On GoPro's Q4 2015 earnings conference call on February 3, CEO Nick Woodman dropped a couple of nuggets as to the direction the company would be taking its
action cams activity-capture devices for 2016, not the least of which was the eventual release of a Hero5 camera.
GoPro's current top camera models, the Hero4 Black and Hero4 Silver, launched in late September 2014 and the company didn't roll out an updated "+" version a year later like it did with its Hero3 cameras. Instead, the company spent 2015 putting out lower-end Hero models -- all going bye-bye as of April -- and the Hero4 Session, which required a $200 price cut to spark greater interest.
"Connected and convenient"
According to Woodman, the plan for 2016 is to keep the current lineup as the Hero4 Black, Silver and Session and, "later this year," introduce the Hero5. (Rumors place its arrival in October.)
Meanwhile, in the first half of 2016, Woodman said the company will focus on getting the Karma, GoPro's upcoming drone, on store shelves. Speaking to Engadget earlier in the year, Woodman basically confirmed the Karma would be backward-compatible with the company's cameras. If that's the case, having it launch before the Hero5 would allow current Hero3/3+ and Hero4 owners to buy the drone. Then, once they see the possibilities, upgrade to the Hero5.
As to potential capabilities of the Hero5, Woodman only offered that it would be "the most connected and convenient" GoPro has ever made and any new hardware would do a better job of connecting to smartphones and the cloud. Part of that improved simplicity may even come before the camera arrives: in the same earnings call, GoPro pledged that easier editing software would be arriving in March.
Rumor mill: Twice the battery life and half the size!
Those details from the earnings call are the little bit of facts we have so far. Everything hereafter is strictly supposition, guessing and rumors.
Much of the current Hero5 rumor crop is pretty vague, with scuttlebutt such as it will be priced between $450 and $550, and it will be smaller and lighter than previous models. Other rumors have GoPro going all-in on the Hero4 Session's cube design while being able to record 8K-resolution video and packing a 2,800mAh battery. (The Session's battery is 1,000mAh, and its recording resolution maxes out at full HD.) It is possible, of course, that the Hero5 models will all be cubes, but it's unlikely they'll also be the same size as the Session.
Reaching out to GoPro for more details was met with a "no comment" and what was likely a good chuckle on their end.
Reading the chips
Ambarella is the system-on-a-chip (SoC) maker that GoPro has used for past models, including the Hero4 Black, which uses its A9 processor (not to be confused with Apple's identically named but totally different iPhone processor). This chip is what helps deliver that model's high-bit-rate 4K-resolution video at 30 frames per second and full HD clips at up to 120fps as well as its other high-performance capabilities.
The follow-up to that processor, the A9SE, was announced in October 2015. It, too, tops out at 4K at 30fps, but does it while using less power, and it can simultaneously support a second stream at 720p HD at 30fps. Combine this with its support for a 4G LTE modem and you have yourself a camera that is in fact more connected and convenient. The chip also supports 3D electronic image stabilization with rolling shutter correction (important for action cams and drones alike) and multiexposure HDR capture, among other things.
At CES 2016, the chip maker announced the H2 SoC, another low-power chip that can handle 4K Ultra HD H.265/HEVC video at 60fps and 4K AVC video at 120fps. This would be amazing to have in the Hero5; however, Ambarella's Vice President of Marketing and Business Development Chris Day told me it typically takes customers a year or more to design and bring new cameras to market. This means using the H2 for the Hero5 is very unlikely. Ambarella's H1 chip, which has similar features to the H2, could also fit the time frame, but Day said because of its higher power demands, it's more suited to drone cameras than not ideal for small sports cameras.
A switch to Qualcomm?
Qualcomm, meanwhile, has been making inroads into the camera market with its Snapdragon processors: The upcoming 360fly 4K will use a Snapdragon 800 processor, for example, as does the multisensor Light camera. So, will GoPro go with Qualcomm instead of Ambarella for its next flagship camera, as rumors suggest?
A Qualcomm representative confirmed to CNET that many of the Snapdragon processors can simultaneously capture and stream 1080p at 30fps, including its Snapdragon 801 that is key to its Snapdragon Flight drone platform. Plus, with Qualcomm making its own Wi-Fi and 4G LTE modems, a Snapdragon might be the better fit for GoPro's connected camera plans.
Both Ambarella and Qualcomm declined to comment on what GoPro is working on or what is being used in the Hero5 and kindly suggested I talk to GoPro about it. And, well, I already told you how that worked out.
Either way, though, the Hero5 is definitely coming. And we'll keep this story updated as additional rumors unfold.