What Facebook’s Surround 360 means for the VR Industry

By Henry Stuart April 15, 2016

facebook surround 360 camera system

Facebook’s new 360 camera is a very exciting prospect for the VR industry. It’s a pro level device that takes a lot of the principles of Google’s Jump camera but replaces the GoPros with higher end, industrial derived, machine vision cameras.

Like Google before them though this huge announcement is not married to a product that can actually be purchased, we’re going to have to wait, but not to buy, rather to access the blueprints from GitHub. This will make it very much a niche product as a result in the first instant, at least until a canny manufacturer can bring them on to the market fully operational and to spec for Facebook’s automatic post production engine to do it’s magic.

Whilst this all sounds very promising, from my perspective – someone running a VR production studio, I am quite worried by any 360 video device that leaves it’s stitching to a one click online upload and receive service.

There are so many technical variables in VR film production that full control over every stage of the process is extremely important, unless the aim of the content is journalistic and time sensitive I would much rather have more control. This is where we would expect someone like The Foundry with their brilliant new VR Tools in NUKE to step in and offer a solution for the studios like ourselves who need to finesse any output.

In the guts of the camera are individual camera bodies with each lens manufactured by Point Grey, a name that will be familiar with those of us that have been in the industry since the early days (that’s not long in this industry!). Point Grey were the manufacturer behind the big camera in the market around 2010-2012 – the Ladybug.

This camera looks like it could use the same style of algorithms as Google to produce 3D 360 video, the formation of the cameras horizontally is nearly identical to the Google Jump (AKA Odyssey). The big difference is the lack of dependance on GoPros, which although excellent cameras have always lacked the level of control that professional studios require. Dynamic range on the new generation of machine vision cameras should give a few more stops than GoPros too so this camera will have the edge on the jump, all be it at double the price.

Pro 360 video producers have been innovating themselves over the last couple of years, impatient for the new cameras to come out we have been modifying cameras, 3D printing housings and even milling them from aluminium (as with our latest one), so these swathes of announcements are very welcome.

There looks to be a raft of choices coming through too, Nokia’s Ozo, Samsung’s Beyond, Google’s Jump and now Facebook’s Surround 360. Crucially all of these cameras mean we will soon be able to concentrate our attentions on our passion – storytelling in VR and not camera hacking!

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