The brand new JVC GC-XA1 is also our new class leader for motorcycle "action" camera video quality.
The video it takes is sharp and very nicely exposed, with smooth gradations and good response times when moving back and forth in shadows and light.
The camera is also very easy to operate, with a live view and a simple, easy-to-use menu system.
It also has built-in WiFi which, in theory, provides a "live" connection to a laptop or "smart" phone.
And, it's the first "action" camera we know of that has switchable on/off image stabilization (shake reduction).
It's also waterproof (5 meters), dustproof, freeze-proof and ruggedized to withstand a drop from 2 meters. And, it is specially designed to eliminate the "rolling shutter" effect in fast-moving scenes.
Sounds good so far, right? Unfortunately, the mounting solutions provided with the kit aren't very satisfactory and the result is that the JVC GC-XA1 loses points in this regard for motorcycle or helmet use.
But that video quality is the best we've seen so far for this type of camera, and that adds quite a few points in the plus column.
The JVC brand has a long history that is well known and regarded in the world of video cameras. I remember JVC camcorders way back when the tape packs were as thick as a brick, and the company now makes a wide selection of consumer and professional video cameras.
So it was interesting to see that they decided to move into the "action" camera game with the brand-new, hot-off-the-assembly-line JVC GC-XA1 "Adixxion" action camera.
Where and why they came up with the "Adixxion" moniker is a question that remains unanswered. In fact, JVC's own marketing information uses that name only sparingly, and it doesn't show up on the box, either, so it wouldn't surprise us to see it dropped.
In any case, the GC-XA1 looks for all the world like a miniature version of a basic hand-held consumer video camera, with its square form and front-mounted lens. That JVC leaned on this generic form factor for the design of the GC-XA1 isn't surprising, but it does limit the mounting options of the camera somewhat, as you'll see.
But the GC-XA1 takes excellent quality video, comparatively speaking. The video is sharp, the resolution is good and the automatic exposure compensation is class-leading.
This is all relative, of course. These motorcycle "action" cameras take nothing (yet) like the video quality of even a basic hand-held consumer camcorder. But compared to the GoPro HD (review), our current leader in motorcycle video camera quality, the JVC GC-XA1 shines. Let's take a look...
In somewhat of a surprise, JVC has so far listed only a limited version of the specifications for the new GC-XA1. It could be, perhaps, due to the very recent release of the camera.
The camera weighs only 128 grams with battery and an SD card (it takes a standard size SD (HC or XC, up to 64 GB) memory card, rather than a microSD like many of the other cameras). It measures about 33 mm wide by 74 mm long by 50 mm tall from button tip to bottom.
The GC-XA1 has some unique features, including its waterproof (5 m), dustproof, freeze-proof and shock-resistant (2 m drop) body. Note that the camera is waterproof without requiring the bulky waterproof housing found on the GoPro HD or Sony Action Cam.
The JVC GC-XA1 can take 1080p video at 30 fps (frames per second), or 720p at 60 fps. We think the 60 fps is interpolated, as it seemed to have a slight quality degradation compared to the 30 fps video. The video bit rate is 15 Mbps down to 3.0 Mbps at the lowest resolution setting (it also takes 1280x960 at 30 fps; 1280x720 at 30fps and 848x480 standard definition at 30 fps).
The camera can also be placed in photo mode to take 5MB still photos or 5MB time-lapse photos at 1 second or 5 second intervals.
The GC-XA1 has a 5X digital zoom function, another first in a motorcycle video camera. The zoom is activated using the + or - buttons on top of the camera, but note that this is not a lens zoom, it's a digital (internal software) zoom, which degrades the image quality.
The camera also has built-in WiFi, which is supposed to allow a connection to a laptop or smart phone. The camera has some on-board software that allows the owner to install the "WiVideo" software, which connects with the camera and allows wireless file transfer and, in theory, a "live" connection to the video streaming.
A Digital Image Stabilization (DIS) anti-shake system can be turned on or off via the menu system. And the the camera includes what JVC calls "rolling shutter cancellation that corrects the image skewing that can occur with CMOS image sensors".
Ownership of the GC-XA1 is a bit frustrating; its positive features are the very good quality video and the easy-to-use menu system. But there are a few issues.
There are no specifications listed for the lens, which we estimate to have somewhere around a 135-degree field of view. The lens does not rotate, which is a disappointment, as this limits the mounting options on a helmet or motorcycle.
Also, the firmware only allows the image to be flipped vertically. It should have been a simple matter to allow it to be rotated 90 degrees, which would have at least provided the ability to mount the camera flat, with the LCD screen up, rather than vertical. Hopefully, this will be fixed in a firmware update.
So this means that in its current state, the camera can only be mounted in the vertical plane and this, combined with the very limited mounting system included in the kit, again limits the options for motorcycle use or for any other type of helmet mounting.
The camera has a standard 1/4-20 tripod mounting thread on the bottom and on the left side. The supplied mount is poorly designed for motorcycle video use, because the base is too small to adequately hold the camera on a helmet or the bike.
The camera will easily mount on a suction cup type mount, however, like the Delkin Fat Gecko (review), but that type of mount can be difficult to install on a helmet. We discovered two new types of accessory suction cup mounts and ordered them; they are coming soon and we'll report on those when they arrive.
To be fair, none of the motorcycle video cameras we have reviewed has a "perfect" mounting system. The GoPro HD, for example, also has a form and shape that limits its mounting options. The lens points forward on that camera, it can't be rotated and the very large case that is necessary to hold the GoPro is cumbersome. Yet, it's probably the most popular motorcycle video camera available.
If the JVC GC-XA1 had a rotating lens, like the Drift HD 170 (review), most of the problems would be resolved, or half of it anyway. That, and a better standard camera mount, would make the GC-XA1 a true standout. Note that it can only be mounted vertically or on the right-hand side of a helmet with the supplied mounts because of the location of the threaded tripod socket holes.
We faced another problem with the GC-XA1 with its WiFi connectivity. We have been successful in getting the WiVideo software to connect (wireless) with a laptop for file downloads, but not for video streaming. We tried everything, including the settings on the wireless router, but we can not get the camera to connect for live streaming on the laptop. None of us have a "smart" phone, so we haven't tried that.
Finally, the battery life of the GC-XA1 is poor. It takes about 4 hours (and can take longer) to charge the battery via the USB cable, but the on-screen battery life indicator starts to show red after about 30 minutes of video recording. The battery lasts for only about an hour at maximum, depending on how much video is taken and other factors.
The battery will charge on a powered USB port if the computer is turned off (unlike some other cameras which need an active computer connection plus a powered USB port).
UPDATE: After discharging and then charging the battery several times, we noticed that the camera doesn't always enter the recharge mode as expected. The procedure is to connect the USB cable to the mini-USB port inside the back cover, then the camera will turn on and you must select the "Adapter" setting (not USB for some reason). The red light located in the front along the top of the camera is supposed to start blinking to indicate that recharge mode is in process.
However, the light doesn't always blink; sometimes it stays on a steady red. We then have to eject the USB connection from the computer, start and stop the camera a couple of times or remove and reinsert the battery to get the recharge mode to engage.
There may be an issue with this particular camera, which is an early production model, but it can be annoying, especially if the camera is left on the charger for several hours, only to find that the battery hasn't received any charge.
The JVC GC-XA1 kit comes with the camera and battery, but no SD card. It includes two plastic lens caps, a clear LCD screen protector, a small movable camera mount with a spare base, a USB cable, and a very clumsy and large goggle mount (see video, Part 1).
The GC-XA1 has a total of 6 buttons on top, described in the photo above. The buttons along the side have a "soft" feel because they're covered with a rubber membrane to maintain the waterproof integrity.
The large central video on/off button is fairly easy to locate and operate when wearing motorcycle gloves.
The camera comes with a multi-language basic start guide and the full .pdf manual is included in the camera's on-board memory and can be downloaded the first time the camera is connected via USB to the computer.
The menu system is very easy to use. Turn the menu on by pressing the menu button, then scroll back and forth through the menu choices with the arrow buttons shown above.
Press the shutter release button (red dot) to select a menu choice, then scroll back and forth through the options and press the shutter release again to choose. Press the menu button to get out of the menu system and back to live video.
The system is so easy to use, most owners will not need to read the manual, although a quick look-through never hurts.
As we have stated many times in our video camera reviews, mounting a motorcycle video camera is always an issue, and smaller is almost always better.
No motorcycle video camera is perfect and they all have compromises when it comes to mounting. The JVC GC-XA1 is no exception, but it's all the more frustrating because the excellent video quality makes it the camera of choice. And there's no reason why, with a little more thought, JVC could have created some better options for motorcycle (or ATV or skiing or bicycling or...) mounting.
In fact, it's not difficult to imagine that none of the JVC engineers are motorcycle riders. It wouldn't take much for JVC to solve the problem -- buy a cheap helmet and borrow someone's bike and figure out the best way to mount the camera.
To a certain extent, the GC-XA1 is similar to the GoPro, which we find difficult to mount due to its large size and forward-pointing lens. The GC-XA1 at least has two tripod mounting threaded holes, which helps. And, the GC-XA1 mounts very solidly on the Delkin "Fat Gecko" suction cup mount (review).
But the mounts supplied with the GC-XA1 kit just don't work very well for motorcycle use. The biggest problem is the base of the mount; it's just not large enough nor flexible enough to mount on a motorcycle helmet, even with duct tape. We couldn't really find a way to get it mounted so that it was sturdy enough to challenge the fast air movement once the bike gets going.
The supplied mount doesn't even work very well on flat surfaces, again because the base is simply too small to adequately hold the camera. We couldn't use the mount, even with wads of duct tape holding it down. Again, the Delkin Fat Gecko or other type of suction cup mount with a 1/4-20 tripod screw is about the only type that will adequately hold the camera.
One caution on the 1/4-20 tripod threads molded into the GC-XA1: they're plastic, so be careful not to over-tighten or strip the threads.
The JVC GC-XA1 takes excellent quality video compared to other motorcycle video cameras we've reviewed. In fact, it's the new champ, with video that is sharper, clearer and better exposed than our previous quality champion, the GoPro HD.
Again, this is relative, because even a basic hand-held camcorder will usually take video of noticeably better quality than a small, fixed lens, all-automatic action camera can ever hope to attain.
We found the best results are in the 1080p/30 fps setting. We took a variety of videos over the last couple of weeks and created three samples, uploaded to YouTube and embedded below. Part 1 of 3 is an overview of the camera; Part 2 is an on-road comparison with the GoPro HD; and Part 3 is a short 720p/60 fps video illustrating the color and hand-held anti-shake ability of the JVC GC-XA1.
Note that as always, the raw .mp4 video has been post-processed using Adobe Premiere Elements 10, then saved as AVCHD and uploaded to YouTube, where is is again processed and compressed. So the quality you see on YouTube is degraded compared to the raw video from the camera.
Note also that the JVC seems to be completely devoid of the "rolling shutter" effect when moving, which is a real plus.
The GC-XA1 has a built-in microphone on top, just behind the lens. It also has a speaker. The sound recording quality is, like all of the other motorcycle video cameras we've reviewed, terrible. It quickly and immediately becomes overwhelmed by the wind when riding a motorcycle. We lowered the sound volume by about 85% in the on-road video, but you can hear it in the background.
The menu system and the on/off button have a "beep" indicator sound, which can be turned off or set from a 1 to 5 in the menu system. The menu system also has a selection that indicates firmware updates will be available, but there's no information about a firmware update yet on the JVC GC-XA1 Adixxion website. Our camera has firmware version 477.
When the rear door is opened to connect to the USB cable for recharging (mini USB), the camera can not be used. Every time the camera is connected to a computer via the USB, it tries to re-install the WiVideo software, which is annoying.
The plastic lens cap protector is not designed for use when the camera is in operation, so be sure to remove it before use. It's a bit difficult to remove; the instructions call for squeezing the cap to remove it, but we have to pull it off with a fingernail underneath instead.
The JVC GC-XA1 also has an on-board mini-HDMI port behind the rear door for connection to an HD TV set. No HDMI cable is provided.
White balance is automatic, or can be set manually to Daylight, Fluorescent, Tungsten, Blue (marine), Green (marine).
One thing you should always have with you when outdoors with a video camera is a high-quality Microfiber lens cleaning cloth to clear the bugs and grime off the lens, but do it carefully.
webBikeWorld Opinionator: JVC GC-XA1 Adixxion Video Camera
JVC has a long history of experience in video camera technology and it shows in the video quality of the GC-XA1 and with some of its features.
Unfortunately, the camera is somewhat compromised by the combination of its form factor and the inadequate mounting options provided with the kit.
If JVC is serious about the "action" camera market, they need to contact a few motorcycle riders, ATV owners, bicyclists, skiers and the rest and get some feedback, then implement it as soon as possible. This should really be very easy to do.
In the meantime, we'll keep on experimenting with the GC-XA1 Adixxion camera, because it definitely has noticeably better video quality than the other action cameras we've reviewed. Hopefully, we'll come up with a better helmet and on-bike mounting solution.
More: wBW Motorcycle Video Camera Reviews
wBW Review: JVC GC-XA1 Adixxion Video Camera
|Manufacturer: JVC Kenwood Corp.||List Price: $349.00 USD.|
|Colors: Black.||Made In: China|
|Review Date: August 2012|