Having played with a number of POV cameras now, one of the options I miss with the GoPro Hero2 is the remote control. Even when not being used for Extreme Sports, the ability to mount your camera and be able to initiate your video or snapshot without having to get to the camera itself has advantages of convenience, safety and accessibility. A simple example is if you helmet mount your GoPro. If you want to start and stop your camera, you have to reach up and try to control your camera by touch. Having the remote control strapped to your wrist or to the handlebars makes this a much safer and easier operation. The Wi-Fi Combo Kit from GoPro gives you a Wi-Fi Remote and the Wi-Fi BacPac to make remotely using the GoPro cameras possible.
What’s in the box
In the box you get an additional mounting point, miniUSB cable, wrist strap, remote charge cable, split keyring, manual and of course the Wi-Fi BacPac and remote. As is standard from GoPro , the Wi-Fi BacPac comes standard with 2 additional back doors for your housing, a water proof one and a skeleton case. The waterproof back will still support being used up to 60m underwater, but the remote itself is only rated to 3m – and given what the range of the Wi-Fi connectivity would be underwater, it’s not really a concern. For surfers or kayakers, for example, this level of waterproofness will be sufficient.
Something a bit unusual given it’s a brand new product, you need to update the firmware all three of your items straight out of the box. I can understand the cameras, but the BacPac and remote? This isn’t a hard procedure, and if you use GoPro’s Cineform product (for the Hero2), it takes around 15 minutes. That being said, there’s a lot of noise on the GoPro users forums about people having heaps of issues around the update process. Luckily, my upgrade went smoothly first go.
One issue is that you now have three separate devices you need to charge. Gets a bit messy, and you almost need a dedicated powered USB hub just for charging your GoPro. 🙂 It’s a small thing, but the charge port on the WiFi BacPac is on the opposite side of the charging port for the camera. Being on the same side may make it easier and neater to deploy some sort of split cable setup, if say you’re using it permanently USB-connected in a car.
Nothing unusual about the Wi-Fi BacPac itself. Just like all other GoPro BacPacs, hook it into the right side and push it down till the Hero-port clicks in. On the right hand side is the power/menu button, and a small LCD screen is on the back. One thing to note is that it appears to be exactly the same dimensions as the LCD BacPac, so you can use the same back housing, which is nice as it’s one less backdoor change you need to make. The Wi-Fi BacPac has its own battery, rated at 5-6 hours, which means it won’t be draining power from your camera’s battery. If it does go flat, it will start drawing juice from the camera battery.
The nice thing is that the you can independently turn the Wi-Fi BacPac on or off when needed. The small display shows the battery level and a Wi-Fi symbol when the BacPac is connected to the remote. In between these two symbols is also a Bluetooth symbol, not used yet but it will be interesting to see how it’s implemented in the future.
The remote is 2″ X 1″ X 0.5″ in size and has a keyed slot in the side that’s used to hold the removable keyring attachment and is also used as the charging port. The biggest issue I have is that it uses a new proprietary connector to charge with . I can understand that they needed to make the remote waterproof (but remember it’s only to 3m not 60m ), and I guess that’s what this connector is all about. This will certainly be an issue if you lose or break the cable, as it’s not any industry standard connector. It would have been nice if they’d found a solution that still uses the standard miniUSB port.
Now I’ll admit that I’ve got wimpy wrists and I also realize that you have to make the strap big enough to fit over say a wetsuit or a flight suit, but you can see above there’s quite a lot of excess strap. Buttons are big, and you shouldn’t have an issue operating them even if you’re wearing gloves .
I’ve talked in previous articles about my views on video; I can’t be bothered sifting through a 2 hour video to have to edit it down to the highlight moments. With the remote, you can easily start and stop filming so that you’ll end up with clips of just highlights straight out of the camera. Rather than having to record your entire surf session for example, you can actually start recording just as you’re about to catch that wave and stop recording at the other end of the ride. Should cut down on the amount of editing required. Of course conversely, you also might now miss that fantastic moment if you haven’t had any warning and you’re not constantly recording 🙂
Another advantage of the remote is that you should get be able to “extend” the battery life and recording time of your camera. If your cameras in an inaccessible place (say outside on a car or aircraft), then you won’t have to record the irrelevant stuff in one long non-controllable clip.
How well does the remote perform ? Above is a short video of cycling through the menu system and also taking a few snapshots. You can see that the screen on the remote exactly mimics the screen on the camera. There is some lag between operating the remote, the camera responding, and then feeding back to the remote. This shouldn’t be too much of an issue for most people; you will just have to be a bit careful where some sort of timing precision is required, like in burst mode. You may need to employ a little bit of anticipation to get the shot or moment.
The remote can be used to control up to 50 cameras, but it is worth noting that it won’t independently control them. If you’ve got all 50 cameras paired to the remote, then if you change the mode to camera with the remote, all of them will be on camera, and they’ll all take a snapshot at the same time. ( Much is the pity I only have one camera to test. 🙂 )
With the remotes implemented on other POV cameras I’ve tested, range has been rated at 10 metres, and in practical use, it’s been much less, especially where you’re using a waterproof housing. Using from say wrist to helmet this hasn’t been an issue, but it never would have worked from the deck to the top of a mast or similar. Using Wi-Fi , the range for the GoPro BacPac is substantially greater, even with the housing. In the end, I didn’t do a full test of the effective distance, because obviously the range will be affected by the environment you’re using it in. It’s fair to say though that it’s got a very long-range and it’s rated by GoPro at 600’ / 180m.
GoPro has been making big noise for quite a while ago about the release of the Wi-Fi BacPac, and the functionality that they they’ve touted includes being able to control, transfer and stream your video to a smartphone or tablet and stream live to the Internet (see the ad in the header). In this iteration, however, they haven’t implemented this functionality; all the Wi-Fi BacPac allows you to do is control your GoPro remotely. It’s also worth noting that when the streaming function does become available, it will only be for the Hero2 not the older Hero.
In its current format, the Wi-Fi BacPac is useful for:
- Getting yourself in the picture
- Controlling the camera when it’s mounted in an inaccessible place (like under a car)
- When you want to control multiple camera to get multiple POVs
- For using your camera safely, e.g. mounted on handlebar.
- Reducing film editing (easily film only when you want)
The current implementation definitely fills a gap with the GoPro for me, though you do have to pay for this options, unlike with some other cameras. That being said, the effective range is much greater and much better than other cameras I’ve tested, so it gives you much more flexibility.
It’s a pity that GoPro hasn’t released the full functionality of smartphone/tablet control/streaming that they’ve been touting. From the GoPro forums, it appears that this is a function that heaps of GoPro users are waiting for, and there’s great disappointment out there that it hasn’t been implemented yet. This added functionality will open up a whole range of uses and opportunities for using the WiFi BacPac. To make things worse, there’s no firm release date for this functionality.
The Wi-Fi Combo Kit is a good addition to your GoPro Hero or Hero2, but it’s not as good as it should be without the added smartphone/tablet integration.