Videoing While You Ski: Liquid Image Makes It Easy
Brian Dipert - April 30, 2011
As regular readers already know, I’ve taken editorial advantage of Cisco Systems’ recent announcement of the shutdown of its Flip Video product line to devote a dollop of attention to the topic of digital video capture. I feel compelled to begin this particular piece with a brief revisit of one of last week’s writeups. In it, I mentioned that I’d had great difficulty in seeing anything displayed on the Kodak Playsport’s built-in LCD, when I tried to use it in daylight settings (even overcast ones):
Two Fridays ago, I went back to ski Northstar again, with the Playsport in-hand and (this time) its LCD Glare Shield feature activated. Both the super-saturation and monochrome modes improved its perceptibility while on the slopes; although I couldn’t necessarily discern facial specifics and other minutia about the subject being ‘filmed’; I could at least see (sorta) the subject being ‘filmed’, along with other operational feedback details (record mode, battery life, remaining available recording time, etc).
I’d earlier mentioned that the original ambition of my friend-and-neighbor and I was to mount a Flip (or equivalent) camera to a helmet or pair of goggles for POV-’filming’-while-skiing purposes. A few companies, such as Contour, make standalone digital video cameras specifically designed for this purpose:
And, in response to my last-week writeups, a supplier from ‘down the street’ (an hour’s drive away, to be precise, in Antelope, CA) named Liquid Image contacted me with a review unit offer. Liquid Image’s approach is somewhat different; the company builds a lens-plus-sensor assembly, activation buttons, battery compartment, USB and video-out connectors and microSDHC storage slot directly into skiing (and other sports…scuba diving, surfing, off-road biking and motorcycling, etc) goggles. Specifically, I’ve got the Summit Series HD 355 goggles, which cost $250 and capture H.264-encoded 720P video at up to 30 fps, along with 5 Mpixel stills:
An upgraded HD 357 model, due out this fall in time for the 2011-2012 ski season, records at 1080p resolution at 30 fps peak frame rates, with an optional 720p 60 fps ‘high action’ mode. Here’s the spec sheet, direct from Liquid Image’s website (as with all of these images, click on it for a full-size version):
And here’s another HD 355 front product shot:
The lower button on the left side of the goggles turns them on and off (they also automatically power off after 3 minutes of non-use), while the upper button switches between still and video modes, as well as starting and stopping video capture and acting as the still image shutter. Behind the switch combo is a drawer-protected compartment:
containing the USB connector and microSDHC slot (as well as, I suspect, the image processor and most of the other electronics):
while a compartment on the other side of the goggles houses the unit’s Li-ion battery, rechargeable via the USB tether. Here’s what you see when you’re about to put the goggles on:
Note the mini monochrome LCD screen which ends up being located above the bridge of your nose and between your eyes when the goggles are on your face. You can’t see it until you remove the goggles, however Liquid Image wisely supplements it with a beep-tone transducer along with a two-color LED which is blue in video capture mode (and blinks when video capture is in process):
and red in still image capture mode:
I took the goggles with me when I hit Squaw Valley yesterday afternoon (work research, don’cha know…), and you can view the results below courtesy of YouTube’s hosting generosity. Here’s a map of Squaw Valley’s runs so you can figure out where I was when ‘filming’. Make sure you switch the YouTube player to 720p HD mode in order to view the video streams in their native high resolution.
A few qualifiers and other comments before you dive into the clips:
- Although I’ve been living in the Sierras for four winters now, this was the season I finally figured out downhill skiing. I picked up the sport fairly quickly, once the ’switch’ in my noggin and bod finally flipped. I’m now a solid intermediate, and I’ve comfortably carved black diamond runs at several area resorts, though I haven’t yet muscled up the courage to tackle Squaw’s famed KT-22. However, don’t expect to observe stellar technique; maybe next year
- Conditions were pretty good (albeit still a bit too slick for my tastes) at north-facing Shirley Lake, which tends to be quite icy earlier in the day. Conversely, the west-facing Mountain Run had gotten sun exposure along with abundant skier traffic all day. So although yesterday was unseasonably chilly, the Mountain Run was still sloppy and deeply rutted by the time I hit it.
- I’ve only skied Shirley Lake once, a few weeks ago during a group lesson where I was paying more attention to my instructor’s technique feedback than on the specifics of the routes I was traversing. Similarly, I’ve only done the Mountain Run twice; partway through the relevant video clip, you’ll be able to see that I paused, unsure of which direction to go. I took the routes more cautiously than I might after more familiarity with them.
- I’m also running a half marathon tomorrow morning, so I was intentionally easier on myself (specifically my legs) than I might otherwise be.
- This is actually the first time I’ve ever skied with goggles; normally I rely on sunglasses. And the Liquid Image goggles are bulkier than some. This combination led to particular caution on my first few runs, as my field of view was restricted and I had heavier hardware on my head than I was used to.
- I was also using new (composite!) ski poles for the first time, so you’ll notice some fumbling with the wrist straps
- And in my excitement to hit the slopes, I’d left my thin glove liners in the car. Fortunately, I also had much thicker gloves with me as backup, but I found it a bit difficult to manipulate the goggles’ power and shutter buttons with them (after a while, I got the hang of it, though). So you’ll notice me removing the goggles to turn video capture on and off.
Enough of the excuses Enjoy the (unedited) video.
Down Shirley Lake Tree Run #5 (whose entrance chute I had a hard time first-time finding, thereby explaining the slow-paced front-end approach):
Pretty cool, eh? By the way, before using the goggles for the first time, I upgraded the firmware per Liquid Image’s recommendation. The update bumps up the video capture rate from 4 Mbps to 8 Mbps, thereby improving fast-action quality at the tradeoff of reduced recording time for a given-capacity microSDHC card.