Here's some recordings I made in each of the available formats, about 10 seconds each, from the passenger seat of a car driving down a country road. Note that YouTube have removed the "fmt" URL trick, leaving it seems no way for me to link you directly to the highest resolution for each video - although I have used "hd=1" to hopefully force it. So, to see them properly, make sure the resolution button is set to the highest available for each, and click the "expand" button if necessary. Also, mode 4 at 960p high is an oddity and not supported by YouTube (they have options for 720p and 1080p only) but is included for completeness.
I've provided YouTube links because I imagine much of the footage people shoot with these cameras will end up there. But if you're understandably concerned about YouTube's compression mangling the image quality, here's links to the 5 files exactly as they came out of the camera. I recommend right-clicking and saving them, then viewing them in a "proper" media player, rather than in-browser, if yours is configured that way.
Note how the file size grows for each of these roughly 10-second videos in each mode. Also, you can see that some modes offer a wider or taller field of view than others, which is as per GoPro's specifications.
You might notice in the second video a bright white-out at the beginning. I'm not entirely sure what caused that - I may have had the camera pointing down into the relatively dark interior of the car while changing camera modes, then hit record as I lifted it up, with the transition overwhelming the sensor briefly. This does happen to some extent if you are recording while travelling in and out of dark areas like tunnels. Also, dealing with low light is one of the GoPro HD Hero's weaknesses. You really do need bright sunlight, or very good indoor light, to get nice clear noise-free video. There's also quite a bit of barrel distortion in all modes due to the almost fisheye-wide lens. Especially when things are close to you but near the edge of frame, straight lines are very curved.
To demonstrate indoor use and the barrel distortion effect, here's me plunking away on guitar. This was recorded with the GoPro sitting on a box on my desk, about half a metre away from the guitar. Despite not being in the housing, you can hear the audio is quite muffled. Lighting is a normal single flourescent tube on the ceiling above. The reflection of that tube on the guitar body is probably making it especially difficult for the camera, but you can see my dark clothing and the details of the background are pretty much lost in the shadows even though to the eye they are normally lit.
If you can't get enough of my phat beatz, here's me blundering through an Etta Baker song. And here's a more brightly-lit indoor scene filmed in Mode 5 (so 1080p is available):
There's also a fair bit of MPEG compression noise if you are filming a very busy scene. Here's some footage showing the waterproof nature of the camera, and demonstrating MPEG compression artefacts. However both of those are filmed in Mode 3 (60fps), and I wonder if it might cope better in the 30fps mode and produce less jaggies. I'll try that for the followup review.
Speaking of water, I used it underwater in a stream to try and video some tadpoles swimming around, but that pretty much just highlighted that the camera isn't too good at filming things close to the lens.
While I'm talking about usage niggles, the housing that protects the camera is in many ways a strength, but also a bit of a weak point. It's ok when you're doing the fairly pedestrian kind of filming that I do, but if you were in a really dusty or sandy or wet environment, like a rally camp, it would be tricky to get the images off the camera, or even charge it, without letting contaminants in when you open the camera housing. Even according to GoPro's own documentation, a single hair or grain of sand in the housing seal can render it no longer waterproof. I'm not really sure how they could avoid that in terms of camera design, but I have seen photographers in extreme environments using portable airtight dust boxes to work on their cameras, and doing everything by feel with the camera sealed inside the box. Even as a desktop user, it gets a little tiresome having to pop the housing open each time you want to get to your photos or charge it. Maybe a future version will offer a wireless connection for data and a wireless charging pad - then you could truly isolate the camera from the environment.
Also, because there's no LCD screen for viewing your clips, you're really flying blind until you can stop what you're doing, pop the housing open and connect the camera to your PC. This was more of a problem than I expected. The lens being so wide makes it fairly forgiving, especially when you're filming wide open spaces from the front of your car, or your helmet etc. But I found for example when filming the "unboxing" video linked above, I had the camera mounted on my head looking down, but no way of confirming I had it angled correctly to keep the product and my hands in view. If I could record a 5-second clip then play it back with the camera still in the housing, it would save a lot of hassle. Or when you've got the camera on the bonnet facing forward and you're inside the car, there's no way to see if the camera is still recording, or if it's run out of batteries, because the status LED and LCD info screen are on the front of the unit.
However, the good news is that GoPro have released an "LCD BacPac" which plugs into the back of the HD HERO via the HERO Bus port, comes with an extended housing back so maintains the safety of the camera, and gives you a proper little colour LCD screen for viewing videos. I've ordered one, so stay tuned for a future review.
But once again, the videos on this page are really not what the GoPro is all about. So on the next page, we'll take a look at it doing what it does best - onboard, extreme and sports videos!