Race Video Camera Comparison Review: Part 2 – Replay XD1080

By Tom Martin

August 21, 2013

This installment in our series looking at race video cameras examines the Replay XD1080. If you go back to Part 1, you may recall:
1. We are looking at video cameras specifically for capturing in-car and on-car racing footage. That is, we’re not looking at cameras for all-around use from skiing to mounting on your baby’s head.
2. We have developed a general set of evaluation criteria by trying video cams under actual racing conditions. Given the generally usable quality of the footage modern cameras capture, we are particularly critical of the ergonomic aspects of camera design that might cause you to fail to capture the action at all, or make it challenging to capture it well.
3. We also realize that a video camera “is a tool, and if it works for you it is a good one.” That is, you may have ample experience with one if these cameras, and despite our critique it might suit your needs very well.
replay xd1080 review
Replay XD1080 Evaluation
For context, we assume the user of the video camera is the driver. The driver is strapped in to a small space, pumped with adrenaline and trying to focus on how he or she is going to drive. Things are happening fast at times, and maybe the crew isn’t on hand because they are doing something else. Many drivers only do this a few times during the year, so this is a punishing crucible for ergonomic flaws.
Here are the details of how the Replay XD1080 performs on our basic criteria:
1. It should be clear how to turn the camera on. Replay uses a two-button system for major controls (Power and Record/Stop/Play), which at first seems similar to the GoPro setup. But Replay has made the power button do just power, and provides its mode buttons under a cover at the rear of the camera. While this is definitely an improvement on the GoPro button system, we don’t understand what possessed Replay to make Power and Record the same color.
2. It should be easy to turn the camera on. The Power and Record buttons are on top of the camera and no case is required. With the camera mounted near the windshield (a reasonable spot, we have found), the buttons are pretty easy to see and reach.
3. There should be a remote control, mountable near the driver. Replay does not offer a remote control system. This is a limiting feature if you want to mount any cameras outside the reach of the driver (front bumper, roof, etc.). It is also an issue if you like to mount the camera on the roll bar (where it is difficult to reach). Replay does have a small (4.3-inch) live view screen, called the ReView Field Monitor, that allows you to see what the camera sees while you are recording.
4. It should be clear that the camera is on. The Replay power light is on the top of the camera near the Power button, which renders it almost useless for the driver. However, Replay has a vibration function to indicate that Power is on and another vibration cycle to indicate that record has been activated. Once you get used to it, this works pretty well and gets around the limitations of lights and beeps in a race setting.
5. There should be a way to enact “power” and “record” in one quick step. Replay claims there is a way to do “one touch recording,” but we couldn’t find any instructions for this mode.
6. It should be easy to stop a recording. The main reason is that all video cams have limited battery life and limited storage, so recording 30 minutes of your car sitting on grid or back in the paddock can lead to trouble down the road in the form of recordings that stop too early. With the Replay XD1080, powering down requires first stopping your recording. This is to prevent accidental powering off, but it does make it harder to power down.
7. Setting resolution and field of view should be easy. Replay has dedicated buttons on the back of the camera for Frames Per Second and Resolution. Those are pretty easy to set, if you look at the chart on the inside of the rear cover. Replay has only two field of view options, 110.5 degrees at 1080 lines of resolution and 135 degrees at 960 and 720 lines. We wish you didn’t have to go to the tech specs on the web to figure out this relationship. More later on whether these FOVs are limiting.
8. The camera should be easy to mount. The XD1080 can be turned a full 360 degrees in its mount, so you never have to take “upside down” videos or set the camera to invert the image. Replay provides many mounting hardware options with the XD1080, though not as many as GoPro does. In keeping with this sturdiness theme, Replay’s mount uses a Heim joint for adjusting the vertical and axial angle of the camera. This is good and bad because you have to release the splined joint more than you normally would, and the camera shifts a bit when re-tightening. Slippage is minimized when you’re driving, but adjusting the angle of the camera requires more guess-and-check steps than with non-splined mounts.
9. The camera should be mountable almost anywhere on the car. The size of the XD1080 along with the tape and suction mounts mean the camera can be placed almost anywhere you’re willing to put it. See our comments about the lack of a remote, though.
10. The camera should be easy to align. The Replay spins in its mount, and has horizon lines on the lens, so axial leveling is fairly easy. However we have found that judging these small bullet cameras by eye leads to some error. For best results, you would check your mount with the (optional) ReView monitor, though having to do that is a complication we wish Replay could avoid—perhaps by using a system like the one Contour does on its cameras.
11. The mount should be mechanically rigid. We primarily used the optional short-arm suction cup. It is very sturdy and uses a Panavise cup, which we found to be quite secure on our windshield. The short arm, Heim joint and easy-to-reach knob on the Replay are as solid a mount as we found in this test.
12. Battery life should allow for some cushion around events. The acceptability of any battery life figure depends on what you’re doing, of course. But, typical amateur road races last about 30 minutes. With some time for waiting on the grid and a pace lap, we might say that 45 minutes is the minimum for racers. Replay claims two hours of recording time, and we never had any difficulty recording two sessions, each of which included some waiting on grid and some time getting back to our paddock area, along with some discussion of our amazing performance, before we turned the camera off.
13. Batteries should be removable/replaceable. The Replay XD1080 has a fixed battery. This is undesirable because you can’t just pop in a spare if you use the two hours of recording time you may get on one charge. It is also undesirable because eventually the battery will lose electro-chemical capacity, and at that point it would appear the camera must be returned to the factory.
14. Batteries should be charged with standard USB chargers. The XD1080 uses standard USB charging and cords, although the USB connector is a micro-B, rather than the more common mini-B type. Replay provides a nice case to hold all of the accessories, so there is some chance you’ll have the right cable with you.
15. The camera should accept large memory cards. Who wants to run around guessing if their memory cards are filling up? Or risk having a recording cut off mid-race? Even worse, who wants to stick a card in, make a recording, and then find that the memory card was incompatible? Ideally, this means compatibility with SDXC cards some of which can hold up to 2 TB of data. Replay uses micro SD cards, which almost always come with adapters so they can be used in SD slots (on your PC for example), but these are limited to 32 GB of data. Usable, certainly, but not ideal.
16. Controls should work consistently and smoothly. We found the controls pretty easy to figure out, and Replay has avoided having controls that do nine different things. That said, the FPS and Resolution controls are pretty small.
17. The lights and displays should be easy to read. The XD1080 only has lights to tell you what it is doing. The Power and Record lights are not labeled, and both appear next to the power button. Power is blue and Record is red, which would be easier to remember if the buttons were similarly color-coded. The frame rate and resolution lights are color-coded, which isn’t as clear as alphanumeric text if the latter is of a readable size.
We need to say a few words about field of view. For those of you accustomed to thinking of 35mm photographic focal lengths, rather than angles of view, we offer this reference as context:
170-degree angle of view = 2mm focal length (35mm)
130-degree angle of view = 11mm focal length
110-degree angle of view = 15mm focal length
90-degree angle of view = 21mm focal length
The Replay XD1080 angles of view in 35mm terms are thus “ultra wide” at 130 degrees for 720p shooting or “super wide” at 110 degrees for 1080p shooting. We think this is an advantage over the classic 170-degree GoPro angle of view. But, GoPro gives you the choice of three angles (170, 127, and 90 degrees) at each of the most common resolutions, so there is really no drawback to GoPro other than the setup work required to choose the angle of view you want.
We also notice that some people like to mount the camera behind the driver and use the 170-degree angle of view to get both cockpit and track action. While this sounds good, we’ve seen a lot of video shot this way where the most interesting part (the track) was massively overexposed and useless. The track, with this approach, also tends to be a rather small part of the scene. We, therefore, judge Replay’s chosen angles of view to be what you would pick anyway, and not much of a limitation.
replay xd1080 review
For those of you who prefer summaries, here is ours:
Requirement Replay XD1080 Comments
Clear how to turn camera on *** Power button and Record button same color/shape, labels low contrast
Easy to turn camera on **** Buttons easy to access
Remote control * Not available
Camera clearly indicates if power "on" *** Vibration confirmation works for racing; lights useless
One step power + record ** No instructions
Easy to turn off to preserve battery *** Must stop recording before powering down
Setting resolution and FOV easy **** Dedicated buttons, must use chart
Easy to mount **** Many options, small adjustments a challenge
Mountable almost anywhere on car **** Mount variety is good
Easy to align **** Rotates in mount, but angle somewhat hard to judge
Mechanically rigid mount **** Generally very solid
Ample battery life *** Base battery works well for sprint races
Replaceable batteries * No
Standard USB charging **** Yes, Micro-B connector
Accepts large memory cards **** Micro SD up to 32 GB
Controls work consistently and smoothly **** Most controls do one or two things only, operation feels responsive
Lights and displays easy to read ** Lights color-coded but not ideal for race car interior
Overall *** Good, simple solution for single-cam in-car use
Our detailed analysis of the Replay XD1080 may cover up how different the experience of using the camera is compared to the GoPro Hero3 Black. Where the Hero3 is complex, the XD1080 is simple. Where the Hero3 is flexible, the XD1080 is limited.
If you mostly take videos with one camera, mounted inside your car where the driver can reach it, the XD1080 is likely to be a welcome relief from the frustrations you may have had with GoPro, or would have if you bought one. If you need to mount the camera or cameras away from the driver, we don’t think either camera is ideal. The GoPro remote is pretty sketchy, so really in this scenario both cameras have to be dealt with manually (before you get in or with a crew assist). If you run endurance races or run in multiple classes, we also don’t think the Replay is for you because of its battery design.
But for straightforward recording, the Replay XD1080 is easy to use and increases that chance (compared with the GoPro Hero3 Black) that you get workable videos.
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