We'll start with the waterproof housing that ships with every GoPro camera. This polycarbonate shell is custom fitted to the HD Hero and seals with a strong plastic clamp. Once shut, the HD Hero is waterproof to 180 feet and shockproof.
Being shockproof is a great feature to have when mounting the HD Hero to the exterior of a vehicle using the PanaVise suction cup mount that is included in the HD Hero Motorsports kit. This is the same great suction cup mount that is included in the GoPro Hero 5 Motorsports kit and the ContourHD vehicle mount kit and has allowed us to capture miles of worry-free footage. Just make sure the attachment surface is clean, as dirt can weaken the suction.
The HD Hero Motorsports kit also ships with an assortment of flat and curved adhesive mounts for semi-permanent attachment to helmets and other surfaces, a pair of quick release buckles for connecting to the adhesive mounts, and a three-way pivoting arm for aiming and positioning, which gives users a fairly wide variety of mounting options out of the box.
The HD Hero can also be purchased as part of the HD Helmet Hero package (which includes a pair of helmet straps, in place of the suction cup mount), the HD Surf Hero package (which subs an FCS Plug-compatible mount for surfboards), or simply as the HD Hero Naked without any special mounting accessories. Additionally, any of the specialized mounts or straps, articulating arms, and replacement waterproof housings and lenses can be purchased separately for easy repairs or expansion.
We expected the HD Hero to produce higher quality video than the older Hero 5 thanks to its higher resolution and increased lo- light sensitivity, and we weren't disappointed.
Recording in-vehicle videos is usually a tricky affair with inexpensive mountable camcorders because of the large differences in ambient light outside of the vehicle and available light in the cabin. The HD Hero side steps this issue by offering a spot metering setting that exposes photography for the center of the frame, allowing you to keep your subject more evenly exposed. However, this isn't a magic bullet solution and care must be taken to properly aim the HD Hero to ensure that you're metering for the right subject when in spot metering mode.
While the HD Hero does sport increased low-light sensitivity, make no mistake that this is a camera that is best utilized in daylight. When capturing video at dusk, there are noticeable amounts of visual noise in the video. When used indoors, video and still photos were clear and detailed but the color took on a yellowish tint. Perhaps this is something that can be tuned out with future firmware updates to the camera's automatic white balance.
One area that we didn't expect to notice a dramatic improvement was in audio quality. The HD Hero does a good job of capturing engine noises while blocking wind noise when mounted outside of a vehicle, but it can also capture clear dialog when mounted inside of a vehicle's cabin.
While the HD Hero represents a huge jump in video and audio quality, it hasn't done much to increase its user friendliness. Sure, the addition of an idiot-proof lithium ion battery pack has made it easier to keep the Hero juiced and ready to go, but the user interface is still a nightmare.
The small LCD display features darn near microscopic icons representing the camera's various modes of operation and functions, many of which aren't obvious without first checking the user's manual and some of which are so similar it's still difficult to tell them apart. Resolution is represented by a single-digit number in the lower left corner, for example 2 is 720p at 30fps. There's no way you'd know that unless you checked or memorized the manual.
Plunge into the settings menu and you're greeted with even odder three-letter abbreviations of functions, for example selecting ALL formats the SD card--something that you really don't want to accidentally do after a day of shooting.
The GoPro may just be too complex a device for its two-button interface. Its microscopic icons and cryptic menu structure just can't match the ease of the ContourHD's no-setup interface. The menu system isn't impossible to navigate and there really aren't that many commands to memorize, but the first couple of outings with the HD Hero will most likely result in a few head scratcher moments. It's better to set up the camera at home and then just stay out of the menus.
Oddly, the upside down shooting mode--which flips the video capture for those times when you must mount the HD Hero upside down--has gone missing for the Hero's launch. GoPro tells us that it should be added back in a future firmware update.
The GoPro HD Hero addresses most--but not all--of the issues that we had the old Hero 5 model, while keeping everything that we loved intact. The included rechargeable battery is a godsend that should save current GoPro users a good deal of money in replacement batteries.
Compared with the competition from the ContourHD, the GoPro HD Hero Motorsports offers users much more flexibility of video resolution, exposure controls, and still photography that hasn't been matched by any mountable camera system that we've tested.
Additionally, the GoPro system's polycarbonate shell makes it a much more rugged unit, able to take knocks in stride and be used under water. If the unit goes flying off of your car, it's not the end of the world, just order a new lens ($20) or shell ($40) and you're ready to record again.
If the HD Hero's interface were less of a chore, it would be a contender for our Editors' Choice award, but the oddball menu system lowers its design score and, consequently, its overall score.