Read on for our review of the very cool VHoldR ContourHD.
Please Note: As this review was about to go live, the good people at VHoldR released a new firmware potentially improving the ContourHD significantly. To account for this we held back our review allowing a re-evaluation based on our new experiences with the updated version 1.31 firmware.
The ContourHD is a new iteration of VHoldR's tiny ruggedised video camera and as the name suggests, there's been an upgrade in the recorded video resolution: Specifically 720p.
While shooting video at 720p isn't all that special in and of itself, the fact that the ContourHD is only 95 x 53 x 34mm makes it quite an achievement.
If this wasn't enough, the ContourHD's boot/shutdown times have improved compared to the original VHoldR and with the newly released firmware, both audio and video camera settings can be tweaked via the included "Easy Edit" software.
The newly added tweaking of video settings allows users to choose between high/max or default bit rates as well as the adjusting of exposure, contrast and sharpness settings. As we were happy with the default picture we left these pretty much alone but did boost the bit rate to its maximum for good measure. After being disappointed with the audio of the VHoldR, the setting that piqued our interest most was the ability to adjust the Microphone's gain - More on this later.
Beyond these upgrades and ContourHD labelling, the ContourHD is virtually indistinguishable from the older standard definition VHoldR we reviewed previously.
To this end, the ContourHD retains the VHoldR's original metallic cylindrical barrel mount as well as the Trail Mounting System used to attach the camera to a range of available mounts.
Opening the ContourHD's rear cover reveals a familiar layout of ports and LEDs, all be they with a few evolutionary changes. Beyond the bright orange battery latch and the addition of the small HD/SD switch next to the mini USB port, there is no discernable difference to the innards of the original VHoldR.
The ContourHD lens is also wider than the original VHoldR with up to 135 degrees available when shooting 720p. When recording in standard definition (WVGA) the unit is able to capture 110 degrees.
In the Box
The ContourHD's standard inclusions have also had an upgrade, with a few welcome additions to the standard kit, compared to the old VHoldR. The ContourHD comes packaged with two mounting solutions, a standard (but now smaller) sticky flat mount, as well as a two part goggle strap. A 1050mAh battery is also included - up from old 900mAh one.
Essentially, the ContourHD comes with everything needed to get yourself up and running. No extra batteries to buy, or memory sticks - just plug the ContourHD in to your PC for about four hours for its initial charge and you are ready for some extreme HD video recording.
Out in the Field
While the HD in the ContourHD's name gives away the most obvious upgrade, all the operations (switching the unit on/off and start/stop recording) feel much snappier the the old VHoldR. Where the VHoldR would sometimes leave you hanging for a shutdown beep, the ContourHD beeps more or less straight away.
For testing purposes, we strapped the ContourHD to our 148kw camera holder and went out for a drive. Thankfully, the VHoldR people have not changed the mounting mechanism so that our original VHoldR camera mounts from our previous review were able to be used - mostly. While our side mount remained exactly as it was last year, the mount beneath the front spoiler had lost some of its sprightliness: Due to the Type Rs relatively low ride, the mount had been pretty much scraped to death in 12 months of going up and down driveways.
The only real drawback we found with the previously reviewed VHoldR was its inability to cope with wind noise. Unfortunately, even when the audio gain was reduced to very low settings as introduced by the recently released firmware update, the ContourHD was still unable to effectively reproduce the sweet mechanical racket of the K20A engine pushing up past 8000RPM. While the lowered gain settings improved the overall audio quality, wind noise still seems to mar recordings at or over 60 km/h.
We also strapped the ContourHD to a Team C Racing Remote Control car which demonstrated the the units ultimate toughness and versatility. Even after the car rolled, the ContourHD didn't miss a beat and just kept on filming. Note that the pause in the action is due to human frailty rather than a mechanical one!
The picture quality was great and when played back on our 8th Generation Kuro, was quite enjoyable - provided the sound was turned down for content recorded while travelling at higher speeds: The remote control car footage, as the above sample shows, was devoid of excessive wind noise.
The image still suffered from some wobble, but the high resolution provided good definition and the picture accurately portrayed the enjoyment of driving both remote controlled and full sized cars.
The included Easy Edit software was as the name suggests, fairly easy to use. After importing videos shot, minimal effort was required to edit and share videos on the VHoldR video community website. Despite being a little slow when skipping forward/backward through video and desperately missing a "cut" command, the Easy Edit software provides an effective - if simple - method for quickly clipping and sharing videos online.
It is worth noting that all videos in this review are hosted on the VHoldR video community website and were edited and shared via the Easy Edit software.
Also worth noting is that VHoldR provides each ContourHD owner up to 100GB of video storage space for sharing their videos at no extra cost: VHoldR not only want you to buy their camera, but they also want you to use it and (if you want to) share your creations!
Resolution: 720p (1280x720), WVGA (848x480)
Frame Rate: 30fps (720p), 60fps (WVGA)
Record Time: 30-60 minutes/GB
File Format: H.264 (.MOV)
Audio: AAC Compression via built in microphone
Lens: 135 degrees (720p), 110 degrees (WVGA)
Max Memory Card: 16GB SDHC Compatible (2GB included)
Battery: Rechargeable Lithium-Ion
Record Time: Up to 3 Hours
Charge Time: Approximately 4 Hours
Alignment: Lasers with rotating Lens
Editing Software: Easy Edit (Windows XP+ and OS X 10.4+)
The ContourHD has made great improvements in video resolution (As of writing a new 1080p model has been released) but unfortunately has failed to really take audio along for the ride. Sure, the audio gain adjustment is a good start but ultimately isn't enough to solve the wind noise problems at higher speeds.
Trawling through the VHoldR forums, one can find some modification instructions that can reduce the audio garble due to the wind - which is pretty much our only complaint - but being a next generation device, we really hoped for better results straight out of the box.
Despite its many improvements, we're only going to give the ContourHD an extra half mark on top of the old non HD VHoldR due solely on its lack of high quality audio which is a complete and unfortunate mismatch next to its impressive video performance.
The ContourHD retails for $299US. For more information about this unit and VHoldR's newly released ContourHD 1080, visit Twenty20’s VHoldR website.