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GoPro BacPac Review

GoPro BacPac Review

GoPro LCD BacPac Review

wBW Quick Look by "Burn" for webBikeWorld.com

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Summary

The GoPro LCD BacPac brings a whole new world of functionality to the GoPro HD video camera (review).

It adds a sorely missed live view, a speaker and it also provides a menu system that makes it easier to use the video camera.

It's a "must have" accessory for any GoPro HD owner, although it does add to the cost of what is already a pretty expensive piece of gear.

Background

I can change my mind, right?

When the Drift HD 170 (review) was released, it set a new standard for motorcycle and action sports video cameras, with its live view, built-in speaker and easy-to-use menu system.

It was an instant favorite -- and it just as instantly made the GoPro HD (and its variants) seem as old-fashioned as DOS 2.1 (Does anyone remember DOS 2.1?).

I don't know about you, but my memory is going from bad to worse -- a combination of old age and too much fun before I got that way.

This means that running the GoPro HD without the BacPac involves carrying the big sheet of folded GoPro instructions or a cheat sheet to remember all the cryptic commands on the tiny LCD panel in front of the camera.

Get it wrong and you'll end up with an SD memory card full of vapor.

But, I have to admit, the GoPro has a better form factor than the Drift HD 170. Not perfect, mind you, but the small rectangular shape and the relatively large array of mounting options for the GoPro HD Hero probably make it one of the better/best video cameras for mounting on a helmet or a motorcycle.

Now if they could only shrink the package by about 70%, then we'd have something...

That 1980's style LCD screen on the front was holding the GoPro back from being a favorite motorcycle videocam though. So when GoPro announced the new BacPac system, I was all ears. We ordered one up asap and I'm happy to report that it's brought the GoPro HD up to the top o' the heap. I did ask permission to change my mind, right?

GoPro LCD BacPac Front and Rear Views
The GoPro LCD BacPac and the GoPro HD Hero video camera.
GoPro LCD BacPac Installed and Rear Covers
The GoPro LCD BacPac installed on the HD Hero camera (L) and old vs. new rear covers (R).
GoPro BacPac With Rear Covers
GoPro HD Hero with LCD BacPac installed (L). Selection of covers comes with the LCD BacPac (R).
The GoPro BacPac System

The GoPro BacPac "System" currently consists of the GoPro BacPac LCD, the subject of this review, and the GoPro Battery BacPac, an extended battery for the video camera. It's possible that GoPro will think of other uses for the special connector port on the back of the camera in the future.

I knew something like this was cooking, because when we first received the GoPro HD exactly 1 year ago in April of 2010, the bus connector and clip on the back of the camera were too obvious. They were an indication that GoPro was thinking about additions to the camera, and it's now apparent that the Hero HD was designed with these snap-on accessories in mind right from the start. I'm not sure why it took a year, but here we are.

The Battery BacPac and the LCD BacPac units simply snap on to the back of the base GoPro HD Hero camera. You can use one or the other, but not both at the same time.

The GoPro LCD BacPac is a small add-on LCD screen. It provides a live view, a speaker and a menu system that means owners never have to look at that crummy monochrome 1980's style LCD panel on the front of the camera again.

The LCD BacPac costs $79.95 list, which is fairly reasonable for what it is...until you remember that the list price of the GoPro HD Hero is already a stiff $299.99. So we're talking $380.00, which includes some, but not all, of the mounts you'll probably want. Say $400.00 at least, with the mount assortment pack and maybe a "Chesty", the very nice GoPro "Chesty" Harness mount.

That's list price, of course. Street prices will vary, but you can probably end up with 30% to 40% off. Still, when you consider the functionality you can get from a modern digital camera today, most of which include HD video, the price of these motorcycle cams seems rather steep in my opinion.

Anyway, the LCD BacPac adds exactly 1 ounce (30 grams) to the GoPro HD Hero. It's the same width and height as the GoPro camera, but it adds another 10 mm out the back.

The LCD BacPac box includes four new back covers to replace the original covers that come with the camera, which will no longer fit over the extra 10 mm. The new covers include a waterproof version, an open version which allows better access to the microphone and speaker and non-waterproof covers.

The new back porch extension makes the camera bulkier and a touch heavier, but it doesn't really make that much of a difference when mounting the camera on the bike or helmet. The only issue I found was that the new, thicker cover doesn't quite work with the old-style mount used on the "Chesty".

The slide-in mount that came with the Chesty doesn't have the right shape to fit the thicker GoPro with the BacPac, so the camera points down instead of directly ahead. Rick sent an email to GoPro support asking if there is a new mount for the Chesty that will accommodate the GoPro HD Hero with the LCD BacPac installed and I'll report back if we hear anything.

GoPro BacPac LCD Screen Display
The GoPro LCD BacPac adds a live view and speaker to the GoPro HD Hero videocamera.
GoPro BacPac Menus on LCD Screen
The GoPro HD Hero menu system can now be controlled from the LCD BacPac.
Installing and Using the GoPro LCD BacPac

Newer versions of the GoPro HD Hero should have no problems getting the LCD BacPac up and running. Simply snap on the BacPac, install a new cover and you're ready to roll.

For owners of the older versions, like ours, a firmware upgrade may be necessary. This was only slightly tricky -- my advice is to definitely watch the two videos on the GoPro firmware upgrade page. Watch them twice -- really. You must follow the instructions in the second video explicitly, and don't forget a thing. It took me 4 tries to get it right. Once the firmware is upgraded, everything should work fine.

To determine if your GoPro HD Hero needs the firmware upgrade, first make sure the battery is charged. Then snap on the LCD BacPac and try to start the camera by pressing the button in front. If nothing happens, you need the firmware upgrade. If the camera starts and you see the live view on the LCD BacPac, you're golden.

GoPro doesn't say when the HD Hero video cameras with the new firmware started shipping, but it's easy enough to use the routine above to find out if yours has it.

By the way, the GoPro HD Hero can be used without the LCD BacPac if you wish; simply remove the BacPac, install the original-style cover and run the camera like before.

With the LCD BacPac installed, the live view in the back on the LCD comes into view when the camera is started. The menu system is accessible just like it always is, by using a combination of the front button and the shutter button on top of the camera. But with the BacPac installed, the menu choices show up on the LCD.

The only nit I can pick is that I would have liked more extensive menu descriptions, now that the big (relatively speaking) LCD panel is used. The text is definitely more descriptive than the two-letter acronyms used on the front panel, but it could be better. I suppose this would take a more powerful internal processor though?

With the new larger back cover installed for the LCD BacPac and with the camera secured inside the housing, there is a new third button for the LCD screen, which is used to access some of the menu choices on the LCD screen. The button allows you to watch the videos you recorded or the photos you took and you can also change the volume of the speaker. Pretty cool and very easy.

GoPro BacPac Package Waste
Wasteful packaging for the GoPro LCD BacPac.

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Package Waste

This has been mentioned before in other video camera reviews. These manufacturers insist on over-packaging their products, with wasteful and useless plastic junk. Meanwhile, they provide no means to actually store or carry the video cameras and equipment.

I'm sorry to say, the GoPro LCD BacPac is yet another product in the Hall of Shame. Wads of useless junk remain after you tear your fingers apart, trying to liberate the tiny little BacPac. You can reuse the thin cardboard box at least, to store the rear covers you aren't using.

But c'mon already -- stop the wasteful packaging of these products and instead make the package something that we can use to store the equipment. This is especially crucial for a video camera and its accessories. Buy a GoPro HD Hero and the BacPac and you'll end up with a bag full of parts that need storage -- and a bag full of wasteful garbage that is useless.

Conclusion

The GoPro LCD BacPac brings new functionality and usefulness to the GoPro HD Hero camera. Of course, the LCD should be standard equipment on the GoPro HD Hero without having to add a 10 mm extension off the back and paying 80 bucks for the privilege.

But the LCD BacPac now makes the HD Hero probably the better motorcycle video camera at this point, because the form factor is slightly more useful than the long tube-shaped Drift HD 170, at least for motorcycle use.

Neither is perfect by any means, and if the GoPro HD Hero with the BacPac could be reduced in size and offered with a few better mounting options (like a 360-degree suction cup mount), perfection might be just a little closer to reality.

More: wBW Motorcycle Video Camera Reviews

wBW Review: GoPro LCD BacPac
Available From:  GoPro List Price:  $79.95 USD.
Color:  Silver. Made In: China
Review Date:  April 2011 

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Your Comments and Feedback

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Not all comments will be published (details).  Comments may be edited for clarity prior to publication.

From "L.H." (04/11):  "I previously complained bitterly about the standard lens Hero based on the promise of a firmware upgrade that had not materialized in over one year. Well, they sent me a file since I imagine that I was becoming quite a pest.

I swore that I would not buy another product from them. Wrong. I bought the 1080 HD model and am glad that I did.

The 1080 has many features that are useful for capturing video as well as timed still shots. The resolution in 1080 form is spectacular and the camera is fairly easy to use following purchase of the BacPac. I still have to carry the instructions for both items but it is a good idea to have them along when on the road.

Another issue: I did not like the way that the battery was recharged so I bought, from an online source, a battery charger that works from wall current as well as from a 12V source as GoPro does not sell a separate charger as far as I know.

I also bought a couple of extra batteries. When purchasing SD cards I made sure that I followed the recommendation to use higher rated cards. I still have the older model and it is still useful."

Editor's Note: Good tips, thanks. I recommend buying the best quality, fastest, name-brand memory cards in the highest capacity you can afford, because the SD card is pretty much a standard and bigger/faster will help prevent obsolescence.


From "T.G." (04/11):  "I wish they came out with this before I also ditched my Go Pro HD. I went with a low cost SD card based consumer recorder because the usability of the camera without the instructions in hand is so bad.

Here is hoping the next version has it built in and they get the price point WITH the screen back down to $299.00. And here is also hoping they put a better microphone on it. The GoPro series has always suffered from really bad audio quality when in the case."


From "T.W." (04/11):  "I would have been interested in this LCD screen add-on, because Iíve already invested in a GoPro Hero.

However, Iíve just returned from a tour of Maui with the Hero mounted on my helmet, and I thought I was taking video images of my fantastic rides on that islandís rugged south coast, up to the volcano, and elsewhere.

But when I popped out the SD card and hooked it up to my computer, I learned that in 5 out of the 6 videos I took (ranging from 10-30 minutes each), the camera stopped recording about halfway each time. The video images suddenly stopped and were replaced with frame after frame of blackness. Nothing. Zip. Nada.

So, although I captured some good video, I lost a whole lot of fantastic footage of me zipping along some great roads surrounded by great scenery. What a drag.

Honestly, Iím going to chuck the Hero into the trash can now, because I canít count on it 100% to do its job and capture video when itís supposed to. What a shame. íll never buy this brand again."

Editor's Reply: Thanks for the feedback, not sure what happened, but many of the motorcycle-specific video cameras seem to be a bit quirky compared to "normal" digital cameras or camcorders.

Was the memory card a Class 7 or above? Sometimes the slower cards don't work correctly, especially with HD video. I try to buy the highest quality Class 10 cards I can find, even though they cost significantly more. I've had good luck with the Panasonic branded cards.

I'm not sure what else it could have been. Part of the problem with these cameras is not knowing what they're pointing at or what's really happening once they're turned on. The BacPac and live view helps, but only if you can see it while you're riding.

You may want to try recording a video off the bike, holding the GoPro or something, just to see if you can tell what happens. Perhaps the memory card failed, burped, or the file size was too large?

Something else to remember is that videos over about 10 minutes or so will result in a huge file, making it very difficult to upload, download or edit the file. I try to record all my videos in 10 minute clips, and that's when a remote control comes in really handy. Even our helmet videos, taken with a semi-pro camcorder, are 15 minutes tops and edited down to about 3 minutes. Very few people will sit through a video more than 3 minutes long on YouTube...

 

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