The last time we looked at GoPro
’s line of waterproof cameras (see the SD HERO review
), we were stoked to finally be able to see video of ourselves wiping out. Imagine our delight when GoPro released their high definition (HD) line of cameras allowing us to see the same wipe out in all its 1080p glory! We had the chance to put the GoPro HD Surf HERO
through the paces during a recent trip to Oahu. The little wonder performed as advertised and we were able to get footage we would otherwise have been hard pressed to capture. We did run into some fogging issues, and I may have underestimated the computer resources needed to handle HD video files but overall I have absolutely no regrets in paying the much heftier price tag of the HD HERO over its standard definition (SD) predecessor.
Here is some sample footage from our recent trip using the HD Surf HERO (be sure to set all HD HERO footage in this review to 720p or better yet 1080p) …
And here is some sample footage from the SD HERO taken a few years earlier in Maui …
Suffice to say, the video quality of the HD HERO is light years ahead of the original GoPro camera. An HD Primer
Before we get too much into the geek speak, it might be worth a second to go over what all this HD hoopla is about for those of us that are less geek inclined. You know those huge television sets that weigh a ton? These show video images through 480 horizontal lines across the screen. To save on processing power, they show odd and even lines separately but very quickly so you hardly notice it. This is known as 480i (the “i” for “interlaced” referring to the odd and even alternation) or “standard definition.” At the other extreme is what is referred to as 1080p. As you might have guessed, this means 1,080 lines across the screen. The “p” stands for progressive meaning that all lines are processed at the same time. The result is a far more detailed and crisp image than that of SD video. There are many grades between 480i and 1080p the most popular being 720p.
Keep in mind that to enjoy HD video, you need to have an HD television or computer monitor. A 480i TV will play a 1080p movie but using only 480 lines interlaced. However, don’t think that you need the most expensive uber HDTV out there to appreciate HD footage. Even at 720p, the difference is huge.Same Grey Box
At a passing glance, the HD Surf HERO looks very similar to the SD HERO in many respects. Although a tad larger, it uses the same soft touch grey casing; has the same no b.s. layout with one button in front under the same multi-purpose LCD screen and another button on top; still the ominous blinking red light, and still the unassuming lens. However, the similarities pretty much end there.
After a closer look, the first thing I noticed was that the HD HERO had a bit more weight to it making it feel more like an expensive miniature gadget rather than a high tech toy which was the initial impression I had of the SD HERO. You’ll also notice the lack of a viewfinder which we hadn’t used much anyway. And of course there’s the price tag – the HD HERO is currently priced at $269.99 whereas the SD HERO is $99.99. Considering you’d be hard pressed to find HD cameras for this price (much less, one that is wearable and waterproof), I’d have to say the price point is well worth it.
One change that took getting used to was the wider angle of the HD HERO versus the more traditional angle of view of the SD HERO. This isn’t a change, per se, since the SD HERO also came in a wide angle version, but something we were forced to get used to since an HD HERO with a traditional viewing angle is not currently available. While the wider angle make for better close-up shots (like the typical surfboard view shown in GoPro clips), it makes for difficult ranged footage. What might only be a few feet away appears to be much further.Bring on the Lithium
I initially cringed when I first heard that the HD HERO would be powered by a rechargeable lithium ion battery as opposed to the AAA’s you can get just about anywhere. However, the batteries never ran out on us. We would be surfing for over three hours at a time and never ran out of battery. The included 3.7V 1100 mAh battery is recharged by plugging the HD HERO into a USB port. A wall charger is sold separately which I plan to get to be able to recharge a spare battery (also sold separately) while the HD HERO is in use.This is Still Sparta!!
As far as usability, the controls are familiarly Spartan. In all likelihood, you will still come across videos of you looking at the camera wondering if it’s even on. And try as I might to read through the instruction manual, I’m still only able to retain a fraction of the information to get the most of the HD HERO’s functionality.
As with the SD HERO, we used the HD HERO primarily as a wrist cam using the wrist casing which is sold separately. Although the larger size of the HD HERO prevents you from using the same waterproof casing as the SD HERO, the actual wrist strap that secures the camera is the same.MacGyver Likes
The sheer possibilities of mounting options are as varied as they are creative. MacGyver would be all over this for sure. For starters, you have the familiar GoPro mainstays like the wrist mount mentioned earlier as well as the adhesive and FCS surfboard mounts which come packaged with the HD Surf HERO. There is also a rollbar mount, helmet mount, chest mount, head mount … basically you name it and there’s a way to mount a GoPro on it. No joke. Here’s some footage we took riding around in ATVs at the Kualoa Ranch on the windward side of Oahu …
I had struggled with some sort of creative way to mount the GoPro onto the racks in front of the ATVs when I realized that I could jury-rig the wrist mount and simply hang it from my necklace.Fogging Issues
Operationally, the only issue we ran into with the HD HERO is fogging. GoPro acknowledges that this is a common problem with the HD HERO particularly in tropical climates. The high humidity, temperature changes between the water and air, and the heat generated by the camera all lends itself to condensation within the casing. The fogging can get pretty bad and really reduces the quality of the footage ...
As opposed to footage taken without any fogging …
There are a number of do-it-yourself solutions out there to mitigate the fogging issue among them as simple as fitting folded sheets of toilette paper along the sides of the camera. This actually worked to some effect but what we found completely prevented any fogging were absorbent strips that GoPro developed specifically for this issue. And, yes, they are sold separately.Handling HD Files
Keep in mind that simply playing any HD files (not just GoPro captured video) requires specialized computing power. While most modern desktop computers can handle HD files easily, a few laptops cannot and fewer still netbooks have the capability. On my Asus 1001p netbook, HD video playback is replete with stuttering. At best, I can make out what the video is.
As far as storage is concerned, you’ll need lots of space to accommodate the much larger HD files. During the course of our week-long stay in Oahu, we accumulated close to seven gigabytes of HD footage from our GoPro alone.
If you plan on editing your HD videos, take stock of how strong your computer is and determine whether you are equipped to edit HD. Factor in the price of any computer upgrades you’ll need to make before deciding on purchasing any HD camera. Taking into consideration the amount of time and money I’ve plowed into my own computer, I’d like to think of it as the geek equivalent of a hot rod … and it still takes some time to render edited HD footage.The Word
If you want quality surfing footage, no question about it, get one. Especially if you are already aware of the needs required to handle HD or don’t expect to do much editing, the GoPro HD Surf HERO is an awesome buy. For all the technology packed into such a tiny, simple little box … and wearable by surfers, it’s tough to ask for more. I do wish that it came in a standard viewing angle and having so many things sold separately (some of which may have made sense to include like the anti-fog strips and wall charger) gets kind of annoying. However, its all a small price to pay for the jaw dropping quality of the HD video. Make no mistake, you’ll never look at your wipeouts the same again.DISCLOSURE: THE AUTHOR OF THIS ARTICLE PURCHASED THIS PRODUCT AT MSRP FOR PURPOSES OF TESTING.