Garmin prepares for battle with sensorpacked VIRB action cam handson

There are more than enough action cams on the market, but that's not stopping Garmin from jumping head first into that saturated space. The GPS maker hopes to bring something fresh to the table with its $299 VIRB and $399 VIRB Elite, a pair of ruggedized camcorders that do more than simply snap footage from within a clear protective shell. Both models can shoot 1080p clips at 30fps and 16-megapixel still photos (while recording video) for up to three consecutive hours with one 2,000mAh cell, but they offer a variety of features that some competitors can't match, including a low-power 1.4-inch transflective LCD for navigating menus and previewing footage, optional (digital) IS and the ability to sync up with a variety of other Garmin devices through ANT+.

That last feature is perhaps the most compelling here -- VIRB's ANT+ chip lets you add on accessories like a heart rate monitor while also pairing with the company's Fenix watch, logging GPS coordinates and other stats with each captured clip. The pricier Elite flavor brings positioning sensors on board, however, along with an altimeter and WiFi, which you can use to connect the cam to a dedicated Android or iOS app. That software component lets you see a live preview and control basic settings (video start/stop and still image capture) remotely -- eventually, you'll be able to send content from the device to your phone or tablet, though that functionality isn't included just yet. A tiny remote will also be available as an add-on, should you opt to leave your smartphone at home.

It's easy enough to operate the water-resistant camera without a remote though, even with it mounted on your helmet or attached to a surf board. A large sliding record button lets you power up and start shooting video right away, even when the camera's turned off. There's no built-in storage, but you can slide in your own microSD card under the battery. The Garmin VIRB ships next month for $299, while its Elite counter part will ship around the same time for $399. Check out that base model, along with some of the many optional straps and mounts, in our hands-on photos just below.

Gallery | 16 Photos

Garmin VIRB action cam hands-on

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Garmin(R) Enters the Action Camera Market with Compact, Waterproof, Easy-to-use HD Cameras, VIRB™ and VIRB Elite™

OLATHE, Kan./ August 20, 2013/Business Wire-Garmin International Inc., a unit of Garmin Ltd. (NASDAQ: GRMN), the global leader in satellite navigation, today announced VIRB, its first true HD 1080p action camera series. From action sports to family vacations, VIRB combines a unique feature set that makes it easier than ever to capture life's memories. VIRB features a rugged and waterproof (IPX-7) housing, so there is no extra case necessary to withstand the elements. The unique 1.4-inch Chroma™ color display makes setup and playback a breeze and uses minimal power so VIRB can record up to three hours of true HD (1080p) video on one charge. On-board video enhancement features such as digital image stabilization and lens distortion correction ensure that footage recorded with VIRB will look great, even before editing. VIRB can capture high quality still photos while the video camera is recording. VIRB Elite incorporates all these features, plus has built-in WiFi, data sensors and a high-sensitivity GPS. Both VIRB and VIRB Elite feature ANT+™ connectivity for remote control functionality with other Garmin products, and for data transfer with other fitness sensors.

"Action cameras are growing rapidly in popularity, and VIRB has some game-changing key features-like a color display, extended battery life, optional GPS and compatibility with existing Garmin products-that set it apart from other cameras on the market," said Dan Bartel, Garmin's vice president of worldwide sales. "Our customers already embrace an active lifestyle, whether they're hikers, mountain bikers, skiers, trail runners, boaters, or pilots, so a Garmin action camera is a compelling option to them. With GPS and enhanced wireless capabilities in VIRB Elite, users can capture not only what they were doing, but also where they were and how they did it-and then share it with their friends and family."VIRB has a sleek, aerodynamic design that makes it fun and simple to record HD video- just move the slider forward to record. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery can record up to three hours of HD (1080p) video with one charge, and can be easily changed on the go. The WideVü lens captures all the action, and the high-resolution Chroma display makes it easy to change menu settings, set-up and playback shots, but has reflective technology so it doesn't drain the battery. The 1.4-inch screen uses ambient light (instead of a battery-draining backlight) to illuminate the screen and make it easy to see in bright sunlight.

VIRB is durable enough to capture even the most extreme activities right out of the box. With the rugged external housing, VIRB has an IPX-7 waterproof rating (can withstand accidental immersion in one meter of water for up to 30 minutes), so it can record activities like skiing and kayaking without additional protection or fear of damage. An optional dive case is available for deep-sea adventures, as well as a wide variety of other rugged mounts to secure VIRB to handlebars, helmets, surfboards and more. VIRB easily snaps into the mounts, and the teeth linkages tightly secure VIRB in place to prevent drooping and sagging in high vibration environments. There is even an available industry standard mounting adapter, making it easy for existing action camera users to get started with VIRB.

Users don't have to be professional cinematographers to get great footage with VIRB. Video enhancement features ensure quality footage, even before the editing process begins. The digital image stabilization technology corrects camera shakiness for smoother footage, and the lens distortion correction feature gives users the option to automatically remove the fish-eye look that is common with action cameras. In addition to high quality video, VIRB can take 16 megapixel stills with photo burst and time lapse options. VIRB can even take stills while recording video. VIRB also has a micro HDMI output for convenient video playback and a microSD slot that can hold up to 64GB card (64GB microSD card can hold over seven hours of 1080p video).

VIRB Elite incorporates all these features, as well as high-sensitivity GPS, accelerometer, altimeter and WiFi. WiFi capabilities allow users to connect to the free mobile applications for iPhone and Android. VIRB Elite comes equipped with specific activity profiles so users can track location, speed, elevation, heart rate (monitor sold separately) and more while recording. This data can be reviewed right on the device, or can be embedded into their video during the editing process.

Additionally, in Ski Mode, the VIRB Elite is able to recognize the difference between going down the mountain and going up the ski lift. In this setting, VIRB Elite automatically turns on and starts recording when going down the mountain, and then goes into standby mode once on the ski lift. This mode saves battery and memory space, and keeps the user from forgetting to record when going down the mountain. This allows VIRB Elite to record all the action while users focus on their activity.

VIRB allows many current Garmin customers to take advantage of the Garmin ecosystem. In addition to the optional accessory remote (available January 2014), the Edge(R) 810, f?nix™, quatix™, Oregon(R) 600 series, and many more can control VIRB allowing users to start and stop recording and take stills right on the device through ANT+ wireless communication (for the full list of device compatibility, visit garmin.com/virb). Also through ANT+, users are able to control several connected VIRB devices. Just move the slider forward to record on the master device, and all the other connected VIRB devices will record as well. VIRB Elite is compatible with other sensors with ANT+ connectivity such as the heart rate monitor, cadence sensor and tempe™ temperature sensor. This data can then be embedded into the video during the editing process, or viewed on the display of VIRB Elite.

To complement VIRB Elite, Garmin is launching a mobile application for preview, playback and remote functionality, along with a free desktop software application to edit and upload VIRB and VIRB Elite videos. With this software, users can easily edit their footage and embed sensor data in the video, then share with family and friends or upload to social media sites such as YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.

VIRB and VIRB Elite will be widely available for purchase in September 2013. VIRB MRP is $299.99, and VIRB Elite MRP is $399.99. VIRB is the latest solution from Garmin's outdoor segment, which focuses on developing technologies and innovations to enhance users' outdoor experiences. Whether it's golfing, hiking, hunting or geocaching, Garmin outdoor devices are becoming essential tools for outdoor enthusiasts of all levels. For more information about Garmin's other outdoor products and services, go to garmin.com/outdoors, garmin.blogs.com and twitter.com/garmin.

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Garmin prepares for battle with sensor-packed VIRB action cam (hands-on)