the coming days. We are more than anxious to do more testing of the GoPro HD Hero. With only one camera in the office at the moment everyone here is fighting to take it out so we will probably have some videos out even over this Halloween weekend.

Subtle But Critical Differences To Older GoPros

So you may be wondering what the differences are between the previous GoPro Heros and the new GoPro HD Hero cameras besides the obvious bump in superior video quality?

The differences are actually very subtle and it's not until you start using the camera that you notice them.

We mentioned the size difference earlier but in actuality once you put the camera in the plastic waterproof housing the camera size variation disappears as the case is the same size. The new camera weighs and extra ounce over the older model, 5.9 ounces vs 4.9 ounces with battery and case. It is hardly noticeable on a helmet and becomes moot when mounted to handlebars or other equipment.

Multiple Video Recording Options

The previous GoPros only shot at a 512x384 but the new GoPro HD Heros offer a range of high def options and frame rates. You get:

  • 1080p at 30 fps
  • 960p at full frame for wide field of view at 30 fps
  • 720p at both 30 fps and 60 fps
  • WVGA at 60 fps

We find this a very usable range of recording options and will be testing them out over the next several weeks. Check back for new video comparisons.

Different Camera Angles Dependent On Resolution

Whereas the previous GoPros only shot a one set camera angle. The new GoPro HD Heros shoot at different angles depending on the recording resolution chosen. 1080p recording gives you a 127 degree field of view. At 960p and 720p, video is captured at an ultra wide 170 degrees. We hope to get some comparisons going on how videos look shot at the two different angles.

Much Improved Wind Noise Reduction

Poor sound quality has always been the bane of helmet cameras and GoPro seems to have done more than most to alleviate the problem. They claim to have spent a lot of money in the HD Hero's sound quality to eliminate wind noise and other unwanted sounds. Our first tests seem to bear that out. Our first videos seem to have a LOT less noise than any of the other cameras we carry. We want to take it out during a windy day and do further tests against our other vidcams. This is one area where we are glad point of view camera manufacturers are paying more attention too.

Same Tough, Waterproof Camera Housing

Here is one thing we are glad GoPro left alone. The GoPros have always separated themselves from other wearable camcorders by providing 100% waterproofing at an affordable price. Where other digital camera housings can cost as much as the camera, GoPros have always included a rugged, waterproof clear plastic case with their cameras. GoPro HD's retain this housing. This is good news for all previous GoPro owners who want to upgrade as it is compatible with all existing mounts and accessories.

gopro hd hero camera case

Largest Memory Card Capacity

One of the limitations of the older GoPros was the maximum 4gb SD card limitation even after the recent firmware update. It seems like GoPro has recognized the problem and upped the maximum now to handle 32gb SDHC cards, higher than any other helmet camera currently available. You now have a lot more breathing space in terms of recording time and get HD resolution to boot.

Video Resolution vs Storage Chart

Memory: SD card, up to 32GB capacity (SDHC), highest in industry.
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

Video Output Options

A camera that records in HD should output to HD right? GoPro thought of that by including two video output options with the GoPro HD Hero series. You get one component video (HDTV) cable and one composite video with audio out cable for plugging the camera straight into your HDTV for video viewing. GoPro is very thoughtful to include both component and composite connectors which should cover the majority of user's home video systems and a huge improvement over the older GoPro's svideo cable. This should save you an extra $20 or $30 on a cable purchase if you need to upgrade to component.

gopro hd helmet hero cables

GoPro HD Hero with usb cable, component cable and composite cable with audio.

Better Battery, Longer Recording Time

GoPro totally redesigned their battery requirements for the old 2xAAA batteries to a proprietary lithium ion pack. This new pack fits over the whole back of the camera, getting rid of the AAA bump of the previous GoPros. This new battery should give longer recording life to the new HD's. The old AAA's lithiums we used got just under 2 hours but the new HD battery should give about 2.5 hours of recording in HD. This is pretty impressive seeing as the old cameras record time was only for standard definition.

hd hero camera

Back of camera with shot of battery.

Room For Future Hardware Upgrades

See that small slot on the left of the camera in the photo above? That is what GoPro calls their HERO Bus, a new expansion port that will accept future hardware options called Bakpacs which will expand the HD Hero cameras functionality. Planned for the future is an LCD Bakpac for on camera preview and playback and an extra battery Bakpac for double the battery life. This sounds interesting but that would add to the camera depth so a new protective camera housing may be required to use them.

gopro hd cameras

GoPro HD Hero: User Videos

Ok, enough with the specs. Here are a couple of videos to give you an impression of the sharpness of the GoPro HD Hero.
First one comes courtesy of Kevin Sansalone from Sandbox. He used the GoPro HD Camera Test with Suction Cup Mount.

The second "GoPro HD - Skimboarding In A Storm" is from Patrick Lawler. Patrick says "I pretty much just filmed my friend David wiping out in extremely choppy horrible storm waves on his skimboard. I attached a GoPro HD Hero to a broom pole and we had a fun (yet freezing) time throwing the thing around!] " This is where we can appreciate the waterproof GoPro housing that we normally take for granted.

Conclusion

Overall, we are greatly impressed with the GoPro HD Hero. It has arguably the best video and sound of any camera in it's price range. GoPro has done a remarkable job of packing a great, sensor, lens and rugged enclosure all at a consumer friendly price. We clearly see this camera as the one that breaks helmet cams out of the specialized niche category into the mainstream where almost every outdoor sports participant will want one. It is a great time to start shooting your own action sports videos. The breakneck pace of technological advances in recent months have pushed once an intriguing niche into a product that can rival better cameras at a fraction of the price. Now excuse us, we've got some more videos to shoot in HD!

Interested in what others have to say about the GoPro's?

Read customer reviews of the Gopro HD cameras

Want to buy a GoPro HD?

Check out the different Gopro HD bundles at our store

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