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GoPro HD HERO 960 Review

The GoPro HD HERO 960 is available for purchase now over at The Shop.

GoPro is well known in the industry for making an excellent point-of-view (POV) camera, and they offer the best warranty. With the introduction of their 960 model, GoPro has targeted those camera enthusiasts who want HD quality but don’t have 300 clams. GoPro has trimmed down some of the features from their high-end 1080 model, and is selling this camera at a price well below the competition. At $179, you get beautiful HD video, an excellent assortment of mounts, GoPro quality, and the ability to shoot in extreme conditions including underwater. The main competitors of the GoPro 960 are the Contour HD, Oregon Scientific ACT9K, Drift HD170, and the Epic HD.

Table of Contents for Review of the GoPro 960

Differences between the GoPro 1080 and 960

To offer an HD camera at a very competitive price, GoPro decided to tone down some of the features that certain enthusiasts may not require. First, they reduced the highest resolution setting to 1280 x 960. Unless you have a large HDTV that is over 50”, the normal viewer cannot easily tell the difference between 720, 960, or 1080. Second, they removed the BUS expansion port, which would allow you to connect a GoPro LCD monitor or alternate power source to the camera. I would mention all POV cameras started off without an LCD monitor, and though they are nice to have for playback purposes, users have gotten by without them for years. Lastly, the 960 will only shoot HD at 30 frames per second (FPS). Unless you do a lot of slow motion effects in your final movie production, video shot at 30 fps should be fine for most folks.

What's Included
Included in the box, you will find the following:

    • (1) HD HERO 960 camera
    • (1) Rechargeable 1100 mAh Lithium-Ion Battery
    • (1) Waterproof Quick-Release Housing (180' / 60m)
    • (1) Non-Waterproof Back Door for Housing
    • (1) Curved & Flat, 3M™ Adhesive Mount
    • (1) Helmet Front Mount
    • (1) Headlamp-Style Head Strap
    • (1) Quick-Release Buckle
    • (1) USB Cable
    • (1) Component Video Cable (HDTV)
    • (1) Composite Video Cable + Audio Out Cable

      Key Camera Features

      Technical Specifications
      •    Dimensions: 42mm x 60mm x 30mm
      •    Sensor: 5M color CMOS, 1/2.5”
      •    Shock Resistant

      •    Video Resolution & Recording Capacity
      o       960p = 1280x960 pixels (4:3), 30 fps, 12 Mbit/s data rate
      o       720p = 1280x720 pixels (16:9), 30 fps, 8 Mbit/s data rate
      o       WVGA = 848x480 pixels (16:9), 60 fps, 8 Mbit/s data rate

      •    File Format: H.264 Video Compression (MP4)
      •    Field of View (FOV): 170
      •    Weight:  3.3 oz (with batteries), 5.9 oz with Case
      •    Max Frame Rate: HD - 30fps, WVGA – 60fps
      •    Light Sensitivity: Super low-light sensitivity (>1.4 V/lux-sec)

      •    Accepts up to a 32GB SD Card. Recording Capacity based on 32GB Card:
      o       960p (30 fps): 5h 26m
      o       720p (30 fps): 8h 09m
      o       WVGA (60 fps): 8h 09m

      •    Photo Quality: 5 Megapixels
      •    Self-Timer: 10 seconds
      •    Burst Mode (Photo): 3 Images
      •    Exposure Control: Auto with user selectable center weighted average and spot metering settings
      •    White Balance: Auto
      •    Output Ports: PC Connection (USB), HDTV Out, Audio Out (2.5mm jack – stereo & composite video)


      GoPro offers one of the best selections of accessories which you can purchase through HCC. Besides various mounts (see below), you can purchase a replacement housing, replacement lens kit, waterproof wrist housing, spare battery, AC/DC wall charger, auto charger, and more.

      Other Comments

      GoPro offers one of the best selections of accessories which you can purchase through HCC. Besides various mounts (see below), you can purchase a replacement housing, replacement lens kit, waterproof wrist housing, spare battery, AC/DC wall charger, auto charger, and more.


      Performance and Comparison

      Features: GoPro 960 GoPro HD Drift HD170 Epic HD ATC9K ContourHD
      Price: $179.99 $299.99 $329.00 $279.99 $299.99 $279.99
      Max Res: 1280x960 1920x1080 1920x1080 1280x720 1920x1080 1920x1080
      Sensor Size: 1/2.5" 1/2.5" 1/2.5" 1/2.5" 1/3.2" 1/2.5"
      Battery Life: 2.5 Hrs 2.5 Hrs 2.5 Hrs 3.5 Hrs 1.5 Hrs 3 Hrs
      Max FPS: 30 60 30 30 60 60
      Dimensions (mm): 42 x 60 x 30 42 x 60 x 30 133 x 50 x 33 101.6 x 41.3 x 31.8 40 x 110 95 x 53 x 34
      File Format: H.264 H.264 H.264 H.264 H.264 H.264
      Waterproof: With incl. case With incl. case Slightly With sep. case Yes With sep. case
      IR Remote: No No Yes No Yes No
      LCD (playback): No Future accessory Yes No Yes No
      Field of View: 170 170/127 127/170 168/120 130 135/110
      Warranty: 365 days 365 days 365 days 90 days 90 days 180 days

      Camera Test Parameters

      • Tested all resolution settings
      • Neighborhood and highway driving on a sunny day
      • Trail bike ride during the day
      • Tested low light performance outdoors at dusk

      Using the composite video cables that came with the camera, I played back the video on my 42” plasma HDTV. The resolution quality at 960 and 720 was quite good, but I was hard pressed to notice a difference between the two. The image was well defined, clear and crisp. Needless to say, the HD video looked much better than WVGA.

      The lens quality is very good, and the image had clean lines. The nice feature about this camera is the ability to replace the lens should it get damaged. There are very few manufacturers that offer this capability. The specs on the lens are below:
      ·    Lens Type: Fixed Focus (2ft/.6m – ?), glass
      ·    Aperture: f/2.8 (high performance in low-light situations)
      ·    Angle of View: 170º ultra wide angle in WVGA, 720p, or 960p mode

      The camera has a FOV of 170 degrees, which is considered ultra wide angle. If you are interested in catching a lot of surrounding action, this is the right camera for you. The viewer will notice a certain amount of distortion around the edges of the frame. Depending on your preference or shooting technique, this ultra wide FOV may/may not be the right solution for your needs. It really comes down to personal preference.

      On a bright and sunny day, I decided to visit a local florist who had mums and other colorful flowers out for display. There was a full spectrum of colorful flowers that were yellow, orange, white, purple, deep red, violet, pink, etc. The colors captured by the camera were well saturated, accurate, and quite impressive. I was pleasantly surprised on how well the 960 performed. Some other HD cameras I have tested under the same conditions had problems in bright light, resulting in the colors being washed out. Not the case for the GoPro 960 – well done!

      Frames Per Second (FPS)
      The GoPro 960 only shoots HD at 30fps, and the smoothness of the video was as expected. It performed equally well compared to other cameras that record at this rate. More expensive cameras offer shooting HD at 60 fps, but unless you are doing slow motion effects in your movie production, 30 fps should be fine.

      POV cameras are designed to shoot during normal daylight hours and typically perform less than desirable in low light conditions. Most of my testing was done on bright, sunny days. Driving around town and in the country side, the GoPro 960 performed very well. The camera did a nice job compensating for bright conditions, unlike other cameras I have tested where sometimes the video was washed out on a sunny day. As I was driving down some back roads, the camera also did well when transitioning from shady areas (bridges, tree cover) to sunny areas. In my low light tests around dusk, the camera again was a top performer due to its larger ½.5” CMOS imager. I also took the camera down to my dark basement and shot some footage using a 500 lumen video light. Under these conditions, most POV cameras really struggle resulting in the video having a lot of pixilation. Regarding the 960, though the image was a little dark, there was no pixilation – pretty amazing performance for a CMOS camera.

      Regarding proper camera alignment, the ACT9K uses a laser and has a built-in LCD monitor, the Contour HD uses lasers, and the Drift HD170 uses a built-in LCD monitor. Regarding the Epic HD and GoPro 960, the user must align the camera visually and should shoot some test footage to ensure the camera is properly aligned.

      The GoPro 960 microphone, which is located on top of the camera, records mono audio on one channel like most other cameras. If you want a stereo affect in your final video, you will need to use editing software to duplicate the channel. I tested the audio performance of the GoPro at distances from one and eight feet. During the test, the camera was in its protective housing with the non-waterproof back. I was expecting the performance to be marginal because of the housing, but the camera performed very well. You are able to clearly hear dialog up to a distance of eight feet, which is unusual for POV cameras. Most cameras lose audio clarity around 3-4 feet, so the GoPro 960 again out performed most of the competition in this category. When you put the waterproof back on the housing, obviously the audio performance declines, but the camera still picked up ambient sounds. I would note the Oregon Scientific ACT9K outperformed the GoPro 960 in this category. The ACT9K has an excellent microphone design.

      The camera uses a rechargeable 1100mAh lithium-ion battery, and lasts for 2.5 hours of constant recording. You can recharge 80% of the battery in about two hours when you plug it into the USB port on your computer. You can also shoot video while the camera is charging (car charger).

      Photo Mode:
      The camera shots 5 megapixel photos, which is pretty typical. You can set the camera to single shot, or triple shot through the menu function. You can also change the timing setting in the menu to shoot a photo in 2, 5, 10, 30, and 60 second intervals. Lastly, the camera comes with a 10 second timer feature in case you want to take a group shot.

      The camera comes with a multitude of mounts, unlike a lot of competitive cameras. I like fact the camera comes with a flat AND curved adhesive mount. The camera also comes with a helmet strap mount that is well designed, and much better than Oregon Scientific’s version (I still prefer a rigid mount design). GoPro offers additional mount accessories such as a roll bar mount, handlebar mount, chest harness, tripod adapter, vented helmet mount, suction cup mount, surfboard mount, and more. Some competitors have a limited offering of mounts, which for me, has a significant impact on my buying decision. GoPro really excels in this category, and offers a very complete line of mount accessories.

      LCD & Camera Operation

      The camera comes with a simple LCD display, and navigation through the menu is pretty easy. You need to read the manual to understand the abbreviations on the display. The camera incorporates audio cues and includes an LED on the front of the camera that turns “red” when you are recording. By using the two buttons on the camera, you can configure the camera as follows:
      ·    10 Second Timer
      ·    Single Shot, Triple Shot, or Time Lapse Mode for pictures
      ·    “One Button Mode” operation
      ·    Default Mode on Power Up (Video, Single Shot, Triple Shot, Photo every “X” seconds)
      ·    Video Resolution (960, 720, WVGA)
      ·    Exposure Setting (Center Weight Average, Spot Meter)
      ·    Upside Down Image Capture (in case you have to mount the camera inverted)
      ·    LCD Screen Display On/Off
      ·    Blinking LED Light On/Off for Video Recording
      ·    Beeping Sound On/Off for Operational Audio Cues
      ·    NTSC/PAL
      ·    Delete Last File Saved
      ·    Delete All Files & Format SD Card
      ·    Auto Power Off (No, 60 seconds, 120 seconds, 300 seconds)
      ·    Time & Date

      Water Resistant/Waterproof
      The camera itself is neither water resistant nor waterproof. The camera comes with a waterproof case that is good for 180’ or 60 meters.

      The GoPro 960 comes with a one year warranty, which is about twice as long as any other competitor. This says a lot about the camera’s quality and that the company is willing to stand behind its product.

      Other comments:
      The GoPro 960 “looks” like a camera, where most of the competition has a cylindrical design. From an aesthetics point of view, I like the cylindrical design, but there is a logic behind GoPro’s approach. The GoPro housing is very robust and could probably survive a nuclear explosion.  If you were to drop the GoPro 960 (in its housing) along with any other of the competing cameras off a 10’ cliff, the GoPro camera itself would survive though the housing may have to be replaced. The other cameras would probably not survive the fall. It’s a lot cheaper to replace a housing than a whole new camera.

      Sample Video - Compressed for the Web


      GoPro continues their streak of releasing a quality product for the sports enthusiast. The GoPro 960 is an excellent camera that can be purchased for less than $200. Though it does not have all of the features of its big brother (1080), there are a lot of users that do not need them, so why pay the extra money. The camera comes with everything you need to shoot in extreme conditions and underwater. It comes with a nice selection of mounts, shoots great HD video, and has a great microphone. The housing is practically bomb proof, so you don’t have to worry about camera damage. GoPro offers a great selection of accessories and replacement parts, along with the best warranty in the industry. The GoPro 960 is a great value for the money, and is highly recommended

      As a side note, the only way to contact GoPro is through email. I contacted them regarding technical questions, and they replied within a 12 hour period. They have no customer service or sales phone number, though their competition VholdR (Contour HD) and Oregon Scientific (ACT9K) offer toll free numbers.

      GoPro HD Hero 960 Buying Options


      About the Author

      Mike Stoll has been using helmet cameras for over seven years in a variety of outdoor sports including caving, whitewater rafting, and downhill racing to mention a few. He has also written articles relating to helmet cameras for VideoMaker, Canoe & Kayak, and Paddling Life.

      We Review and Sell Helmet Camera Systems

      Helmet Camera Central was born as a result of our helmet cam experiences from our video consulting business, Two Brothers Video. Helmet Camera Central is a resource designed to help people find objective and pertinent information about helmet camera systems. Since 2005, we have reviewed numerous helmet camera systems with an unbiased and objective point of view. Our reviews focus on the functional and usability aspects of helmet camera systems. Since we use helmet camera systems in addition to selling them, our reviews result from actual day-to-day experiences with the products. Ease of use, reliability, and quality are our top priority. Rest assured, the helmet camera systems that we recommend and sell at HelmetCameraCentral.com were chosen for good reason: they rock! There are many systems out there, but the ones we recommend provide exceptional quality and services for the best return on your investment.

      We are also here to answer your questions and help you choose a helmet camera system that meets your needs. If one of our recommended systems is a fit for you, you can find it at HelmetCameraCentral.com. And if our recommended systems do not fit your needs, we will put you in contact with the right vendor to find the best solution.

      Change Log
      10/12/10 / Erik / Version 1.0
      ** First Draft.

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