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Main article: 360 video

Topics from 1 to 2 | in all: 2

Facebook opens up 360-degree live streaming to all

19:54 | 29 March

Facebook just made live streaming 360-degree video relatively easy, provided you have the equipment to capture the content. Users of devices like the new 2017 model Gear 360 just announced at the S8 smartphone launch, or the Insta360 Nano (for iPhone) and Air (for Android), or a host of higher-end models designed for pros, you can go live and broadcast an immersive feed for your audience.

The feature works using Facebook’s livestreaming video tech, providing 1080p, 30fps playback and a maximum streaming time of four hours, which should be plenty for whatever you’re planing to immersively immerse your immersion hungry audience within. You’ll need a decent connection to make for a smooth broadcast, as Facebook recommends 4 Mbps down to ensure quality, and you can use either a camera’s dedicated app to go live, or navigate to facebook.com/live/create to use with cameras not already set up specifically to stream using Facebook’s new tool.

If you have the Insta360 Air or Nano, both of which I’ve used before, the process is pretty simple. An update available today for the companion apps for both cameras will allow you to select Facebook Live as a broadcast destination when you select the live feature within the app’s options. These provide real-time views of what your audience is seeing on your smartphone’s display as you’re broadcasting, too, which is not something available via some other pro-level options. The app’s interface will also show you how many viewers you currently have, watch the tally of Likes and other reactions, and check out comments as they roll in.

Insta360’s cameras already support live broadcasts to Periscope and to YouTube, but Facebook’s in-app integration is a useful way to reach more people with minimal effort and promotion. Live 360 broadcasts aren’t yet embeddable on other sites, however, and they can’t be viewed via Apple TV or Chromecast for big-screen playback just yet. Still, it’s a strong start and a cool content delivery alternative for reporting from the field.

The next best thing to being there might just be virtually being there, and this new offering from Facebook might be one of the easiest ways to do that, with a built-in large audience.

 


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Ricoh announces the R, a camera that will make 360-degree live streaming easy

20:01 | 4 January

Following from the company’s successful Theta S, Ricoh today flirtatiously lifted the veil on an upcoming product that will make live streaming 360-degree content a breeze. For now, the company is making a camera available for developers to start building their own applications. The dev kits are slated to ship in Q2 this year.

The new Ricoh R (an artist’s rendition)

Tests done so far range from the obvious — live streaming live concerts — to the more creative, including remote telepresence solutions. One example Ricoh gives is a school enrollment ceremony, where students participated using VR headsets to follow a live stream of the ceremony.

A tentative step into the future of 360

If neither of those examples set your heart a-flutter, you might be onto something. The company is releasing it as a dev kit because it realizes there aren’t that many people who know, exactly, what 360 live streaming will be used for. Getting out ahead of the pack with a dev kit might just prove to be a prudent move — especially if the company’s solution proves as popular as its Theta S cameras.

Ricoh claims the Ricoh R camera will be able to stream continuously (as long as there’s power and an internet connection).

“Live streaming of fully spherical video is an emerging technology, with content creation, distribution and viewing still largely in their infancy,” a spokesperson for the company tells me. “Following a series of beta tests with a diverse group of customers Ricoh has determined there is significant business potential for this new technology.”

The stream out of the camera is at 2K resolution at 30 frames per second. Not quite enough for photorealistic VR, but potentially enough to create compelling 360 video experiences nonetheless. The camera can stitch the video in real time in Equirectangular Projection Format (the standard for fully spherical video streams), and can be output via HDMI or USB. For offline use the camera can also record to a Micro SD card.

 


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Twitter introduces 360-degree video live streaming

01:27 | 29 December

Twitter is taking another step into getting into live video by introducing 360-degree live streams through Periscope.

Anyone on Twitter and Periscope can watch 360-degree live video, though currently only select partners can go live in 360 via Periscope, the company announced in a blog post. While it’s only available for a limited number of partners for now, it makes sense that Twitter would start rolling out a tool like this as live streaming becomes increasingly popular on platforms like Facebook.

360 Sunset in Florida. First ever #Periscope360 with @Brandee_Anthony https://t.co/AZWbnnT15S

— Alex Pettitt (@Alexpettitt) December 28, 2016

So, Twitter is trying to release yet another new product as it continues to try to find a new future for itself in 2017. This was a very challenging year for Twitter, which saw itself as the subject of a potential major acquisition before those talks fell apart. Since then, Twitter has struggled to figure out new ways to grow and has only incrementally added new products and features.

It looks like live streamers will plug a camera into the bottom of a phone in order to start recording and broadcasting the video, which is seen in the screenshot below taken from the video (apologies for poor quality).

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With live 360 video, users can get a full capture of what’s going on for a broadcaster’s surroundings. Right now, as it’s limited to partners, which will no doubt use this as a playground to discover new use cases, it looks like there won’t be a ton of live 360-degree video for a bit. But this could also be a strong play to attract new influencers that it may see flocking to other platforms, giving them new tools (or toys) to play with in order to continue building their audience.

If you want to read into the tea leaves a little bit here, the company post was authored by Alessandro Sabatelli, the company’s director of AR and VR. So feel free to speculate as you wish while Twitter has said it is starting to explore opportunities in this area.

Making big changes to a platform with a wide audience — in Twitter’s case, though it isn’t growing as fast as Facebook, one with more than 300 million people — is always going to be tricky. But the company needs to continue to make big bets, particularly in video (it acquired Periscope), if it’s going to find a new way to ignite growth.

 


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Camorama records 360-degree 4K video for your VR pleasure

19:22 | 10 September

While the Camorama promo video is a bit, shall we say, racy I think the product is pretty solid. It’s basically a 4K action cam that doubles as a 360-degree camera. This means you can record 360-degree videos for a mere $239 for early birds.

Who would want such witchcraft? 360-degree video is pretty cool stuff and it could mean that we can expect more VR video on Youtube and other services. Because the camera films at 4K you can also grab some nice video of your various exciting activities and stream them live to YouTube and Facebook.

If you have Google Cardboard you can check out the film below for an example of what this can do. If you don’t, enjoy the weirdly distorted future of video.

The produce ships in November and the creator, James Sung, has been known to deliver on time and on spec. I don’t much like Kickstarter projects these days – too much overpraise – but this looks to be just under the realm of impossibility and the company has already raised $150,000 for the product. I, personally, want to VR stream my life as a blogger. The video would consist of hours of silence punctuated by trips to the coffee maker and random howls of horror at how deeply sad my life has become. Plus the opening of beers.

 


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YouTube rolls out support for 360-degree live streams and spatial audio

20:30 | 18 April

YouTube will today begin supporting 360-degree live streaming on its service, confirming reports from earlier this year stating that such a feature was in development. One of the first videos to take advantage of this more immersive format will be this year’s live stream from music event Coachella, where select performances from the festival will now be live streamed in 360 degrees.

Also new today is support for spatial audio for on-demand YouTube videos, the company says.

With this announcement, YouTube is the first to launch 360-degree live streaming and spatial audio at scale, we should note.

Spatial audio means playing sounds the same way people actually hear — or as YouTube explains, it’s about letting you listen as you do in real life — “where depth, distance and intensity all play a role,” writes Neal Mohan, Chief Product Officer for YouTube, on the company blog.

Google had already been rolling out support for spatial audio elsewhere in its product line, including most importantly, for its VR platform, Google Cardboard. In January, it made it possible for developers to support this option in their own apps, with updates for the Cardboard SDKs for Unity and Android, for example. So it’s not surprising to see the technology being expanded on YouTube.

At launch, however, spatial audio is only available for on-demand videos, not live videos. That means streams like the Coachella concert won’t include this option. The feature is also limited to Android smartphones used with headphones. (Google published a sample playlist here.)

The bigger news today, though, is the launch of 360-degree live streaming.

For YouTube creators, all that’s required to take advantage of this new feature is a camera that supports the technology. Other than that, there’s no change to the current live streaming process, YouTube tells us.

YouTube additionally announced today the support of 1440p 60fps resolution for live streams on its service. Live streams at 1440p have 70 percent more pixels than the standard HD resolution of 1080p, to give you an idea of the nature of this improvement. This not only offers a great experience for the new live 360 streams, which are best enjoyed at high resolutions and high frame rates, but will benefit video game streams, too. The latter will benefit YouTube’s Twitch competitor, YouTube Gaming.

Meanwhile, from the end-user perspective, there’s no extra technology or headsets required to watch 360-degree live streams — they’re available on any device, including desktop, tablet, iOS or Android. That makes them more accessible than the higher-end VR technologies currently in development, which require hefty upfront investments on consumers’ side and still struggle with a lack of content.  

(Above: an example of a 360 degree video)

To make support for both 360 live streams and spatial audio possible, YouTube has been working with camera and software vendors, including VideoStitch, Two Big Ears, ALLie, Vahana VR and Orah 4i, it says.

In addition, today YouTube says it’s also opening up its “Live API,” which will allow any camera manufacturer interested in 360 the ability to use YouTube’s Live Streaming API to send 360-degree live streams to the service. This addresses the questions raised around industry adoption — that is, how YouTube plans to support the different manufacturers and solutions on the market today.

Of course, not all video creators who want to experiment with either 360-degree live streaming or spatial audio can afford to invest in their own equipment. That’s why YouTube says creators will be able to try the technologies at YouTube Space locations.

These are the studios YouTube runs in cities like L.A., New York, London, Tokyo, Paris, Berlin and elsewhere, where creators can produce content, learn new skills and collaborate with others in their local video communities. YouTube says 360-degree live streaming and spatial audio will be available at all its Space locations worldwide.

These launches are significant for YouTube, which is betting big on new technologies as a means of attracting a wider audience to its site in an age where more users than ever are consuming YouTube’s content, especially on mobile. The company said in July that watch time was up 60 percent year-over-year, and mobile viewing had doubled.

The company’s investment and speed to launch with these technologies is also notable. It first debuted support for 360-degree videos last March, and the feature has since been adopted by a number of musicians, athletes and brands, the company points out today. It also showed off its own VR camera rig, the Jump VR video camera, at its 2015 I/O conference, then put it directly in the hands of creators later in the year.

This November, it brought VR videos (360-degree videos with depth perception) to Google Cardboard, and made all YouTube videos compatible with Cardboard.

While all these technologies offer a new means of telling stories through video, they’re very new. That means their ability to boost user viewing metrics in terms of engagement and minutes watched in the long-term still remain unproven. That said, there’s definitely growing consumer interest in 360-degree videos and VR. For instance, Google said this January it’s shipped 5 million Cardboard viewers to date.

Starting today, anyone will be able to do live 360-degrees on YouTube, the company says. Coachella will happen on the weekend, and will be the first high-profile example of the new live streams on the site.

Featured Image: World Surf League

 


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GoPro goes all-in on VR without a winning hand

02:39 | 8 April

Flat video is so last century and GoPro is pulling out all the stops. Through a series of product launches — most recently the new Omni — the company signals that it has your back in the battle against bi-dimensional consumption of moving pictures. The strategy confirms the obvious — i.e. that it knows which way the wind is blowing. But I think it’s too little, too late.

All in on 360 video

With the new Omni, you can combine the power of six HERO4 Black cameras to shoot full 360 degree video; perfect for immersive video experiences, VR and photometry use cases.

GoPro Odyssey

Omni was first announced at CES earlier this year, but is being demoed live for the first time at the NAB conference in Vegas in a couple of weeks — one of the biggest shows in video and multimedia content production.

Full-surround systems for GoPro are not a new thing — there have been quite a few attempts to string together a ton of the GoPro cameras to create camera arrays.

GoPro itself has been promoting its GoPro Spherical solutions over the past year, too, with special channels dedicated to its GoPro VR kit on YouTube and more spherical video featured on its Facebook page, as well.

Not the first VR rodeo

Last year, the company announced a partnership with Google’s Jump platform in the form of the GoPro Odyssey. The device looks sexy as all heaven (if you’re into that sort of thing). It comes with no fewer than 16 GoPro cameras and a bank-breaking $15,000 price tag. Obviously, the target audience veers deep into specialist markets that require stereoscopic 360 video (the Omni “only” does monoscopic video).

If spending $15,000 on a surround video kit doesn’t fill you with tingly sensations, there’s also been the other extreme: Building your own. There are a lot of plans and guides available online for how to 3D print or build your own rigs out of metal, wood or perspex — with some solutions being more elegant than others. The problem with these solutions has been the synchronization between the cameras, both in terms of frame rate (ensuring that each camera is shooting video frames at the same time at exactly the same number of frames per second) and alignment (making sure the cameras are adjusted just so to create a seamless 360-degree experience is an exercise in fine-engineering or some seriously hard-core post-processing efforts).

Plans and CAD drawings for DIY, 3D printed rigs have been available for a while, such as this version of a “360 Video GoPro rig” by Friloba

Does GoPro make sense in a crowded market?

GoPro has kept a tight lid on the pricing and availability of Omni, but given that six GoPros on their own will set you back around $3,000 — and the fact that a comparable rig already exists for around $600 — it’s reasonable to expect a price tag of around $3,500 for the full kit, including cameras. If you already have a ton of GoPro cameras kicking about, you’ll be able to save some cash by buying the Omni kit without the cameras, too.

Samsung is going big on VR, too, with Google Street View compatible pictures spawned by its Gear 360 camera

While it is exciting that it’s possible to use these relatively high-quality GoPro cameras for VR purposes, I can’t help but wonder whether it might be too little, too late; there are a lot of other VR cameras in the marketplace already, with more being launched on an almost-weekly basis. GoPro is going to be feeling the pressure from all sides.

The bottom end of the 360-degree-video market is well-served by established players like Ricoh’s Theta S,  Kodak’s SP360 action camera and Samsung’s Gear 360.

Got $150K handy? This 42-camera rig will give you a gigapixel worth of resolution. Woof.

In addition to the incumbents, there are a host of smaller startups, including 360 Fly, the $800 Bublcam, the upcoming $1,000 Vuze camera, the $500 Allie Home camera, Sphericam’s $3,000 second-generation 360 camera and Giroptic’s $500 360cam.

What all these cameras have in common is that they are all-in-one solutions that deliver video that’s ready to use. That makes them vastly easier and faster in a production environment: they don’t have the challenges inherent in multi-camera setups, and its operators won’t need to collect several memory cards, sync, stitch and render the video before it’s ready for editing.

GoPro is going to be feeling the pressure on the high end as well. You can easily spend $150,000 on a high-end off-the-shelf 360-degree video rig, and if you’re going the custom-built route, the sky is the limit: There are plenty of experts in Hollywood who will build anything you want. None of that might sound like a true challenger — $150,000 is a lot more than $4,500 — but the truth is that there are much more affordable solutions available — and they are dropping in price rapidly.

Squeezed from all sides

Using the six 4k cameras in an Omni rig will give you a lot more resolution to play with than an all-in-one camera, and the product may just hit the sweet spot for the rapidly expanding VR video crowd, but in placing itself in this exact place in the market, the company is putting itself in a really scary place indeed: Not entry-level enough for mainstream, and not high-end enough for professionals.

The problem GoPro is facing is that they haven’t done anything innovative in a long time. The cameras are good enough, and becoming synonymous with action cameras won’t have done their sales any harm, but at the heart of it, GoPro is essentially selling commodity hardware at a tremendous markup. Sales figures — and its corresponding stock price challenges — are telling a story all its own.

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Going after the VR market seems shrewd; it is the hottest thing in tech, and has been for a little while. There is some market fit as well: There is a sub-section of VR that is related to the action sports market, which is good news for the company, but I doubt the once-mighty GoPro brand can save them here.

Without a history of innovation on the camera side (Hero Session doesn’t count), and no evidence of a high-quality all-in-one solution in the pipeline, GoPro is between a rock and a hard place. The cheaper, simpler all-in-one cameras are a credible threat for many use cases, and as quality (and especially resolution) improves, defending a multi-camera set-up is going to get harder and harder. Simultaneously, the high-end multi-camera solutions will be dropping in price, and become a good alternative for users who are playing the quality über alles game.

Launching a six-camera setup rig like the Omni is a ballsy move, I’ll give them that, but I can’t help but feel that this is a short-term play in a long-term industry. It may help a little bit, but in order to survive in this market, they’d better have something far more impressive up their sleeve, and soon.

 


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‘Moments’ Are Selling The Promise Of VR Right Now

22:23 | 27 November

When explaining some of the nuances of virtual reality to friends and family, they want to hear about the “games” or the “apps.” Yes, full experiences, or “titles” are an exciting part about any platform’s growth. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many full titles that are going to get people excited yet. Yes, there are some great games adapted for the Gear VR, there are amazing immersive and visually stunning games on HTC’s Vive and the Oculus, but it’s the simple “moments” that are getting people excited, I’ve found.

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These moments are nothing more than demos of what’s to come, but shouldn’t be skipped or dismissed.

One such moment is the Golden State Warriors playing around with 360 degree immersive content. Again. It’s a small step, but as per usual, the Silicon Valley-area team is doing cool stuff with technology before any other professional team.

Check out this video…not a full immersive experience, just a moment, involving Steph Curry getting prepped for a game this week:

Facebook’s adoption of 360 degree video is doing wonders for getting people stoked about the possibilities in virtual reality. It’s moments like these that will get people interested and more importantly, coming back for more. Once you see the pre-game prep like this, why would you want to watch it any other way?

If you’re a diehard fan, you probably wouldn’t.

The video made you feel as if you were there along with the other photographers capturing Steph’s unique pre-game paces. Sure, you can’t do anything with the video other than watch and scroll around to different vantage points…but imagine a fully immersive experience from the NBA where you could choose any number of cameras to watch a game from, including from the “bench.” I mean, that’s a vantage point that I’d pay money to watch.

It’s coming, and the little moments along the way that get us there will make sure that there’s a sizable audience to appreciate it. Make people want more, not get overwhelmed with tons of options. So far, so good.

 


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Topics from 1 to 2 | in all: 2

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