Google has released in tandem with a Chinese digital camera company a virtual reality (VR) camera that shoots 4K video simultaneously on all 17 of its cameras. The device uses Google's Jump software to stitch the footage together into a single, immersive 360-degree VR film.
It can be yours for only $17,000.
The idea behind the expensive hardware, called YI Halo, is that consumers are clamoring for 360-degree video content they can watch on their affordable virtual reality headsets. VR content costs time and money to develop, which makes it in short supply, but high in demand.
Made by the Chinese company YI, the Halo comprises 17 action cameras connected into a ring with a single camera on top, reminiscent in shape to an old-fashioned slide carousel. Interestingly, the top-mounted camera is a design addition to a previous 16-camera VR device developed by Google and GoPro. That model, the Odyssey, lacked an upward-facing camera, which created a blur in the viewer's perspective when he or she looked up.
"The camera was designed with the software in mind," Emily Price, a Jump product manager, tells Engadget. The 17th camera is not actually on top of the device, it's located in a slightly sunken position in the middle. "We made this geometric decision because it leads to much better results in automatic stitching," Price says. "The upward-facing camera's view of the world is pretty different from the cameras on the main ring. If it were on top, it doesn't stitch as smoothly as you'd like."
Google's Jump software technology is a cloud-based stitching solution that assembles individual video file of each camera together to a coherent 360-degree 3D video file, ready to be viewed in a headset. Using algorithms to stitch footage together, the Jump assembler reduces the time it takes to process one hour of footage down to eight hours, which on a regular desktop PC could take months.
"We're investing in tools and onset workflow as well," Price says. She describes a process called a "rough stitch," which allows users to create a preview stitch locally on their laptop in minutes. The software allows users to preview their shots. Price adds that the software also does exposure correction and tone mapping, which helps adjust for the different lighting conditions on each side of the Halo's 17 different cameras.
The Halo has a built-in 5GHz Wi-Fi that allows users to remotely control the camera with the Android smartphone App. The application also allows previews. The YI HALO comes with a built-in LCD touch screen control panel, as well. It can record 8K x 8K resolutions at up to 30p and 6K x 6K resolutions at up to 60 frames per second. Powered by a dedicated battery that lasts for about 100 minutes of continuous recording, the camera also uses AC to both power and charge the internal battery at the same time. The unit weights about 7.7 pounds (3.5 kg).
Innovation in technologies such as Google's Jump and YI Halo for creating videos and photographs, along with their processing, viewing, storage and sharing, continue to expand the scope for the digital photography industry. BCC Research reports that advancements in technology governing cameras, processing software and new lenses are expected to positively impact the digital photography market over the forecast period. The global digital photography market is expected to reach $48.9 billion by 2021 from $41.9 billion in 2016, demonstrating a five-year CAGR of 3.1%.