There are more than enough action cams on the market, but that's not stopping Garmin from jumping head first into that saturated space. The GPS maker hopes to bring something fresh to the table with its $299 VIRB and $399 VIRB Elite, a pair of ruggedized camcorders that do more than simply snap footage from within a clear protective shell. Both models can shoot 1080p clips at 30fps and 16-megapixel still photos (while recording video) for up to three consecutive hours with one 2,000mAh cell, but they offer a variety of features that some competitors can't match, including a low-power 1.4-inch transflective LCD for navigating menus and previewing footage, optional (digital) IS and the ability to sync up with a variety of other Garmin devices through ANT+.
That last feature is perhaps the most compelling here -- VIRB's ANT+ chip lets you add on accessories like a heart rate monitor while also pairing with the company's Fenix watch, logging GPS coordinates and other stats with each captured clip. The pricier Elite flavor brings positioning sensors on board, however, along with an altimeter and WiFi, which you can use to connect the cam to a dedicated Android or iOS app. That software component lets you see a live preview and control basic settings (video start/stop and still image capture) remotely -- eventually, you'll be able to send content from the device to your phone or tablet, though that functionality isn't included just yet. A tiny remote will also be available as an add-on, should you opt to leave your smartphone at home.
It's easy enough to operate the water-resistant camera without a remote though, even with it mounted on your helmet or attached to a surf board. A large sliding record button lets you power up and start shooting video right away, even when the camera's turned off. There's no built-in storage, but you can slide in your own microSD card under the battery. The Garmin VIRB ships next month for $299, while its Elite counter part will ship around the same time for $399. Check out that base model, along with some of the many optional straps and mounts, in our hands-on photos just below.