Garmin's been taking some interesting chances with its hardware as of late. First, it was the Head Up Display and now the GPS manufacturer is getting into the sports and action camera game with the announcement of the VIRB and VIRB Elite HD cameras.
The VIRB is a full HD sports camera; so many of the broad HD sports camera strokes will be familiar to anyone who's ever held a GoPro or Contour camera. The VIRB can record in 1080p high-definition video, but features modes for 720p, 960p tall HD, and more. It can also capture 16-megapixel color images in burst- or time-lapse-triggering modes, and it can even capture full-res still photos while recording video. The nine-element lens captures video with an ultrawide field of view, the camera's body is IPX-7 waterproof, and Garmin will be offering a wide range of mounts for hands-free operation while enjoying a variety of sports.
Recording is as simple as pointing the camera in the right direction and pushing the record slider forward -- much like the Contour line of sports cameras. This is, so far, all standard sports camera stuff, but there's more.
The VIRB features a 1.4-inch display that can be used to frame shots, preview footage, and interact with menus. The small display is designed so that it remains visible (and is best viewed) in direct sunlight. Additionally, Garmin's VIRB features digital image stabilization to smooth things out when shooting shaky sports. There's also lens distortion correction to help counter the fish-eye effect inherent with its ultrawide lens.
This is a Garmin product, so you can bet there's a GPS angle to the VIRB.
The VIRB Elite adds to the VIRB's list of features with the inclusion of an internal high-sensitivity GPS, an accelerometer, altimeter, and Wi-Fi. These sensors give the VIRB the ability to pull off some interesting tricks. For example, the GPS data can be embedded and displayed within the recorded HD video when sharing; Wi-Fi enables the Elite to communicate with upcoming Garmin apps for Android and iPhone smartphones; and the accelerometer and altimeter work with a "Ski Mode" that automatically stops recording when you reach the bottom of a slope, pauses as you head back up the lift, and starts recording again on your descent.
The standard VIRB lacks many of the Elite's more-advanced features because of the missing sensors.
ANT+ connectivity for the VIRB and VIRB Elite also enable the camera to communicate with accessories such as heart rate monitors, temperature sensors, and cadence sensors for cycling. The cameras can also connect to other ANT+ products in Garmin's ecosystem. This connectivity and the potential for expandability is what makes the VIRB standout from the crowd of HD sports cameras.
For example, Garmin's Oregon outdoor GPS receiver can lend its GPS data to the standard VIRB. The Fenix outdoor GPS watch can pull off this same trick and can also serve as a remote control for the VIRB cameras, stopping and starting video recording with the touch of a button on its bezel. Cycling data can be captured from a Garmin Edge 810 cycling computer and overlaid onto the video when editing. No other camera that I've tested can boast that level of connectivity.
Garmin will also make a discrete remote available in early 2014, and VIRB Elite users will be able to use their smartphones as remotes via the aforementioned Garmin app.
The VIRB and VIRB Elite will be available for purchase in September 2013. The VIRB will cost $299.99, and the more-capable VIRB Elite will be $399.99.