The HD sports camera market is growing crowded with small, rugged, often shockproof and waterproof camera systems, but so far we've yet to see a contender that can draw our attention away from the GoPro Hero and ContourHD rivalry at the top of the heap. However, the latest sports camera to cross our desk manages to stand out in a few fairly obvious ways. Rather than trying to go smaller than the Contour or more rugged than the GoPro, the V.I.O. POV.HD high-definition sports camera system heads in a different direction.
The system comes in two parts, the recording unit and the camera itself. Overall, this two-part design makes the POV.HD larger than the GoPro and the ContourHD combined, but where it counts--the camera--it's half the size of either. V.I.O. also potentially makes its device more rugged than the competition, by heavily armoring its recording unit, which in the event of an accident could mean the difference between a busted camera and a busted camera with salvageable footage. Finally, V.I.O. builds in much more flexibility by equipping the POV.HD with a small color display, a feature that neither of the current heavy hitters can boast out of the box.
The POV.HD's camera features an ultrawide-angle six-element glass lens that captures a 142-degree field of vision when recording at 1,080p and crops to 95 degrees at 720p. When in 1,080p, frames are captured at 30 frames per second while 720p captures are at 60fps--great for post-production slow motion. There are also 720p capture modes at 25fps and 50fps for better compatibility with the camera's PAL capture mode. The camera is permanently connected to one end of an approximately 4-foot cable with a screw-on connection at the other for attaching the POV.HD recorder.
The second part of the package is the POV.HD recorder with LCD. The recorder is powered by four AA batteries and features a 2.5-inch full-color LCD that can be used to line up the camera, play back recorded video, and for basic video editing, features that the GoPro doesn't offer and the Contour requires additional hardware for. We use a variety of sports cameras like this to record the on-the-road segment of the Car Tech Live podcast, and let me tell you, it's great to be able to frame shots and check out the footage from the side of the road, rather than getting all the way back to the office to find that we've spent the last few hours recording with the lens improperly angled.
Interface and video capture
The unit features four capture modes. Still photo does exactly what it sounds like: captures a single photograph in JPEG format with each tap of the record button. Clip mode starts recording video in MOV or MP4 format (user-selectable) and stops when the button is tapped again. You can tap the Tag button on the recorder or the wireless remote to mark interesting points in the video to access later using video-editing software or by using the Compile Tagged Scenes function to create a highlight reel right on the device itself. Loop and Loop-Forward modes operate a bit differently. These modes continuously capture a loop of video of a selected length. When you hit the Tag button, the current loop of video is saved. This way, you can grab an event after it happened, provided you've had the foresight to select the loop mode to begin with. Loop-forward operates similarly, but continues to record beyond the currently captured loop once the tag button has been pressed, combining the best of the Loop and Clip modes.
With menu options you can control the resolution and frame rate of captured video, the format in which video is captured, and power management options like autoshutdown and screen timeout. There are options for light-metering mode (full frame or spot), exposure compensation, noise filtering, and image sharpening to enable you to fine-tune captures in-camera. There's also a key-lock feature that can be enabled to prevent accidental button presses while recording, while still leaving the wireless remote accessible.
We've mentioned the remote twice now; let's look at it in detail. The RF remote measures approximately 2 inches wide by 1.5 inches tall by 0.5 inch thick and features two buttons, Stop and Record; the Record button serves double duty for tagging clips. The remote is water-resistant and dustproof and has two small loops at either end to allow it to be wrist-mounted or strapped to an anchor.
Getting back to the POV.HD's recorder, the top of the unit holds a socket for plugging in the camera cable, on the front are the waterproof and dustproof control buttons, and at the base of the device is a hatch covering the SDHC card slot. The unit ships with a 4GB card, but accepts up to a 32GB one. The included 4GB card will hold about 1 hour of video and the included alkaline batteries will keep the unit recording for up to 2.5 hours. Under the bottom hatch, you'll also find a microphone input, a video output, and a Mini-USB port for transferring files. Using the microphone jack while recording requires that the device operate without its cover in place, so it will temporarily lose its waterproof and dustproof rating.
Mounting options and issues
An action camera is usually only as good as its mounting system, which brings us to our biggest problem with the POV.HD. The unit ships with a ton of mounting options, including a strap mount and a star mount that can be used magnetically or with adhesive pads. There are zip ties, adhesive hook and loop strips, and even a small strap and clip that can be used to hold the POV.HD's remote in place. However, there are no clear instructions as to what to do with these bits and pieces, requiring you to use your imagination to figure out to how to get the camera and bulky recorder mounted. For some people, this flexibility will be a welcome plus, but during our testing, getting the recorder securely mounted required the use of a third-party bracket available from RAM mounting systems at an additional cost. Adding more complexity to the mounting process is the fact that both of the included brackets are fixed in place using screws, so if you want to so much as adjust the mounted camera's angle, you'd better bring a screwdriver along on your adventure.