Test: VIO Helmet Cam

By SAM SALWEI

We live in the “Era of Social Media,” and documenting your adventures has become paramount, if not de facto, for many people in the outdoors. As such, durable, wearable, mountable video cameras (often dubbed “helmet cams”) have leapt from obscure to mainstream in just a couple quick years.

Since 2008, on adventures around the world, I have been using cameras from VIO Inc. They have sailed up high on kite strings, been mounted onto off-road buggie axels, and strapped to paddles, pack rafts, ski poles, car bumpers, and bike handlebars, to name a few.

vio hd helmet cam photo - goggles.jpg

VIO camera mounted on ski goggles

The VIO camera is tough. It’s also more versatile than any helmet cam I’ve owned. The form factor — an LCD-equipped control unit paired with a small camera head mounted on a cord — makes it usable where other cameras are not.

This year, the company released a new version of its flagship camera, the POV.HD model. It records 1080p HD video and is touted as “the most flexible, rugged, and easy to use point-of-view HD video system” available. It is cited to operate in temps from about -20 to +140 degrees F, and the body and camera head are “ruggedized” and made to take a beating.

To test it out, I brought the POV.HD camera to Patagonia for a month this winter. I was a member of the media crew during the 2011 Wenger Patagonian Expedition Race, a week-long event, and for the whole time — including a 30-hour trek were I chased the first-place team! — the VIO.HD was at my side.

vio hd helmet camera.jpg

The VIO package: Camera, remote, and main control unit (with screen)

Despite Patagonia’s best attempts to shut it down (wind, rain, rivers, swamps. . . and did I mention the rain!), the VIO kept ticking. Indeed, after most of the media crew had put their cameras away during parts of the race, the VIO stayed out and kept shooting.

We shot one sequence underwater. I mounted the camera head to a trekking pole for a unique vantage during a bike section. I also hand-held it and did interviews in a traditional style before the race began.

Overall, the camera was a star performer. With its 2-inch LCD, the camera offered me in-the-field footage review capabilities, something not available on many helmet cams. The waterproof microphone captured key sound bites in harsh weather, and because the mic is on the camera cord you can shield it from the wind and still get the exposed video shot you need.

Gripes? It would be nice to be able to monitor the audio to see if it is peaking while you record. The camera does not have this ability. It can adjust audio gain, but without knowing audio levels I found it difficult to work.

vio hd helmet cam.jpg

VIO in true ‘helmet cam’ setup

The camera is durable and solid all around, except for a single weak point. Where the cable at the top of the unit moves and bends around, this motion can cause excessive leverage on the coupling. I have damaged two VIO units in the past because of this “cord torque.” Be careful where you stash the camera away, and mind this one weak point.

Price is also a downbeat for the VIO, though perhaps justifiably so — this is a solid, “pro-level” camera, and as such it costs two to three times what the competition, namely GoPro and Contour, can cost. The VIO.HD retails for $599.95.

In the end, the VIO.HD is worth the money, especially if (like me) you’re going to use and abuse it for years on end. In our test this winter, it performed admirably in some of the toughest conditions on Earth. It survived Chile and the Patagonian wilds as well as one of the wettest, harshest treks I could imagine. And now, back in the U.S., because of this camera I have the footage to prove it!

—Sam Salwei is a contributor to GearJunkie and a founder of the YogaSlackers.

Posted by Laidlaw - 04/26/2011 02:45 PM

Wow, so yours doesn’t have the problem where it just shuts off at random while it’s recording, even with the keypads locked? You’re lucky. I’ve only been on one ride with mine so far, and I basically have a $600 paperweight.

Posted by Sam - 04/26/2011 03:22 PM

Hey Laidlaw sorry to hear you you are having problams with your VIO. Have you tried contacting their customer service? What batteries are you using? Do you have the auto off feature activated? Feel free to respond here if you have further issues. Let us know how their customer service handles this issue. I have been using complex electronics in field conditions for years, sometimes you just get a bad unit. Thanks for the post.

Posted by Randy - 04/27/2011 03:10 AM

The best feature is the remote control. You can start and stop recording without anyone knowing it. You can get some good candid shots of people this way. I have had two of these and had no problems. I lost one kayaking

Posted by Ori Hoffer - 04/27/2011 04:44 PM

We got rid of our VIO’s at the TV station (Park City TV) for GoPro’s because it’s too much trouble dealing with the wired basepack when you need to strap it on to a pro athlete, or quickly swap from helmet to ski pole to chest mount and nobody liked having to attach the box to a bike, or carry a backpack around all the time. That said, the video screen is a great feature, which you can also get on the Drift camera and which GoPro is adding as an accessory.

Posted by Laidlaw - 05/23/2011 02:03 PM

Hey Sam, just wanted to reply, even though it’s been a month already.

I haven’t tried contacting customer service yet, because I only used the VIO on one full day of shooting so far (See this video for how that turned out). I don’t ride with a helmet camera on a daily basis, or even often, so I haven’t been out with it again since. We’re planning on shooting our next video sometime in the next 2 or 3 weeks, so if I still have a problem, VIO will hear about it. I was using some brand new (fully charged) energizer rechargables, and auto off was detactivated, so I’m pretty sure that wasn’t part of the problem.

I’ll post an update next time I’m out with it, in case it turns out to be user error or a bad unit. Don’t want a page on the interwebz saying it’s crap if it’s just user error or a defective unit.

—Mark

Posted by Sam Salwei - 10/04/2011 02:09 PM

Thanks for the comment Mark, sorry I did not see it till now. How did your shoot go? Are you still Using the VIO? I just used mine again to shoot the Gold Rush Mother Lode Adventure Race. The Footy is still being processed and we are seeking funding for a larger project. I’ll be sure to post any VIO clips here.

Good luck with your future projects, be sure to check out Pentax k-5 for a quality weather proof DSLR option.

Sam

Posted by Randy Alfano - 10/15/2012 12:16 PM

Liked mine until i had a problem. Vio said sorry your out of warranty. Paid over $700 for mine. They offer no repair even if paid or no deal on buying a new one. At that price that’s BS. $700 paper weight. Tossed it in the garbage.
Buy a couple of gopro’s and don’t look back.

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