Facebook just launched the Oculus Rift, but the company isn’t content with sitting in VR now. Its next big splash in VR? A 360-degree camera, called Surround 360.
To be clear, Facebook isn’t releasing a physical camera, but rather a reference design for a state-of-the-art camera that it will release as an open-source project on GitHub later this Summer. The camera looks somewhat like a flying saucer, and uses a total of 17 cameras along with accompanying Web-based software, which takes the images captured by the camera, and stitches them together into a 360-degree video.
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The rig is made up of 14 wide-angle cameras, plus one fish-eye on the top, and two on the bottom, allowing the camera to capture video without showing the pole that holds the camera up – a common issue in these early days on virtual reality.
The Surround 360 isn’t something to be laughed at. Facebook claims that the camera is the best of its kind, and judging by the specs on the thing, it might be right. The camera can work for “many hours” without overheating, and each lens on the camera can capture footage at a whopping 8K. That video can then be viewed on a range of VR devices, including the Gear VR, and obviously the Oculus Rift. It can also export up to two hours of footage at up to 60 frames per second. Facebook says footage is ready to upload with little post-processing needed.
The price to build the device is also no laughing matter. While Facebook itself isn’t selling the camera, it’s encouraging developers to build it for themselves. Unfortunately, the cost of all the parts required to build it is a cool $30,000, so you hobbyists out there might need to look elsewhere for a new project. It could, however, be very useful for larger media companies looking to take their content to the next level with virtual reality.
As mentioned, the design and code for both the hardware and software is open-source. Whether it be a large-scale camera company or a small-time developer that builds the camera, Facebook doesn’t care. The point is that the company hopes to catalyze VR content creation.
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High-quality 360 footage is becoming increasingly important for tech companies. Because of the fact that the video needs to replicate real life, footage has to be as realistic as possible, so higher resolutions and frame rates are important. It’s pricey, but for good reason – this is the new state of the art for VR cameras.
At F8, Facebook also announced the “Live API,” aimed at pushing the company’s live streaming feature. A new tab in Facebook will enable users to see the top live streams happening at any given moment, and the API will also integrate with both hardware and software platforms, allowing for higher quality video capture on Facebook Live.