Wednesday, October 10, 2012

My Thoughts On The GoPro HD HERO2 ProTune Firmware Update

***UPDATED Feb 9th, 2013*** If you're a GoPro user, chances are you've heard about the ProTune firmware update, and if you haven't, what rock have you been hiding under? This upgrade was one of the most anticipated updates to the GoPro HD HERO2 in the last 6 months.

GoPro's are used by both enthusiasts and professionals alike. For professionals the new ProTune profile has a few changes that on paper sound just about perfect, but how do these changes make the camera hold up in the real world? I took out my HERO2 to do some testing to find out and these are my thoughts after experimenting with the ProTune profile. All video was shot at 720p, 60fps.

So what is ProTune? Well, ProTune promises a higher bitrate of 35 Mbps, compared to 20 Mbps from before. (To put that in perspective, BluRay is 36 Mbps. My Canon XA10 uses the AVCHD codec, and only gets 24 Mbps). The HD HERO2 will now also shoot in native 24P and 25P, thanks to ProTune and it has a new flatter "CineStyle" color profile. So what all is that stuff, and does it matter? Let's break them down one by one.

35 Mbps sounds impressive, but you have to remember that bitrate doesn't always mean everything. Compression algorithms is the other half there. How does it hold up after H.264 compression in an MP4 container?

See for yourself.
Comparison (Flickr recompresses photos, so the quality of this screen grab isn't as good as the original, but you get the point... There's a noticable difference.)

I was impressed by the low amount of compression artifacts that the new ProTune profile gives. Right away, I could see more detail in the leaves as I was running, less blocking on my face (noticably around the eyes and chin), and even in my clothing. There's a lot less jaggies. It's not perfect, but it's pretty darn good!

24P - 24 frames a second native filming. To be honest, this is useless to me. Some people feel this gives their filming a cinematic look. Me, I find it just looks jerkier and more like PAL television. I never film in 24P and won't start with this. But for those who like 24P or 25P, just knowing that the camera has this ability and can match up with your other cameras that are shooting at that speed is probably a great thing. It'll save you time and headaches converting footage in post since the new firmware update brings 24P native filming to the GoPro.

The CineStyle color profile... Is it all it's cracked up to be? Watch these 2 videos I shot with my GoPro to compare ProTune on and off as well as color correction before I talk about my feelings on it.

GoPro HD HERO2 ProTune vs. No ProTune Comparison from Steve Savage on Vimeo.

GoPro Hero2 ProTune Color Correction Comparison from Steve Savage on Vimeo.

The first thing I couldn't help but notice was how much softer the picture was when ProTune was turned on. I wasn't expecting that and was really surprised by it. The loss of picture detail is really noticeable when compared to the original color profile. Now, I only tested it at 720p, so it's possible that 1080p might be a bit clearer. I don't think it will be, but it's possible. If someone else tries it, let me know in the comments down below!

The next thing I noticed was the picture really was a lot flatter (the darks aren't as dark, the bright's aren't as bright). This should allow for more flexibility when doing color correction. When I color corrected the first video, I just copied and pasted my look from the original profile video to the ProTune profile video to compare what exactly happens if you do that. (Not pretty.) In the second video, I specifically color corrected to get the best look I could out of the ProTune profile. (You can get pretty good results with a little elbow grease.)

So that leaves me with the negatives and positives. Here are a few negatives I didn't get to above...

First, with ProTune enabled, you lose the ability to shoot super slow motion. That resolution isn't available on the camera anymore. 720p is the lowest you can go.

Second, a class 4 card won't cut it anymore if you're using ProTune. It's not fast enough. You'll need at least a class 6 card. I had a class 4 card in my GoPro, but I only filmed for about 10 seconds at a time, and even then it buffered for about 5 seconds after I stopped recording and gave me some warnings. I ended up taking a class 10 card out of my Canon XA10 to do the second ProTune test with. Take it from me, and do youself a favor and invest in a class 10 SD card so you can use all of the features of the camera and make sure it can keep up with ProTune.

A few postives are:
ProTune can be turned on and off in the camera's settings. So don't worry. If you don't like it, you don't have to keep it. You can use it when you need the extra bitrate, and lose it when you want the super slow motion.

My HD HERO2 didn't crash once after the latest firmware upgrade with the LCD viewfinder attached. Before, it was crashing ever time I used it, and I had the latest firmware before.

So my final thoughts are mixed. I love the extra bitrate, but would have loved to have seen this as a separate addition to the camera, so that you could use the extra bitrate without the CineSytle color profile. Unfortunately, it's a package deal. The camera is definitely much better all around thanks to the ProTune update, but the blurrier picture is something that worries me, and I bet will worry a lot of other people out there too.

Over all, I give this update a 6.5 out of 10.

10 comments:

  1. I prefer the original as compared to the ProTune version. It looks to me like footage captured through a fogged up lens. If the sample video represents the upgrade, then I'll pass on it.

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  2. I've only recorded with mine 3 times and this was after the protune update and each time my hero 2 would stop recoding randomly? 1080, 960x48 and 720x60 all did it? Is anyone else having this problem?

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  3. I have the upgraded firmware - and although I wasn't using the proTune (need faster cards), one of the two cameras randomly stopped working (crashed). I assumed it was the remote losing sync or something, but now I wonder if it was a crash like others are having.

    As far as the comparison, the new ProTune definitely looks less crisp and sharp. The loss of color and hazy look do not make this seem appealing to me - but then again, I have only dabbled in color correction - which it seems like this needs to benefit from the choice of ProTune.

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  4. I prefer the original profile over the CineStyle profile too. It's the sharpness that the original profile has that makes the difference for me.

    I haven't played with my GoPro too much in the last few months, but when I've used it it hasn't crashed on me. It's more stable now than it was before the upgrade. It used to crash all the time for me.

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  5. Correct me if I'm wrong... but the Protune update intentionally makes the video flatter... with softer whites and lighter darks to give you MUCH more flexibility when editing. With original footage, when your whites are too white, and you try to adjust white balance, sharpness, and contrast, there isn't a whole lot you can do. any slight adjustment throws the whole image completely out of whack. However, with the protune setting, adjusting whites/darks/color is much easier because you areworking with a flatter image...more of a naked slate than without it. Basically.... if you don't like editing don't update and be happy with the original image you get. If you like learning what your device is capable of, and working to get your clips as crisp and vibrant as possible without compromising your light balance than the protune is for u.

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  6. Ps.. if I'm just shooting random beach stuff.. I keep protune off. If I plan on getting body board footage or go snorkeling.. I turn it on. I live on Kauai.:)

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  7. Thank you for this enlightening post. To be short: Protune is useful when you have a lot of time to work each segment in post production. You can obtain a better finished product that in native mode (let's say maybe 15% which is important for the big screen). But, when your time is expensive, you don't need Protune because, anyway, the native mode is so good for such a small cam.

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  8. My camera is totally junk after I updated the software. Freezes after a few seconds and only way out is to pull the battery. Gopro has been no help, sooo very disappointed...my camera used to run for hours flawlessly and the update broke it. Won't be buying another Gopro that's for sure.

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  9. Protune is only beta version. Not useful.

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  10. This review sucks monkey bollocks. What you should show is a comparison between NO ProTune and the FINAL RESULT (after conversion) of WITH ProTune. In this video you are comparing against a ProTune video that is halfway through the process of making the final movie. In photography terms : you are comparing a vivid and sharp jpeg straight out of the camera with a dull RAW. You must compare the vivid and sharp jpeg against the jpeg AFTER the RAW conversion.

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