Digital vs Analog
A brief update on the current state of traditional camcorder based helmet cam systems.
Traditional analog based helmet cam systems use an off the shelf camcorder with video input capabilities (aka A/V jack) to connect to the "helmet cam". What's scary about the analog systems is that Sony and others are completely phasing out camcorders with A/V inputs. In fact, none of Sony's current camcorder products have simple A/V inputs on them! This leaves analog based users scrounging around on eBay for older used & refurbished camcorders. All the helmet cam vendors know about this trend, and most of them are working diligently to find new solutions.
There are two core parts to a helmet cam system. The Recording Unit and the Camera. All of the systems on the market today can claim they use a "digital" recording unit because all camcorders ultimately record onto "digital" media. They can also claim the cameras are also "digital" because they use digital CCD (some are CMOS) imagers to capture the image.
The PROBLEM with traditional helmet cam systems (not the POV1) is the cable between the camera and recording unit is NOT DIGITAL. The digital ccd image must first be converted to an ANALOG, INTERLACED video signal and transmitted via the standard A/V cable to the camcorder where it is converted back into a digital signal, compressed, and stored onto tape or some other digital medium. The Digital-Analog-Digital process creates quality issues in many areas, I will briefly touch upon two core quality issues.
The first quality atrocity with traditional helmet cam systems (not the POV1) is interlacing a perfectly crisp digital video stream. Have you watched video footage on your computer that was captured directly from a camcorder and noticed those shaky lines in the footage (especially during motion)? If you have read anything about High Definition video, the big buzz is "Progressive Video". I will not say any more about this, except that Progressive Scan video is WAY nicer than Interlaced video. Check out the WIKI pages on Progressive Scan Video and Interlaced Video for more information and great visual examples.
The second atrocity with traditional helmet cam systems (not the POV1) is converting all that great digital color information into an analog signal. Once a signal is analog and travels along a length of wire information is lost. So, information is lost in the conversion and also lost in the transmission - once it's gone it is gone. When you couple this loss of information, along with the fact that many helmet cams on the market today are simply security cameras sold as helmet cams - the end result is poor color quality.
The SOLUTION is to not covert the pristine digital video stream into analog. Guess what? The POV1 has solved this, albeit somewhat expensively, by engineering a fully digital cable between the recording unit and the camera imaging sensor. VIO calls this cable the "LDVS Cable", rightly so, since it is based on the widely used LDVS Standard. Low-voltage differential signaling, or LVDS is used behind the scenes in many high-speed data transfer protocols such as FireWire, Serial ATA, SCSI, and more.
That being said, the digital connection between the camera and recording unit on POV.1 contributes greatly to the overall color and quality of the video produced from this unit. The Viosport POV1 is the first to market with an affordable 100% digital helmet cam system targeted at the consumer market. Kudos VIO - thanks for taking the first leap.
Fully Integrated vs Pieced Together
Again, a brief update on the current state of traditional camcorder based helmet cam systems. The typical helmet cam system on the market in 2007 is generally a hodgepodge of equipment pieced together into a "system". The hodgepodge generally consists of a recording unit, power system, external camera, microphone, and remote control.
The recording unit is generally a Camcorder with A/V inputs, or more recently, handheld DVR's such as the various Archos products. These recording units will have their own batteries to charge, power switches, video inputs, and remote control inputs. As noted earlier, many camcorder manufacturers are actually doing away with video inputs all together, which means the market will be forced into the DVR space. The core issue with using camcorders and DVRs in helmet cam systems is that they are not designed to be used in the many ways helmet cams are used. Here is a short list of issues we have encountered with traditional helmet cam systems:
- Tons of freak'n wires everywhere! A wire from the camera to the recording unit, a wire from the camera to the camera battery, a wire from the recording unit to the remote control, a wire from the recording unit to the microphone - ARGH!
- Broken A/V connectors and wire connections that fall out or disconnect - duct tape is a typical ingredient in traditional helmet cam systems, and so is LOST footage of amazing escapades
- Moving parts are bad - tape based camcorders do not like their recording heads to shake, and hard drive based DVR's do not like shock either
The actual Helmet Cam piece of the system is generally an off the shelf security cam with some simple cable adaptations to connect to various recording devices. Almost all of the cameras out there have extreme low light ratings - this is not because the helmet cam market likes to film in the dark! The external cameras connect into the recording device using standard A/V 1/4" connectors. These A/V connections on the camcorders where never designed to be "plugged into and stuffed in a backpack". Hence, the often frustrating loss of video due to broken A/V jacks or simply the connector popping out. Of course, this can be easily remedied with some duct tape. Doh! Lastly, where does the external helmet cam get it's power from? Not from the A/V jack on the camcorder - These cameras require an external battery to power them. This contributes to the crazy wire mess generally associated with helmet cams.
The standard Remote Control for helmet cameras today is based on the Sony LANC interface. This is a protocol that Sony developed years ago to allow people to control camcorders via a wire based remote. To use a Remote Control on a camcorder based system today requires the camcorder to have a LANC jack (which is another feature that is VERY hard to find on low end camcorders) - hence another wire and connector to duct tape and break. I will mention that there are a few DVR based helmet cam systems on the market today that have integrated the remote and power INLINE with the camera cable, but generally you do not want the remote tied to the camera cable since the cable is travelling towards the recording unit - which is stuffed in a pack somewhere. These DVR based systems also suffer from under engineered connectors that are prone to breaking as well.
Let's throw in the microphone too. The microphone needs power as well, and usually draws power from the battery powering the camera. This means the microphone wire has to tie into the camera power AND tie back into the recording device as well. Basically, more wires.
Again, the SOLUTION is to engineer a complete system that is "Fully Integrated". A fully integrated helmet cam system would have meet the following requirements:
- An easy and efficient user experience
- A recording unit designed around the uses associated with weareable video. Shock, temperature, water, long recording times.
- One power source for the whole system, preferrably inside the recording unit to protect it from the elements. This means the camera draws power from the recording unit.
- Strong and waterproof connectors designed to be beat up - aka duct tape not required.
- A remote control that interacts with the recording unit and camera.
That being said, the POV.1 has been engineered from the ground up to be "fully integrated." This is one of the most exciting aspects of this helmet cam system. All of the elements were designed around the same goals and objectives: filming events in extreme conditions. VIO is not the first to market on a fully integrated system, but they are the first to produce fully integrated system that is durable, waterproof out of the box, and has a wireless remote control.