GoPro Motorsports HD Hero review: GoPro Motorsports HD Hero

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The Good The GoPro HD Hero Motorsports captures video in a variety of resolutions and frame rates up to and including 1080i full HD, as well as still photos. The Hero has a large selection of mounting options and replacement parts. The polycarbonate shell is submersible, shockproof, and--if it takes too bad of a beating--replaceable.

The Bad The lack of a viewfinder makes precise aiming difficult. The tiny LCD display and a cryptic menu is difficult to navigate without first consulting the manual. Low-light performance still leaves much to be desired.

The Bottom Line The GoPro HD Hero captures crisp HD video and offers users a great deal of flexibility of resolution and mounting options. However, some users may find it to be too complex for its two-button interface and tiny screen.

7.0 Overall
  • Design 7
  • Features 6
  • Performance 8
  • Image quality 7

GoPro had a hit on its hands with the first-generation GoPro Hero. The small camera combined decent video quality and rugged reliability in a small package that was easy to use in action-based scenarios. However, the Hero wasn't without its flaws. Finicky battery choices that often cut recording sessions short with poor power usage combined with mere standard-definition video quality created a package that was at times less than optimal, particularly when faced with competition from the ContourHD.

So GoPro did what any good tech company would do: innovate. Enter the GoPro HD Hero.

The HD Hero seeks to not only increase video resolution, but also video quality. Other improvements come in the form of a rechargeable battery pack and the addition of the HeroBUS add-on port, which allows users to upgrade the functionalities and performance with BacPak modules.

Let's take a look at the Motorsports variant of the HD Hero to see how it stacks up against its older sibling and the competition.

The new center of the GoPro universe is the HD Hero camera, which is quite similar to the previous generation Hero 5 camera. The unit uses a similar 170-degree ultra-wide-angle lens, features the same two-button interface (mode select and shutter), and displays data on the same 1-inch monochromatic LCD display.

This tiny camera measures 1.6 inches by 2.4 inches by 1.2 inches, which is a slight increase in every direction over the previous-generation Hero.

Part of the reason for the increase in size is apparent when you take a look at the back of the camera, where you'll find a large 1100mAh lithium ion rechargeable battery behind a removable door. Battery life has been boosted to approximately 2.5 hours thanks to this larger, more reliable cell. The battery charges through a Mini-USB cable (which is included) in about 2 hours when connected to a computer or other powered USB port. Purchasing an optional power adapter slashes the charge time to 1 hour.

Connecting to a computer is also how you download photos and videos stored on the HD Hero's SD card media (not included). The unit supports SDHC card at capacities up to 32GB, which is important for recording videos at the highest resolution. Record times on a card that size will vary depending on video format, but range from a little over 4 hours to about 8 hours, which you'll notice is longer than the battery life. For continuous shooting, the GoPro can be used while connected to a power source.

Users wanting to connect directly to a television are given the choice of using standard-definition connections for composite video and stereo audio or component video for high definition. The unit ships with both sets of cables with RCA connections for your television on one end and 3.5mm mini jack connectors that connect to the HD Hero on the other.

One notable change is the omission of the previous model's tiny optical viewfinder. This useless plastic window won't be missed. In its place, the HD Hero gains the HERO Bus, an expansion port that allows the addition of optional Bakpac units that expand the functionality of the camera. No Bakpacs are available at the time of this review, but GoPro has an LCD Bakpac for preview and playback and a Battery Bakpac for double battery life slated for early 2010 release, with the promise of more to come. Each Bakpac will ship with a replacement door to allow it to fit within the confines of the waterproof housing.

The HD Hero features a wide variety of shooting modes for both video and still photography.

Starting with video, there are five modes from which to choose. Full HD 1080p (1,920x1,080 pixels) video captured at 30fps is the maximum resolution the HD Hero offers, however, in this mode the video is cropped to only a 127-degree viewing angle.

Users wanting to utilize the full 170-degree wide angle can choose either 720p capture (1,280x720 pixels) in either 30fps or 60fps, a 960p (1,280x960) "tall HD" mode (which is the HD Hero's only 4:3 aspect ratio), or the lowest resolution WVGA mode (848x480 pixels) at 60fps.

Regardless of resolution, all videos are saved with H.264 and compressed as MPEG4 files. Although the HD Hero supports stereo audio output, it only captures monaural audio from its single microphone, which is run through AAC compression and rolled into the MPEG4 video.

For still photography, there is only one resolution and that is 5 megapixels with 24-bit color depth. However, there are multiple shooting modes: single-shot mode captures one photo per shutter press; Per Second mode captures photos at user defined intervals from 2 to 60 seconds; burst mode captures three photos in rapid succession; and a self timer mode delays the capture of a single shot.

Mounting and accessories
While the HD Hero itself is a fairly neat--if not slightly crude--bit of kit, the true appeal of the GoPro line of cameras is the wide range of relatively cheap mounting accessories.

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.

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