I came across this lil' rig at shotshow and was luckily able to pick one up to sample. I have some experience in other helmet cameras and I liked how the POV is setup as a great all in one package. Everything else out there on the market relies on a 3rd party recorder solution which means it isn't going to be MIL-Spec and not necessarily made for what you need with missing or needless features. The POV project is actually a part of a multi-year agreement with ARL (Army Research Laboratory) to research and develop wearable video technology for military and law enforcement applications. This further sets the POV apart from the others in which it has been made from the ground up to be rugged and easy to use.
When you first get it out of the box you notice it comes with a nice fold up case and inside is a crapload of stuff. As I said earlier, this thing comes Deluxe, you don't have to worry about buying a bunch of extra crap just to be able to use it. All the core stuff is there: recorder, wires, controller, small mem card, but in addition there is a vast collection of mounting accessories. The main mount piece to attach to the camera is a C-Clamp that will let you rotate the camera to your needs and it can interface with the included picatinny style tube rail mount and wide flange base mount. It was a little confusing at first, but a small rubber O-ring is included that goes on the C-Clap to help make sure the camera rotation stays in place. The tube mount is good for handle bars/rails while the flat mount is good for mounting using screws, zipties, velcro, or whatever else you come up with. Don't forget the C-Clamp is picatinny rail mount ready on its own so can easily go on weapon rails. I don't have them yet, but OPS-CORE is making helmet rail packages for MICH helmets that work awesome for the POV.1 system. Until I get one of those, I plan on velcro-ing up my wide flange base with hook velcro to attach to the loop velcro on my MICH.
The POV.1 ships with a packing cover for the LCD screen, however comes with a more transparent stick-on for protection as well. I suck and wasn't able to get it on without getting fingerprints on the edges. My advice is to really bend up the paper the sticker is attached to so it pops away from the paper, allowing you to apply it to the LCD screen easier. I recommended they ship 2 covers since I don't think I will be the only one to screw that up on the first try.
When getting started for the first time, the wire is side specific so you have to make sure the correct side goes into the camera and recorder. There is an eye icon on the camera end to give you a hint, but since it is black on black it is a bit subtle. It would be nice if the wire only connected correctly, but perhaps that would cause other problems. If you do put the wire on backwards, the recorder will act like no camera is attached and tell you so. A cool thing about the wire is that a MIC is fully integrated. You don't have to worry about placement or power of the MIC like you do on other helmet camera solutions. The POV uses SD-cards for memory which isn't quite as cool as CF cards, but still work fine and are affordable. Memory is easily inserted into the bottom of the recorder and a 1 gig card is included. Also in this bottom area is a input hole for a separate microphone, USB port, and an A/V out hole. If you plan on getting wet, the whole bottom has a water tight cover to make the recorder rated for being 1 meter deep in water. Since this cover suction seals itself, it can be hard to take off so I recommend attaching cord to the screw ring. As a side note I wish the supplied A/V out cable came with a L-type connection since the straight version supplied protrudes a bit from the recorder. When in a pouch it puts more stress on the A/V out hole and cable. Moving to the back is the battery compartment. 2 plastic flaps hold the water-tight cover in place. Although the flaps are easy enough to open, there isn't any easy way to grab on to the actual cover so one ends up usually prying it out with their fingernails. I wish this was easier, but I understand the design dilemma to be water tight and not have extensions sticking out from the recorder. Inside is the good stuff in which the recorder uses simple 4 AA batteries. I am quite happy with this decision since AAs are easy as hell to get a hold of in normal and rechargeable form. The battery life is about 4 hours on rechargeable batteries if recording the whole time and lifetime increases if idling instead of recording.
Once booted on up, as long as you have some sort of video electronics experience, the interface is easy and intuitive. I was able to quickly record, view recordings, and adjust recorder settings. For improvements I would like to see better rewind and fast forward control during playback. Only 1x and 2x speeds are available which is not so hot when trying to get to that awesome moment on your 30 minute video. As another picky thing I would like the UI sound control separate from video sound. As is, the only way to tone down the UI beeps is to turn down the volume, however that turns down the volume for video as well. Back to the pluses, the POV.1 records up to 720x480 at 30 frames per second using a mpeg4 format. This is a great quality versus size ratio and the resolution, fps, and quality can be adjusted lower to save on card space to allow longer record times. To give you a quick idea, on a 1 gig card one can do about 43 minutes in 720x480, 30fps, high quality mode while they can do about 7.8 HOURS in 320x240, 15fps, low quality mode. Up to 2 gig cards can work, and larger capacity cards are planned to be usable in the future. Since the recorder has no moving parts the video stays clear despite heavy shock. The end result quality of the video is similar to other helmet cameras when it comes to general color and contrast. All exposure/gain settings are automatic. It should be noted the low light performance is worse than most while most helmet cameras are already not so great in low light. VIO has acknowledged their desire for improved low light results and intends to correct this soon with possibly tweaked camera settings or a totally separate night camera. The lens that comes with the unit has a 4.5mm effective focal length which is approximately a 73 degree field of view. There have been requests for a wide lens solution and VIO has one in the works. (*UPDATE- a 110 degree camera is now available) The POV.1 claims to be able to record DVD quality, but this is referring more to the specs than the end result. Although 720x480 at 30fps is a DVD spec, the end result POV AVIs have more noticeable compression. Don't get me wrong, it is still sweet, just not DVD master collectors edition sweet.
The wireless remote is another huge feature that comes with the POV standard. As I was saying earlier, most of the other helmet camera systems now rely on separate digital recorders and very few of them have wireless controls. If they do, they are infrared remotes which require line of sight and won't work for most tactical needs. Even on the older rigs using LANC ports to plug a controller to small camcorders, this requires another friggin' wire to deal with. The POV.1 controller allows recording, stopping, and tagging. The tag feature allows you to mark movies, but when in loop the recorder constantly keeps a set time amount of video and only saves the timeframe when the tagged button is pressed. So say you are recording in loop mode with loop time set to 5 minutes; You go around for 20 minutes of boredom, but then suddenly commence to some high adventure action. Once the Tag button is pressed, 5 minutes of footage before you pressed that button is saved and you don't have to worry about the would-be crap footage before it. Sadly the remote is not able to control if the unit is totally on or off, hopefully this will be fixed in the future. It would also be nice if the recorder could communicate with the remote. One feature on the LANC switches that I wish the POV remotes have was they would glow or flash lights to tell the status of the recorder. The POV wireless controller does not have this feature, so the red light on it is only for confirming you are pressing a button on it. For reliable use the buttons should be held down briefly. If quickly tapped, this may not be long enough for the recorder to "hear" the command. Be sure and be in record mode when using the remote. If you are in play mode or on the settings screen, the remote will have no function. I think this sucks, and that it should record when I press the damn button, hopefully this should be an easy firmware fix. Another small oddity is the LCD screen will display if a record command comes from the remote. The LCD will go to sleep on its own again, but this is a waste of power since most of the time users will not be able to see recorders when they use remotes. The remote has a range of about 6 feet depending on what is in the way and can be set to 10 different channels to allow a squad sized unit to all use wireless controllers without inner conflict.
Once you have videos recorded, getting them off is quite easy. If you have a card reader you can just take out the SD-Card and read it on your computer. The files are easy to get to and in good ol' .avi format. No wacky conversions or loop jumping is required. If one doesn't have a card reader than the user just plugs in the USB 2.0 cord and plugs the other end into their computer. Once the recorder is powered on, the computer will automatically recognize the recorder as a storage device and display what is on the SD-Card. The user can now copy and adjust as desired. Assuming most people don't have some high end video editing software available, luckily the POV.1 comes with POV Manager software which allows simple video editing. The interface is straight forward and allows easy trimming of videos and even full on editing multiple together. The POV Manager also has a sharing network setup so those who aren't too computer savy can share their footage easily. Be sure and keep your original files, because the quality is slightly downgraded each time a file is edited. This won't be a noticeable problem unless you make an edit, of an edit, of an edit.
As a recap it is clear there are some things I would like changed, but even as-is I want to make sure people know this is a pretty rad system. A lot of my gripes will likely be fixed with simple firmware updates requiring no new purchases. Having the system only require 1 wire vastly minimizes the snag and shit to break factor. The camera shell isn't quite as rowdy robust as the helmetcamera.com version, but I deem it good enough for government work and is easier to mount due to its picatinny compatibility. The recorder and wire + connection, however is more heavy duty than anything else out there. The cost may seem high at first, but once you look at the other systems with a required recorder and some sort of remote, the POV.1 system is of similar price if not cheaper. When it comes to mounting the recorder, a double rifle mag pouch will do. I liked the POV.1 so much that I am working with VIO to assist in the design of a custom tactical pouch for the recorder.
I hope to make raw sample footage available soon, will keep you updated.
*Added some Raw samples with screenshots:
<RANGE VIDEO 1> - <RANGE VIDEO 2> - <RANGE VIDEO 3>
-Right click and save as, if you have trouble viewing, try installing this codec:
<VIO VIDEO 1> Overview of the VIO POV.1
<VIO VIDEO 2> Additional design questions and a look into the software.