YouTube versus 360 degree cameras

As anybody who has been watching my videos knows, I’m really in love with 360 degree cameras these days. Specifically I’m in love with the Garmin VIRB360, which is a shame because it doesn’t love me back. The camera hasn’t been updated in a number of years, and the image quality isn’t as good as some of the newer ones. And the VIRB Edit editing app frankly kind of sucks, except for the telemetry overlay. To the point where I sometimes put the telemetry overlay on, then export it, and bring it into Final Cut Pro to do the rest of the editing. But more importantly, it’s an orphan and you can’t get parts for it. I got the last replacement lenses for it after my boat blew off my car in a parking lot after I’d attached the camera, and I had to get them from a shop in Calgary. I saw some replacement lenses on eBay and they were going for over $250!

The VIRB360 has three things which no other 360 camera has:

  • Telemetry capture, including not just GPS in the camera, but also heart rate via ANT+ or Bluetooth. And other ANT+ or Bluetooth inputs as you like. Lots of cyclists like to connect their power meters or cadence meters, for instance.
  • An external power connector that’s waterproof, or at least water resistant enough for kayak racing.
  • And related to that, the ability to record for hours at a time without overheating. GoPro struggles to make a camera that can record for the full life of the battery in a single go, telling anybody who complains that some huge percentage of their users only record for a few minutes at a time anyway and it sucks to be you.

So while I’d like to get the higher image quality and better editing software of say, an Insta360 X2 or whatever GoPro has announced they’re going to be announcing this year, I’m kind of stuck with the Garmin.

Slight aside here – a 360 camera has two lenses and two CCDs. The process of putting the two images together is called “stitching” and can either be done in the camera or it can require desktop or mobile software to do it. What comes out is an equirectangular image that a 360 degree viewer or editor can do the fun pan around stuff in.

The Garmin’s “normal” mode is to stitch in the camera and produce a 4K (3840×2160) equirectangular image on the microSD card. But there’s also a “raw” mode where you have two files on the microSD card, and VIRB Edit stitches them into a 5.7K (4992×2496) equirectangular as it sucks the image in from the camera/microSD card. So as an experiment I did a recording a couple of days ago in the raw mode. The stitching wasn’t too terribly time consuming, and I did my usual hacked up edit just and exported the file. It’s a little bigger – about 1.17 GB per minute, versus 0.92 GB per minute for a 4K one I did a few days previously. Then I uploaded it to YouTube.

And this is where it gets frustrating. The 4K one took about a day or so to process on YouTube before I could see it in full res. It says it’s 4K, and the text and telemetry gauges look very sharp on a 5K monitor.

But the 5K one said it had finished processing a few hours after uploading, but on a 5K monitor at full screen, it says it’s only 1080 resolution, and it looks like it’s only 1080 resolution.

The text and the gauges look like crap at full screen.

So it looks like at least as far as YouTube goes, going for a higher resolution was a complete waste of time. (BTW: I can’t try Vimeo because it says one video is more than the free tier total upload limit.) So now I’m looking to see if there are good 360 video players for embedding in WordPress. Expect to see some test posts here shortly.

Heart Rate shouldn’t be this hard

In the 13-odd years I’ve been racing kayaks, I’ve come to rely on having my speed and heart rate displayed in front of me to help with pacing, both during training and racing. And usually that’s been done with the combination of some model of Garmin Forerunner GPS “watch” and a heart rate chest strap – starting with a Forerunner 301 (which nobody except Garmin would call a watch) and the strap that came with it, going through several generations of Forerunner and occasionally replacing the strap because Garmin uses these tiny little screws to hold in the battery cover and they strip easy. I’ve got 2 or 3 of them in my drawer with stripped screws. A few years ago I replaced my Garmin chest strap with a Wahoo TICKR and it worked great. Not only does it have a battery compartment that you can open with a quarter (or the corner of your CrashTag) but it also broadcast on both ANT+ for your watch and Bluetooth so you could display it on your phone (with the help of the Wahoo Fitness app).

Fast forward at bit. After a couple of years of the TICKR working great, I lost it. No idea what happened to it, it’s not in any of the places I’d normally put my strap between workouts, or any of the places where Vicki would throw it on “cleaning lady day” to get it out of the way, nor even any of the 3 gym bags or rolly bags that I normally use for travel. It just vanished. I bought a new one, which has been redesigned and is now in “stealth black” instead of blue and white. And it just never worked right – it displayed ridiculously high numbers all the time, both on my watch and on my phone. I returned it for a new one, and the same problem. After a lot of trouble shooting, I got Vicki to put it on and it reads right on her, so I know it’s not the strap. But meanwhile I’ve got no reliable heart rate.

So I bought a Garmin HRM:Dual, which is their newest heart rate strap – the “Dual” meaning that they too now broadcast on Bluetooth as well as ANT+. It worked pretty well for about a year on ANT+, but it’s *never* worked right on Bluetooth, at least not on either Wahoo Fitness or Kinomap. Ok, Wahoo Fitness might just be that the Wahoo app doesn’t work right with Garmin straps, and Kinomap is… quirky. Also, in the meantime I’ve also got a Garmin Fenix 6X Sapphire watch – it does everything the newest Forerunners do, and then some. And it reads me heart rate 24×7 on my wrist. Which is great, except for kayaking I really need to put a watch on the footstrap of my boat so I can see it. I can hardly see something on my wrist when it’s flashing past my eyes 40 times a minute.

A few weeks ago my HRM:Dual started giving garbage results towards the beginning and end of workouts. The beginning I can understand, sometimes it takes time to work up enough sweat that it makes good contact, even if you remember to spit on the pads before you start. I have some electrode gel I bought a few years ago and that helped a bit, but I was still getting garbage numbers part way through a workout. I replaced the battery, and it didn’t help.

And that’s when I started a game I call “Permutations and combinations”. Using my Fenix on my wrist and my old Forerunner 920XT on my desk or on my boat’s footstrap, I started experimenting. I tried the TICKR, still garbage (shows a number, but the number keeps rising up to around 122 while my Fenix and manual counts say I’m at 44), HRM:Dual, still garbage (says it’s connected, doesn’t show numbers). Replaced both batteries, both still garbage. Used electrode gel, both still garbage. Tried the HRM:Dual with the strap from one of the older Garmin heart rate monitors – hmmm, seeing some signs of life, but still not reliable numbers. Eventually I tried shaving the strip of hair on my chest under where the strap goes. And then I got good numbers on my HRM:Dual. At least on ANT+, still nothing on Bluetooth. But I did a workout yesterday with the HRM:Dual paired with the 920XT on my footstrap, and the Fenix 6 on my wrist, and both numbers stayed pretty amazingly in sync.

Heart rate comparison
(Purple line is HRM:Dual on Forerunner 920XT, Blue line is Fenix 6X on wrist)

And I guess that’s where I’ll leave it – I’ll pair the HRM:Dual with my Fenix 6 again, and use the Fenix on my footstrap. And try to remember to shave that strip on my chest when I shave my head.

That’s discouraging

There was a discussion on Facebook about Greg Barton’s speed comparisons. In this document, Greg compares the speed of various Epic kayaks over a 10km flat-water course. He gives estimated times for both himself, and a theoretical “Intermediate” paddler. Somebody pointed out that his “intermediate” paddler paddles the 10km course in 51:55 in a V10 Sport (my favoured boat). That’s 11.6 km/hr, or about 7.2 mph. Several paddlers I respect agreed that that’s an ok speed for an “intermediate” paddler.

I’ve been racing for over 10 years, and during the season I train 7-8 hours or more a week. I don’t think I could train more even if I were retired – it’s not a matter of time to train, but more about what my body will take before it falls apart. I’ve worked very hard with many great teachers to improve my technique and abilities. But in spite of all that, even when I’m not carrying all the extra weight I put on this year, I’m lucky to exceed 10.4-10.6 km/hr for a 10km race. It makes me very sad to think that I’m not considered an intermediate paddler. It makes me wonder why I ever bother.

But then I remember days like I talked about in Flow State where I just feel so connected with my boat and my body as I stroke through calm water. I guess I’ll just keep training and racing for myself, and try not to care if everybody is laughing at the slow fat load making a fool of himself.

Evidently my dream brain writes horror novels

In a dream last night, “we”, probably meaning all of surviving humanity, were surrounded by dog like creatures that were immortal, unkillable and unstoppable. And they hated us. There was a suggestion that they could sense our finite lives throughout their infinite ones whatever that means.

Every time they got into a room or a field or any other space, we’d barricade it off and consider it permanently lost, and anybody in that space was lost. There were scenes like in sinking war ships where we could see the people but we didn’t dare open a door to get them in case the dogs got to the door before we could close it again.

There was a very claustrophobic feel of the world shrinking as each space was lost and no chance of ever making gains.

At some point I had volunteers opening a door to make a small enclosed area inside the lost space, kind of like the old video game Qix, but I think I added that note of hope in a semi waking state rather than in the actual dream.

I can’t imagine why I’d dream such a hopeless dream in the middle of a global pandemic and a nation hurtling towards dictatorship.

Another camera, another time limitation

One of the things I liked about the Garmin VIRB 360 camera is that they actually say “Constantly record for more than 1 hour on 1 charge5 — without overheating” on their product page, which shows a lot more concern for continuous recording than GoPro. They also sell a cradle that gives external power. So I thought I’d be all set for the sort of 2 – 3 hour recordings that have been my holy grail since I got into race videos.

I’ve been running various tests with different combinations of external batteries, and never seemed to get more than 1.5 hours. And today while running a test, I just happened to be looking at my camera when I displayed a “High temperature alert” on the screen just before it shut down. Well, again, I’ve got to give them props in handling high temps better than GoPro – GoPro usually don’t even give you a beep before they shut down for high temps.

But I’m still left with the quandary on how do I keep my cameras from overheating. I’ve thought about covering my camera with tinfoil or attaching a computer CPU heatsink, but a 360 camera doesn’t give you much in the way of non-vital surface to attach things to. Freeze it? My Fenix can act as a remote for it, maybe I could just turn it off in the middle of a race when nothing much is happening?