Out of the box
How do you tell a Tachyon XC from a Tachyon XC HD helmet camera? Easy: you look for the "HD" printed on the side. We're pretty sure that's the only exterior distinguishing factor between the two, at least it's all our untrained eyes could pick out. And that's not a bad thing by any means.
Sure, the XC has a chassis that's slightly chunkier and bulkier than the Contour line of cameras, but it has one major advantage: it's totally waterproof right out of the box. The rear door shuts tight with a reassuringly loud noise that damages hearing and lets you feel confident the SD memory card and dual AA battery pack inside will be kept dry. It's far more beefy than the flimsy plastic latch on top of a GoPro. The Tachyon is rated to 100 feet, but we'd guess it'll manage a lot further before its little hull goes Das Boot.
It's incredibly durable feeling, too. While we never did try throwing one out of a moving car it surely wouldn't miss a single frame of tumbling highway and sky. We did, however, fumble it into the ground more than once, cold hands lacking dexterity. It shows no sign of damage.
Controls are just as simple as before, little power and menu buttons on top, and a larger start/stop button. There's a small LCD up there that lets you see whether you're capturing video or stills and just how much memory card and battery life is left. Up front, under the lens, hides a single tiny LED. It's green when ready to go, red when filming. It's never any other color but dark.
On the slopes
We tested the Tachyon XC HD in a number of situations, but we had the most fun with it on the slopes in what is truly an epic winter if you're the sort who likes to zip-tie pieces of paper to your jacket and stand in lines at lift gates. We busted out the goggle strap mount and found some black diamonds -- and some green dots, too.
The first problem carries over from the older XC: a start/stop recording button that's impossible to find with gloves on -- or at least with gloves that will keep your hands warm. Even bare-handed it's difficult to find and requires a heck of a squeeze before it starts filming. The company thoughtfully includes an IR remote that you can use instead, with a single start/stop button on it. This button is much easier to find, but if it's not pointed right at the camera it doesn't work.
The temptation is to just keep tapping the button a dozen times, but since it's one button to start and stop you run the risk of turning it on and then back off again. Curiously, the camera doesn't beep when turned on with the remote, so unless you have an assistant standing by to look at your little light it's awfully hard to tell whether you're recording. Woe betide those with red-green colorblind assistants.
Thankfully ours suffered no such affliction and, recording, we headed down. The Tachyon helmet mount can only be used on the right side of a helmet, and features no padding on the inside. So, skittering over the hard-pack it has a tendency to rattle against a helmet's exterior, something which you can definitely hear in the video. Naturally this won't be a problem if you're using any of the other camera mounts. This is particularly true for the picatinny rail mount for rifles, though we're thinking you'll have some other audio artifacts to deal with in that case.
And overall video quality is on the poor side compared to the other 720p models. We brought a Contour model along to compare. That ($100 more expensive) camera shoots at 1080p natively, but dropped to record in 720p you can still see the difference in clarity. The Tachyon XC HD just looks slightly blurry, lacking detail. It did, however, deliver a brighter picture on the cloudy day we tested.
Ultimately the story here is much the same as it was with the original Tachyon XC, only this time we're talking about many more pixels. Image quality is definitely far improved with the HD model but still doesn't compare to other 720p offerings like the (now departed) 720p Contour model, nor the $180 GoPro 960. But, at $180, it is among the most affordable HD helmet cameras, on par with GoPro's cheapest and leaving us feeling a lot more confident about its durability.
So, good value then, or is it worth paying more for something fancier? That depends what you're going to do with it, and how nicely you're going to treat it. Are you looking for something you can get covered in mud, water, and whatever other filth comes your way without worry? Would you like to be able to hose off your helmet cam at the end of the day and then smack it against your leg a few times to dry? Do you need a camera that will shrug off a few-dozen magazines worth of practice? This is a good choice. If, however, you need a better picture quality and don't mind being a bit more gentle, you could do better elsewhere.