Garmin’s new VIRB cameras want to capture your next crazy stunt, and heart rate

While the action camera market is admittedly crowded, it’s still dominated by GoPro. In recent months, companies from Sony to HTC have mounted impressive campaigns to knock Nick Woodman’s empire from its dominant perch, but none have managed to make more than a dent. And given GoPro’s level of entrenchment, near-term change in the status quo seems unlikely.

That’s probably why Garmin is taking a different tact with its updated action cam entries, the Garmin VIRB X and XE. Unlike some of the camera competition, the company is simply cloning aspects of GoPro – other than an aesthetic fashioned somewhat after the Hero (eschewing the predecessors’ radical design), Garmin’s headlining features are aimed at sports-minded users who want extra data. It packs a veritable array of sensors (what Garmin calls G Metrix), including an accelerometer, GPS, and gyroscope, for tracking performance across any number of activities. It’s also waterproof down to 164 feet (50 meters) without an underwater housing, and there’s a new microphone for that’s usable even underwater; the cameras also support external mics via Bluetooth. There’s a 1-inch display for adjusting settings, and Garmin says it’s easier to use than previous VIRBs.

Pairing with accoutrements has gotten easier, too. Garmin says ANT+ Bluetooth and Wi-Fi lets the new VIRB cameras sync with a massive range of accessories, from heart-rate monitors and microphones to onboard diagnostics (OBD) speedometers and more. A mobile companion app lets you overlay the data on video.

The VIRB X and XE are cameras first, though, and they’re luckily competent on that front. The higher-end VIRB XE can shoot up to 1080p/60 frames per second (fps) and 1440/30 fps – an undoubted improvement over last year’s 1080p/30 fps maximum, but short of the 4K capability of the GoPro Hero4 Black and Panasonic HX-A500. Built-in are image stabilization, super slow-motion mode, and digital zoom levels. The VIRB X, for its part, caps out at 1080p at 30 fps, super slow-mo and zoom. Both VIRB cameras take 12MP still images, while the pricier XE offers a “pro mode” with manual color, sharpness, and white-balance tuning – similar to GoPro’s ProTunes feature.

Given the specifications, the refreshed VIRB cameras clearly aren’t intended for spare-no-expense productions. But their more ruggedized bodies (the last VIRB models were a little unwieldy) and enhanced connectivity will no doubt appeal to the intended audience. Next time you’re enjoying some feat of human endurance on YouTube, you might be surpirsed to discover a Garmin captured the footage.

The VIRB X and XE are coming “this summer.” The VIRB X will cost $300, and the VIRB XE $400. Garmin includes its VIRB Edit desktop software for post-editing photos and videos.

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