Data-driven actioncams – Garmin Virb XE review and roadtest
Data to Value’s Director James Phare takes Garmin’s latest data-driven actioncam for a test ride on his commute to the office.
Thanks to a rise in the use of smartphones, falling sensor prices, and growing data literacy the fitness tracking and wearables market continues to rapidly grow with 70m units shipped in 2014 according to Gartner. New hardware such as smart glasses, watches and bracelets, new software apps and new sports use cases continue to emerge. As someone who enjoys extreme sports and data in equal quantities I find this a genuinely exciting time and look forward to seeing what the Internet of Things (IoT) can bring to this sector.
One area where technology has matured quite a bit recently is the actioncam market where GoPro’s traditional dominance is now being challenged by competitors. Many have chosen to go down the analytics and sensors route by loading their compact cameras with internal sensors and Bluetooth or wifi connectivity to external sensors. Garmin are one of the leaders in this space thanks to their successful Virb series of water, dust and snow proof actioncams. These have proven popular in a wide range of sports including snowsports, sailing and cycling to name a few. The latest model busting with features, the Virb XE, recently hit the shelves and we couldn’t wait to test it out.
Initial impressions of the device are that it will be very familiar to GoPro users in terms of dimensions and usability. It features a micro SD card, rechargeable batteries and will shoot high definition video at up to 1440p30 and 12 megapixel photos. It also has a number of other latest generation actioncam features such as wifi connectivity to line up shots.
What’s different about the Virb XE however is it’s sensor and data logging capabilities, branded G-Metrix by Garmin. Included as standard in the Virb are GPS, G-force and orientation / gyro sensors. This enables the capture of a number of datapoints that can help sports enthusiasts to understand what was going on in a particular photo or video. The Virb XE can also be connected to a range of compatible sensors such as heart-rate sensors, cadence sensors for cycling, remotes and watches. This data can then be seamlessly over layed onto video footage using the Virb Edit software (pictured below) and enriched with analytics, graphs, maps and other widgets. For someone that has worked with Data Visualisation and Business intelligence tools for years this ability to overlay useful data over my sports videos is fantastic. For those wishing to get the data into third party software there are also some helpful GPX and FIT file export options.
To test out the cam I strapped it to the handlebars of my roadbike for my morning commute into the office and connected my garmin heart rate sensor. I was impressed with the results, not only was the footage quality excellent the sensor data has also proven to be very complete and accurate. For my morning commute I’m not that bothered about finding insights to improve performance, however for improving general fitness awareness I can see how it could be useful. For me the Virb really comes into its own for sports where it has traditionally been difficult to capture metrics for meaningful performance improvements such as sailing. I can see the cam being a really useful training age for improving techniques and setup over the autumn and winter months.