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On The Pedals

The Daily Grind

Over The Bars

Gadget Review: Oregon Scientific ATC2K Helmet Cam
By MBT Staff

Video Simplicity

Simple mounting makes this easy to use.

Oregon Scientific ATC2K Review
Bridging the Gap Between the Lipstick and Flash Cam

You have to admit that our sport really caters to the helmet camera market. After all, the only thing better than flowing along a tight ribbon of single track or nailing a difficult run has got to be sharing the experience with all of your skeptical riding buddies on the big screen. Last year we reviewed Digital Blueís Tony Hawk helmet cam system, which we praised for its price tag ($50) and ease of use. However, the quality of the footage could be described as shaky at best. And while we are fans of true lipstick cameras that attach to a separate camcorder for their unrivaled image quality, we do understand and respect the simplicity and ease of use of a self-contained flash video recorder like the Hawk cam. Enter the ATC2K- Oregon Scientificís second attempt at combining the stability and higher resolutions of a lipstick camera with the portability and self-containment of a flash drive cam. Did they nail their goal this time around? Thatís exactly what we wanted to know.

To begin, the ATC2K is a sturdy feeling camera that weighs in at roughly a half pound (with 2 double A batteries installed). The kit contains several mounting options, most of which function exactly as expected. Among these is the standard rubber strap to mount the camera on the side of a helmet, a cloth strap with Velcro closures for those who prefer to mount the camera on the top of the helmet (through the air vents), and finally a plastic loop with tightening screw comes standard to allow you the ability to mount the camera on your bikeís handlebars or frame spar. This last option peaked our interest but unfortunately didnít work on a majority of our test bikeís bars. In its stock trim, the loop mount wouldnít tighten down enough to firmly squeeze the bar. Our quick thinking test riders tried to then mount the loop to the thicker grip-portion of the ends of the handlebar only to discover that the grips are actually too thick for the plastic mounting loop. We were finally able to jury-rig the mount by tearing off a piece of an old rag and wrapping it around our handlebar until it was thick enough to give the plastic loop something to squeeze. While it worked as a temporary rig, the rag had a tendency to rotate on the bar on the rough stuff and with it, our camera.

Setup is less than a snap. Once youíve chosen your mounting method of choice, click the camera into place and lock its underbody ring. Thatís it; youíre ready to begin production. At a half a pound, we did feel the camera pulling slightly on the side of our helmets. Itís not enough to cause neck pain or muscle over-compensation but everyone did report feeling its heft out on the trails.

Unlike the Hawk cam, the ATC2K is capable of some pretty impressive resolution numbers. The default setting is a resolution of 640 x 480 at a full 30 frames per second. There are also lesser settings to conserve storage space (15 frames per second and 320 x 240 & 160 x 120). The unit comes equipped with 32 megs of internal memory which equates to a sorry 52 seconds worth of footage at the highest setting. Be sure to pick up an SD card with the ATC2K! We notice Oregon Scientific is selling a package where the camera comes pre-bundled with a 2gig card (which is a little over an hourís worth of film time on the highest settings). We picked up a Kingston 1gig card and averaged 34 minutes worth of record time on the highest resolution and frame rate.

As we said, setting up the camera is a breeze but prepare to spend a while testing camera positioning! With no viewfinder or targeting laser to work with, the ATC can be a little tricky to position correctly. We often thought we had it in place only to download a bunch of footage of the ground streaking past in a dizzying blur of color later that evening. There is really no remedy for this situation other than good old-fashioned trial and error. Fortunately Oregon Scientific takes some of the sting out of the process by including a set of standard AV cables that allow you to view your footage immediately right on your television rather than having to download/ burn it to disc.

Once satisfied with the cameraís mount angle, we went out for a few weeks of trail duty to get to know the ATC2K. All of our testers reported the menu system very intuitive and easy to follow. The LCD screen displays such information as the current frame rate and resolution grid with an estimate of how much recording time remains in minutes and seconds. While rolling, the camera rolls the estimate down in real time, which takes the guesswork out of wondering when things are going to come to a grinding halt. The onboard menu allows the user to change nearly every setting on the fly and delete botched film segments right from the systemís memory. Also worth mentioning is that the camera includes a built-in microphone that can be deactivated at any time through the onboard option set. A large shutter button between the On/Off toggle and Menu button performs starting and stopping of the camera. This is one area we had a little trouble with. Oregon Scientific wisely programmed each of its buttons with a 2 second delay so that riders in a hurry wonít accidentally bump the power switch or change their film settings out in the field. Unfortunately, the rather spongy buttons are extremely difficult to activate without taking off the helmet and deliberately pushing them firmly down. Worse yet is that a fairly quiet beep to indicate starting/stopping or changing settings is near impossible to hear over the crunching of leaves and wind whistling through your helmet. Activating and stopping the unit with gloved hands was another chore. Literally every one of our testers was witnessed yanking off their helmet and/ or removing a glove on the trails during our time with the camera.

Fortunately, once the details are dialed in, the ATC2K managed to impress with footage that surpassed every other flash card video camera weíve come across. The frame rate is incredibly consistent and the included foam sponge mounts are sufficient for absorbing trail chatter. The end result is digital quality footage that can be instantly transferred to your favorite editing program in standard AVI format (the package does not include software or drivers so Windows users prior to XP are out of luck).

The bottom line is that we were pretty impressed with the end result. The unit has a few peccadilloes that we hope Oregon Scientific irons out in their next iteration of the product but donít let that stand in the way of snagging endless megs of on-trail exploration. Although OS lists the MSRP of the complete system at $129, we found it all over the web (from reputable outlets) for the tune of $80- $89. For this price it is very difficult for us to recommend a better deal. Best of all, the unit is waterproof up to 9 feet so riders who find themselves taking frequent unintentional swims during creek crossings (we arenít naming names) need not worry about ruining their ATC2K. In addition we managed to drop our unit onto the concrete our second day out and were relieved so discover not only no damage to the unitís exterior, but no trouble with its performance as well. The durability of the ATC2K is without rival!

For a sample of the kind of video you can expect, check right here. Beware, file is 50 megs and may take a while to load (opens in new window for this reason.)

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Oregon Scientific

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