— UTV Action product test —
We last tested Garmin’s VIRB Elite 1080p HD action camera with GPS, altimeter and accelerometer a couple of years ago. The unit had some great features but was rather large and heavy (compared to GoPros) and locked up every time we tried to take still photos while recording video. We got a chance to try out the all-new, much-smaller Garmin VIRB XE and we were impressed with how much the action camera has evolved in two years. While still larger than a GoPro (3 x 1.6 x 1.4 inches), the VIRB XE weighs 5.35 ounces and has a 1-inch (diagonal) display screen. It takes 1440p, 1080p, 960p, 720p and slow-mo 480p/24 fps video; 12MP and 7MP still photos; time-lapse and 12MP/30 fps photo bursts, plus it’s waterproof to 50 meters without a dive case.
WHAT YOU GET:
Garmin’s VIRB XE action camera comes with a 980 mAh lithium-polymer battery that lasts up to two hours recording in 1080p @ 30fps, a charging/data cable, flat- and curved-surface adhesive mounts, standard and vertical adapters to GoPro mounts, short and long extension arms, short and long screws with steel Allen heads, Allen wrench and quick-start user manual. The VIRB XE has GPS, altimeter, G-force, heading and track-data streaming next to video, plus it has gyro-enhanced image stabilization and lens-distortion correction.
A 1/2.3-inch lens has three settings for Field of View (FOV) for 1080p, 720p or 480p HD video (16:9 aspect ratio) in wide, zoom and ultra zoom and wide-only tall (4:3 aspect ratio) for 1440p and 960p (the $299.99 VIRB X doesn’t shoot 1440p). This is great for high-definition recording, and it also has “instant-on” when you slide the record lever forward. Resolutions are 1920×1440, 1920×1080, 1280×960, 1280×720, and 848×480. NTSC frames-per-second rates are 240 (slow-mo) down to 24. The 1-inch display is on top, and the two smaller buttons are power and menu, while the large button within the record lever is select/OK. The VIRB XE has an internal mic and external charger posts for connecting an accessory mic cable, or it can be paired with Bluetooth and ELM327-compatible OBD-II devices. It also has WiFi capabilities for linking to a Garmin remote or ANT+ action watch or other mobile devices. It stores in MP4 files.
Setup can be performed on the VIRB XE via the 1-inch display or VIRB Edit software via your computer. First, open the front cover and install the Micro-SD card (contacts facing lens), charged battery and anti-fog desiccant pack, or charge the battery with the cable. Turn the power on and scroll through the sensor-status, data and menu screens. Through these, select mode, resolution, interval, FOC, lens correct, stabilizer loop, auto record, video out and pro settings in video. Display icons appear on the screen to show GPS, WiFi, Bluetooth, ANT+, battery level, power, heart rate, speed, headset/audio and OBD-II status. Also, choose tall, HD video, slow-mo or time-lapse modes. Pro settings include color palette, white balance, sharpness, ISO limit (up to 6400 for low light), EV bias and EV lock.
Recording video is super simple, and video quality is as crisp as the GoPro Hero4. Slow-mo is super cool, and the still-photography quality is greatly improved. We also tried out low-light recording during a monsoon with good results. Despite the video-stabilization feature, there is some video distortion when hitting bumps, but the improved mounting system and lighter weight of the XE camera greatly reduce distortion. The three-position zoom is cool, and so is the adapter that converts the VIRB XE to fit all GoPro mounts. The display screen and setup menu are really handy for changing settings on the fly. Also, the XE can be used for suspension testing and race management with G-Metrix overlays of speed, pace, G-force, orientation, hang time, distance, grade, roll, bearing, lap times and lap count. In pre-running, it can tag danger zones with GPS coordinates.
We’re stoked with the performance of the Garmin VIRB XE over the VIRB Elite action camera. We especially like the easy setup with the 1-inch display and the three-position, wide, ultra-zoom FOV. The included VIRB-to-GoPro mount is also very handy for those who owned earlier GoPro Heroes, and one-slide instant-on recording is very handy. We had trouble linking the VIRB to other Garmin devices for remote control of the camera, but that was a proximity issue with so many other XEs in the area. Once set up, use the remote to start and stop recording, or use the VIRB XE to test, pre-run or even spot rock-crawling obstacles on your mobile device.
CONTACT: Garmin, (913) 397-8200 or (800) 800-1020, www.garmin.com
PRICE: $399.99; remote, $49.99; large-tube mount, $24.99; head-strap mount, $21.99