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GoPro HERO6: This Is the Moment in 4K

COMING OFF A rough 2016 filled with layoffs and recalls, GoPro’s got a lot to prove. After all, not everyone needs to own a drone or an action cam. And, with many top-tier smartphones packing impressive levels of waterproofing, a GoPro isn’t even a necessity for capturing footage in the wet outdoors. But, the new GoPro Hero 6 still retains distinct advantages over other devices. A lot of its strengths are directly related to the how compact and mountable this tiny, powerful action cam is.

GoPro has taken the same core principals behind previous Hero flagships to new extremes with the Hero6 Black ($499). This latest Hero pumps up its video and photo cred by adding a brawnier processor chip (GoPro calls this new silicon "GP1") which unlocks 4K video shooting at 60p, or 60 full frames per second. While this spec doesn't matter to many consumers, to professional videographers it's another step to making silky-smooth ultra-high-resolution video capture possible anywhere. It also means that there's extra bandwidth to do neat tricks—if you're a slo-mo junkie, this little camera can reach 240 frames per second so your gnar kickflip can be seen in glorious, suuuuuper-slow motion.

In order to pull off these new shooting modes, GoPro's leveraging the new-school video codec, High-Efficiency Video Coding (aka H.265). That's great since HEVC is, as its name implies, a high-efficiency way of recording video. That means files can be smaller than those encoded with the older H.264 protocol that became the standard in the pre-4K days. But, there's a catch—HEVC is new, and many devices can't decode its advanced compression scheme. In my time with the GoPro Hero6, that meant some functions were incompatible with my iPhone 6s, since only iPhones since the 7 have fully-realized HEVC compatibility.

Additionally, if you don't have a powerful PC (having at least a 6th generation Intel chip helps enormously), you'll also have plenty of trouble getting this GoPro's 4K footage to play back smoothly. That footage will look pretty great once you get it off the Hero6 Black, but beware the perils of 4K HEVC, especially if you're less of a pro and more of a schmo.