One of the new features of the top-of-the-line GoPro Hero 3+ Black Edition is something GoPro are calling “SuperView”. This is a clever attempt to utilise the full sensor area when shooting in 1080p. To understand how it works, you first have to remember that the image sensor in the GoPro is a 4:3 format – that is, the “traditional” shape of image taken by still cameras, and indeed all consumer video technology prior to 16:9 widescreen becoming popular about 10 years ago. This means that when you use the GoPro to take still images, it can use its full sensor to product a standard-proportioned image. So far so good. However, when you use the GoPro to take widescreen video, the sensor is “taller” and “thinner” than the proportions of the 16:9 video frame. Previously, what this meant was that the top and bottom bits of the sensor were simply not used in capturing video – in effect, these areas were just wasted resolution.
With SuperView, rather than throwing away the top and bottom bits of the image, the entire 4:3 sensor image is used to create the16:9 video. As is apparent (and as will be familiar to anyone who has tried watching old TV shows on a widescreen TV) this necessarily involves stretching the 4:3 image horizontally. However (and this is the clever bit), rather than stretch the image evenly across its width, the GoPro Superview setting leaves the centre of the image untouched, and then gradually brings in the stretch towards the edges of the frame. This means that the apparent distortion is kept to a minimum. Indeed, given that the ultra-wide lens on the GoPro already leads to some distortion at the left and right edges of the frame, the additional SuperView distortion is not really noticeable. But the big advantage is that the top and bottom bits of the image, which would otherwise have been thrown away, are now included in the video, so it captures a much “taller” view of the scene will still being in widescreen.
This video demonstrates the new SuperView feature very neatly: