VIO's POV 1.5 action camera system|
The POV 1.5 is an all-digital "Point of view" action video camera system designed to withstand the rigours of outdoor abuse while capturing standard definition 3:4 ratio (not wide screen) DVD quality video and sound. The unit comes with a variety of mounts, a removable camera head and cable, remote trigger, and a camera recording unit with LCD for previewing and reviewing footage. This all gets packaged into a soft case for ease of storage and organization. I promptly replaced that with a bigger, wateproof Pelican case.
There are a lot of areas to comment about this camera system, from ease of use, quality of picture, to ease of handling the video clips after shooting, so I will try to touch on the important points I experienced over the months I've used this.
When deciding on an action camera, I had a small selection of camera systems to choose from. Had I not known about the VIO product, I would have gone with a Hero Cam unit because it was the only consumer POV video camera I had ever seen that was waterproof. I choose the VIO POV 1.5 because it was build more professionally, rendered a quality image, and had a view screen to help compose shots and review footage. The 1m waterproof rating was certainly a trait to be valued too.
I actually like the design of the separate recorder and camera head. This works well for me for a few reasons. A smaller video camera housing can be positioned in more nooks, crannies and cool spots on a bike frame, kayak, climbing rope, hiking pole, and pack strap than can most all-in-one systems. Less bulk and weight means better, steadier shots because there's less to shake around. Another huge advantage to a separate recorder is in colder weather situations where it and its batteries can be kept warm and safe inside your coat while the imaging unit sees the extreme temps and stunning views. With the remote, you can store the recorder safely in your pack, and simply listen for the beep when you start and stop recording.
The button controls on the recording unit are simple for getting the recording job done, and when you need to fine tune, the menu and arrow keys open up an array of options including exposure control, resolution, frame rate, loop recording, footage tagging, and audio controls. These work clearly with plenty of feedback from the on-screen display. There are also playback options for skimming through clips both forward and reverse. The single handed operation works well for both right and left handers. I have only used my camera for straight recording, versus loop style recording. The latter setting is great for when you are recording lots and lots of uneventful footage with the hopes that something terrific happens sometime, somewhere. After it "actually happens", when you stop recording, it will only keep a preset length of time prior to when you stopped. this saves on memory chip space, by only writing to the memory card the best of what you were shooting.
The included remote comes with a Velcro strap to go around your wrist or have it secured to nearby objects like pack straps, a paddle and the like. The Velcro seems to stick to just about everything it touches, and maybe that's how I lost it. It takes a lithium coin style watch battery that is reported to last a few months under steady use. I question the life of the battery that came with mine because right before I lost my remote, I practically had to hold it next to the recorder unit to get it to pick up on the start / stop signal. The signal strength is relatively weak to start with, working within the 1 meter range. The unit beeps once when you start recording and beeps the same when you stop. If there was one huge yet simple firmware upgrade I would suggest, it would be to have it beep once when you start recording, and beep twice when you stop. The single beep sound for both start and stop can be confusing, especially if you can't see the unit and it's status light. (green for standby, red for recording.) Often you may have the recorder shoved into a pack, or holstered just out of sight or reach. There is an LED on the remote that lights when you press the buttons, but this is no indication that the recorder received the signal.
The package comes with a variety of Velcro adhesive pads and camera mounts including one that uses strong magnets to anchor the mount between thin material like a helmet shell. This also comes apart to create a goggle strap mount. Other mounts use rubber mouldings that conform to tube shapes, either in line with the camera, or perpendicular. I found that none of the mounts that came the camera system were perfect solutions. With the small diameter of the camera head, I mostly combine the Velcro in-line rubber Velcro mount with a small microphone clip and fitted threaded rod from a table stand. The rubber mount securely anchors itself to what ever I'm using as a base (scratch free) while the rest of the Velcro strap holds the rod firmly in place. The pivoting action of the microphone clip, along with the rotating action of the rod allows me to get the perfect angle, almost every time, and it's fast and cheap. This is a capability that larger camera solutions just can't offer without a bulky space hogging mount. Unless it is a permanent setup, a good mount sets up fast and tool free.
The thing you will find with camera mounts, is that you will have a favourite, and you'll want more than one. You will want to set up camera positions fast. Ideally, this means having the mounts already in place, and simply switching the camera from one mount to another. Fast and efficient camera change-ups mean more time getting the shot you intended, and less time fiddling. Ultimately, this means more quality shots in the end. This being said, there are several camera mounts available from VIO as well as other manufacturers. If you're smart and good with your hands, you can rig your own effective solutions for your own unique situations.
The POV 1.5 shoots 720 x 480 pixels, which is a little old school among its HD counterparts. If you're thinking that the DVD resolution is not up to snuff, then you need to question what you intend to use the footage for. 80 percent of people who buy action cameras are buying them to put footage up on YouTube and Facebook. Although there is an old attage that says to shoot at your very best quality, and dumn it down go from there. This is true, but if you're shooting for those media, you don't need the disk hogging reality that HD raw footage renders.
As for camera performance, there are ideal shooting conditions and conditions that are less than ideal. Very few video systems hold up to high contrast, so if you're shooting in the woods on a sunny day, the quality of your footage will be poor. Overcast conditions render more even lighting, and consequently, less contrast and better quality video. that being said, a beautiful sunny day, out on the open road / water will give some mighty nice color. Sunlight earlier or later in the day will render richer, warmer colors and longer shadows which look better than sunlight at high noon. The POV 1.5 has some impressive presets for camera exposure to help dial in better light sensitivity. You can change the width of the area of sensitivity to light, as well as boost the color. You cannot however change the auto white balance, and this may shift over the duration of your footage. However, I really haven't noticed this in my shots.
The waterproof mic comes attached to the camera cable, and depending on the conditions, and placement, is susceptible to wind noise. When you open up the water proof cover on the recorder, you'll see the SD memory card, as well as an AV output jack (composite video, mono audio with the breakout cable accessory), as well as a mini jack for an external microphone. These are all great production capabilities for the more professional user who wants to run a better mic, or desires to incorporate the camera into an existing multi camera setup like for live work.
As for the specs of the camera and recorder, here they are from the website:
High-quality wearable video camera records with 720 x 480 resolution at 30fps
Ergonomic user interface design enables single-handed operation and hands-free video capture
Modular mounting system provides camera stability while attached to helmets or other high impact gear
Components are shock-resistant, water-resistant and dustproof for use in the most hazardous environments
Wide Angle camera head 110 degrees
Sensor: Advanced CMOS sensor with electronic global shutter
Dynamic range: 75dB to 110dB
Sensitivity: 5 lux color sensor (Sub 0.1 lux monochrome sensor)
Processor: 32 Bit MIPS processor, 12 Bit image
Sensitivity: F/#2.0, Relative Illumination @full field 90%
Effective focal length: 2.97mm
Field of View: 110 degrees
Mic type: omnidirectional cable-mounted, -40dB sensitivity at 1kHz
Resolution: 16-bit half duplex
Sampling rate: 32kHz
Speaker: Monaural 8ohm mylar, 0.7W Max
At the best quality settings, the recorder is capable of holding 5.6 hours of footage on a high speed 8 gig SD card. It uses 4 AA batteries, and I always use the NiMh rechargeable type. I've only run into problems when the batteries were cold from an over night camp out. It's lasted without problems on day long outtings, but wasn't used continuously. The specs say shock resistant, but in one extreme shootng condition, the camera began to show picture breakup when it was rattling around loose in it's mount on a mountain bike placement. With it mounted securely, the picture always held solid no matter the bumps.
SO far, I've used this for 3 months, and have mounted it on my kayak, mtn and road bike, taken it climbing, and hiking. You very quickly become a Les Stroud "Survivor Man" type, in thinking up all kinds of camera mounting solutions to shoot cool POV video. I can't wait for winter to come for the skiing and ice climbing video potential.
Post Production work
Here is where I was met with the biggest road blocks of the process. I had a huge hurdle in getting an editing program to deal with the video clips from the recorder without spending more money, versus using a low end editor. The software that comes with the camera includes a codec for playing back the video as well as a basic editor that trims and joins clips. A codec is a set of compression instructions to encode and decode the video and audio within the file for playback. The specs in the packaging state that the system works with windows XP, Vista and above, and MACs. I was hopeful because I have access to both. I had success playing back single clips on the my Vista laptop, but when I tried to use the included editor, or even MS Movie Maker to better edit a series of shots, problems arose. With help from VIO and from POVcamera.com, I switched codecs but with no success. Then they revealed to me that the POV 1.5 really doesn't like Vista. So I switched to my older XP desktop and was up and running... or limping since I was using Movie Maker. At least that computer had larger hard drives.
Now my preferred tool for video editing is actually MAC based, and is called Final Cut Pro, or slightly dumbed down, Final Cut Express. I teach video production at a high school, and have had a couple of MAC workstations strictly for video editing. Admittedly, they are showing their age, but only when you compare them to new computers. They still edit video from DV cameras as well as the day we bought them. But their age led me to my next huge road block. Codecs for the POV 1.5 are available for the MAC, but only if you have a relatively new MAC. I don't believe codecs take a lot of horsepower, but the only codec I could find wasn't made for my vintage 3.3 MAC OS X. (is this a gear review or a geek article?) By the way, the two codecs that are used are DIVX and XVID.
My second most favorite program to edit video is an AVID platform on the PC. Luckily, it was based on an XP computer, but for some reason, I couldn't get AVID to recognize the either codec. There's some voodoo art going on under the Avid hood I suspect. An alternative was for me to buy or "rent" a media converter program that would successfully convert the weird codec AVI files into ones AVID recognizes. I have yet to successfully find a converter that will do it into Quicktime files that will work on my MAC without ugly playback and or a ton of constant rendering. So, unless I want to limit myself both in efficiency and creativity and scrap both my AVID and Final Cut professional tools of choice, my only "back door" solution is to pipe the analog video and audio out of the back of the POV recorder unit directly into a DV camera, and trans-code the digital signal via Firewire into my editing computer of choice. Hey it works, albeit done in real time. This footage isn't likely seeing anything past a home DVD at best, or YouTube as a baseline. I believe the camera is capable of being a professional recording tool, but for me at this point, I'm limited by how I transfer raw footage off the unit. So that's my backdoor solution of getting footage off the camera onto a computer. It's not fast, not ideal, but it's dependable, and still looks pretty good.
In all, I am very impressed with the construction and quality of the camera system, from it's len to its functionalty. I wish the file formats were kinder to a broader range of computer systems and ediing platforms, especially for the dollars you pay up front. Mind you, I'm trying to marry something new to something old. This is more of a professional tool than a consumer toy, but should last longer. With firmware updates, I hope some of the issues I've mentioned get ironed out. It's a beautiful system that I feel suffers in the post production end of things, but for someone who never goes past Windows Movie Maker, or someone who invests in an alternative middle of the road video editor, this imaging tool will certainly be appreciated.
Some work I've done with the POV 1.5: