Review: Garmin Virb

Garmin VirbI’ve been having some fun with the Garmin Virb that I bought to liven up this blog.  It’s been a fun week or so playing with it.  This review isn’t really intended as a full product review.  For that, I refer my dear readers to DC Rainmaker’s review of the Garmin Virb and Virb Elite.  He does a far better job at explaining products and thoroughly testing them than I ever could.  This review is intended as a supplement– my thoughts about how I can see using the Virb day-to-day and what I like and don’t like.

Let me say right up front that I am not a camera guy.  My dad was.  That should pretty much explain it all right there, but, just in case you’re young and don’t fully understand what that means to someone of my generation, let me fill you in.  It means sitting through endless slide shows after dinner reliving recent vacations.  It means having a room in your house that is “dad’s secret lab” (filled with enlarging equipment, strange trays, and weird chemicals, etc) that could cause you instantaneous death if you entered while said dad was developing film and enlarging photographs.  And it means dad absolutely had to bring a crap ton of really expensive photographic equipment absolutely everywhere because … you… just … never… knew … where that perfect next shot would be coming from.  I’ve seen the dark side so, while I have a healthy respect for photographers, I don’t want to be one.

Vibrations are a Problem with a TT Bike

Ugly camera mountIn an earlier post, I demonstrated using the Virb on a recent training ride with my TT bike.  I had to mount the camera way up front on my aero bars to get a clean unobstructed view– if I moved it anywhere else, I get my shifters in the frame (disclaimer: I have not tested every conceivable location but mostly those that would impact aerodynamics the least).  The problem is that the end of aerobars gets a lot of vibrations.  I wouldn’t have thought it was a big deal, but if you look at DC Rainmaker’s comparative glass still photography and my videos (which could pass for an earthquake simulation), it’s clear that aerobars get a lot of vibration.  Also, when I’ve tried to move the mount closer to the stem, the image gets magically much more clean.

This all might be moot, however, if I use the film footage mostly to capture screenshots for still images.  I noticed that Ray did that when he raced the Alpe d’Huez Triathlon recently— I’ll probably do the same.  Maybe with some short clips too.

Virb vs Virb Elite

I have the cheaper Virb (the non-Elite model) and I’m really glad I went with it.  But if you go my route, you really need to have one of the newest Garmin Edge computers that can connect to the Virb (I think that’s currently the Edge 510, 810, and 1000).  Each has a feature to control the Virb and to automatically start/stop it whenever you start/stop the computer.  This means that your video files are automatically the right length and start/stop at the right points for the video.  This is highly relevant when it comes to the desktop software (that comes next).  In practical terms, it means that there is very little reason to shell out more of your cash for the Elite model.

There is, however, one feature that I wouldn’t mind having from the Elite model.  The Elite model can easily connect to an iPhone and playback video.  This MIGHT be useful (who knows– I haven’t tried it) when I’m aligning the camera on my bars because I won’t have to detach it and connect it to my computer to see what kind of images I’m capturing.  It’s a small feature and I’m fine living without it.

Virb Edit Desktop Software

screenshot with basic metrics If you happened to read Ray’s report, you will have seen that his images had cool overlays of his critical metrics, such as power, heart rate, speed, etc.  All this comes about when you connect your Virb to your computer and input the video clips with the Virb Edit Desktop software.  Because I have the cheap Virb, I have to take the extra step of getting data off my Edge, which adds about a minute to the overall process.

In the screenshot on the above, I have displayed a course overview on the top (a red dot indicates my current location).  Below that are realtime displays of my heart rate, power, speed and cadence.  It’s a very cool setup!

fancy metersWhat’s even more remarkable is that each of these features are customizable and you can add/remove them to your heart’s content.  Here’s an screenshot from my earlier video where I used some fancier larger meters positioned in the lower left corner.  Of course, I could have removed the map or moved it to the left side as well.  You can even choose different colors– I chose red simply because it stood out against the background.

I do wish that some of the calculated metrics were available.  Currently, the Virb Edit software only supports realtime direct metrics– like power, heart rate, etc.  Any metrics that requires some calculation (such as lap average heart rate, normalized power, etc) are not available.  Similarly, laps are not supported.  It would be cool if I could have an optional flag, image, or data point pop up at each lap split.  Maybe these are in the works.  I sure hope so because knowing my normalized and average power or lap split times is pretty critical.  On the other hand, it would reveal that I can’t really hold 308 watts (or even 248 watts) as the photos suggest.

How Can I See Using This?

I can see myself using my Virb regularly in races and really hard workouts on the bike.  First, having the map and the image brings things into perspective in a way that cold numbers can’t.  Just how steep was that hill?  How big a gap did I bridge?  When I put the hammer down, how much did my watts fluctuate.  Seeing it in realtime after the fact is really amazing.  In looking over my video, I can see points where the image rocked back and forth and my cadence dropped– the depths of my suffering at that point are pretty clear from watching the video.

By background I’m a lawyer and so my mind also went to liability issues when I bought the camera.  Knock on wood, but I’ve never been in a serious accident with a car.  Having a camera on the front (and preferably one on my seat post) could do a good job at showing that I wasn’t at fault when some knucklehead takes me out.  My estate will be very happy I invested in my Virb.

Another use, of course, of video is reliving past glory.  According to reports, PerfPro Studio can create a route with hills to match the GPS data in a Garmin GPX file.  And, it supposedly allows video to be synched to that workout.  That could be cool when approaching some big mountain climbs later this summer.  Reliving a ride like this sure beats an after dinner slideshow any day.

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