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Main article: 360 video

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Twitter for Apple TV adds live, 360 degree video and Periscope’s global map

22:08 | 24 May

Twitter launched a version of its service on Apple TV and other media player platforms last fall in order to deliver its live video content to the big screen. Today, the company is updating its Apple TV app with a couple of new features, including support for Periscope’s Global Map and the ability to watch live 360 degree videos.

The company notes that, with this launch, Twitter is the first Apple TV app to support live 360 degree video.

To try out the new feature, Apple TV owners will use the Siri remote to move around the video to view its content from different angles, offering a more immersive look into the scene.

To date, Twitter’s TV applications – which are also now available on Fire TV, Xbox One and, most recently, Roku – have been designed to feature Twitter’s live video content, much of it coming from the company’s numerous content deals. For example, Twitter earlier this month announced a series of new live shows, including those from the WNBA, BuzzFeed, Viacom, Live Nation, and others. With the additions, Twitter met its goal of being able to offer users live video 24 hours a day.

However, live video content on Twitter doesn’t just come from Twitter’s premium partnerships – there’s also user-generated video to explore, streamed through its Periscope app or directly from users’ tweets. The company says that during the first quarter of 2017, there were 77 million hours of live user-generated video broadcast on Twitter.

To stream live in 360 degrees, Periscope users can take advantage of tools like Periscope Producer, which works with the Ricoh Theta S or the Orah 4i; or they can use attachable smartphone cameras like the Insta360 Nano for iOS devices, or the Insta360 Air.

Apple TV users can also now explore the added Periscope map to find other user-generated content from around the world, including both 360 degree live videos and otherwise.

These new features are rolling out now to Apple TV devices through the Twitter app update.

However, the updated Apple TV app isn’t the only upgrade arriving today. Some users are seeing a new option to connect their Twitter app with Apple TV via the app’s Settings. Enabling this allows you see your Twitter account on the Apple TV.

Asked for more information about this feature, Twitter declined to comment.



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

— 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.



This crazy $30,000 drone gives your 360° video wings

22:19 | 7 November

One problem with 360° videos is that you usually see a tripod or a hand holding the camera. One exception is the throwable Panono camera, but obviously you’re limited to how long you can keep a ball hovering. Varavon has another alternative, with a three-axis-stabilized gimbal drone that can film a full 360° sphere without being visible in the picture itself.

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As a result, the drone can record footage that is extremely difficult to get in any other way. Because of the stabilizer, the drone can move freely in space without upsetting the video footage. Incredibly clever stuff.

When I spoke to the manufacturers, they said they hadn’t set a final price for the device yet, but suggested that it would be priced for professional use. “Expect the price to be around $30,000,” I was told. Which is pretty bold, considering that a competitor is available for about one- fifth that price.

Either way, the VR Gimbal drone from Varavon should be available later this year; for now, however, check out a demo video of it in action.



The future of mobile video is virtual reality

17:00 | 30 August

Mike Wadhera Crunch Network Contributor

Mike Wadhera is the founder of Teleport.

More posts by this contributor:
  • The Information Age is over; welcome to the Experience Age
How to join the network

After the dust settles, the real takeaway from Instagram’s cloning of Snapchat is that the connected camera revolution is just beginning. Instagram Stories sends a powerful message to hundreds of millions of people for the first time: No moment is too small to capture with your smartphone camera.

A cult classic for many in the VR community, the 1995 film Strange Days shares a vision of a future where you could re-live a memory from the viewpoint of anyone equipped with a wearable recording device. You also could play back your own recordings whenever you chose and as often as you wanted. And when you played a recording back, you could follow the action with the freedom to look around.

The technology as depicted in the film  —  which had a dark side to be sure —  is far off, if ever fully obtainable.

But in a world where no moment is too small to record with a mobile sensor, and one in which time spent in virtual reality keeps going up, interesting parallels start to emerge with our smartphones and headsets.

Let’s look at how the future could play out in the real world by observing three key drivers: VR video adoption, mobile-video user needs and the smartphone camera rising tide.

VR video is already the first “million hours” app

Virtual reality content can be created in two ways.

The first is with 3D graphics authored in desktop software. This is how immersive content such as VR games and interactive experiences are made.

Another approach is VR video, which captures moments of reality by recording the physical world with an array of cameras. At the low end is monoscopic (2D) 180° video; at the high end is stereoscopic (3D) 360° video. VR video also encompasses next-generation light-field video, which many consider to be the holy grail, enabling you to move around the scene freely without having your motions constricted.

The important part is that no matter the format, pre-rendered VR video can’t reach the immersion of real-time 3D graphics  —  yet despite this fact, the adoption curve for VR video is staggering. Oculus recently announced that people had already watched more than three million hours of video in Samsung’s Gear VR. Even if you doubt VR video’s ability to deliver on the ultimate promise of the technology, the adoption for such a young medium is impressive.

Immersion is the next frontier in mobile video

Mobile-video sharing continues its sharp climb. One helpful way to understand where we are and where we’re going is to frame mobile-video sharing in terms of users’ core needs:  immediacy, authenticity and immersion.

The market opportunity for immersion

The oldest and most basic user need is immediacy, or the ability to access content in real time, which is rooted in our consumption of broadcast TV and radio media. This need helps explain the explosion of live video in the past 18 months, most notably the growth of Facebook Live and When people think about mobile video, they often start and stop at immediacy. As a result, immediacy features are often overvalued, in some cases to the detriment of usability. For example, Meerkat’s lack of playback greatly limited engagement on the platform.

Today’s best mobile-video apps make you feel like you’re there watching, but tomorrow’s apps will feel like you’re participating.

The continued push toward filtered social feeds has created greater demand for new ways to be authentic online. It’s the reason Instagram copied Snapchat and it’s often the key motivator for users adopting mobile video, as content is created in a spontaneous and unfiltered fashion.

Beme is a great example of a mobile-video app designed specifically with authenticity in mind: videos are instantly shared, without preview (a black screen is shown when you start recording). Similar to disappearing messages, it’s a smart approach to subvert the curated self.

While authenticity is being at least addressed, immersion is being largely ignored. Today’s best mobile-video apps make you feel like you’re there watching, but tomorrow’s apps will feel like you’re participating via teleportation. Take, for example, Snapchat’s Story Explorer: When browsing a Live Story, you can “dive in” to the event by swiping up to see more Snaps from other perspectives.

Could mobile-VR headsets such as Google’s Daydream bring the immersion to new heights? Snapchat could conceivably leverage built-in head tracking and controller technologies to let you jump around and even rewind or fast-forward in time. Today the content would be limited to 2D, but advances in underlying camera hardware could quickly change that.

The smartphone camera is a rising tide

The runaway success of the smartphone has created unprecedented economies of scale for hardware manufacturers. As a result, camera modules have consistently become smaller and cheaper since the launch of the iPhone. Chris Anderson calls this “the peace dividend of the smartphone war.”

Apple has more than 800 engineers working across camera hardware and software teams. It’s rumored the next iPhone will feature a pioneering dual-lens powered zoom.

Lenovo Phab 2 Pro: The first smartphone with four cameras

As the cost of components is falling and innovation is accelerating, the smartphone camera is being lifted by a rising tide of technology.

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Samsung has taken a wearables approach to VR video creation with their standalone Gear 360 camera. But is it unreasonable to expect integrated 360° video recording on an upcoming Samsung Galaxy smartphone? Fast-forward several generations of convergence: Could light-field video cameras come down orders of magnitude in cost and size, such that they could make their way on to our smartphones?

This rising tide is great fuel for speculation, but one thing is for sure: When VR video capture becomes possible on mobile, the demand for VR video will meet the supply of billions of smartphone users who are now recording both big and small moments of their lives.

This will be a major leap for the Experience Age and create a positive feedback loop between mobile and VR — which is one way virtual reality could shift from a promising demo to a truly mainstream technology. Get your camera ready.

Featured Image: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg/Getty Images



Facebook open sources 360 Surround camera with Ikea-style instructions

20:00 | 26 July

Facebook needs you to fill its News Feed, Oculus Rift, and Gear VR with 360 content. So today it put all the hardware and software designs of its Surround 360 camera on Github, after announcing the plan in April. Thanks to cheeky instruction manual inspired by Ikea’s manuals, you can learn how to buy the parts, assemble the camera, load the image-stitching software, and start shooting 360 content.

Essentially 17 cameras on a UFO-looking stick, the 360 Surround camera can be built for about $30,000 in parts. The 4-megapixel lenses can shoot 4K, 6K, or 8K 360 video, and fisheye lenses on the top and bottom remove the blindspots. Facebook forced a random engineer to try to build the 360 Surround from the open source instructions, and found it took about four hours.

“We set out to open source this and accelerate the development of this ecosystem and capturing 360 video. We believe it’s the first camera to be fully open sourced end-to-end” said Facebook’s director of engineering on the project Brian Cabral. “Build it yourself, modify it, make different versions — that’s the goal. We wanted to connect the world with rich, new media. This is how we can get there faster.”

Here’s a build video showing the 360 Surround coming together:

For the average consumer, the 360 Surround is surely too expensive and laborious compared to the ~$400 off-the-shelf models you can buy like the 360Fly or the Ricoh Theta.

Professionals who need an adaptable, portable, durable camera for commercial shoots would otherwise have to spend $60,000 for a Nokia Ozo, $15,000 for the Google Jump-powered GoPro Odyssey which is only in limited production, or wait for the Lytro Immerge. The 360 Surround is immediately available for construction with generally available parts, and can be tweaked to a creator’s needs.

As with Facebook’s other big open source initiatives like the Open Compute servers, React JavaScript library for building interfaces, it hopes developers customize the designs to their needs, but also contribute suggestions for changes that it can share with the community. “They can help improve our blueprints” Cabral tells me.

360 videos come out of the camera with little need for post-processing thanks to Facebook’s image stitching software and operators can even watch a low-resolution live preview of what it’s picking up. Those make it vastly quicker to get the perfect footage without the need to wait a day or more to check to processed data. Thanks to a special super-long cable, video directors can operate the camera from afar so they’re not in the shot.

Watching content shot on the 360 Surround is impressive. It’s remarkably sharp, especially when shooting in 8K. However, since some headsets like the Gear VR can’t process or stream that high of resolution fast enough, the Surround 360 offers dynamic streaming.

Imagery from two fisheye lenses on the bottom of the 360 Surround camera can be combined to remove the pole it stands on

This puts what you’re looking at in the headset in high definition 8K, but if you swing your head, you’ll see a lower resolution image for a second until that angle pops into HD. The lag is noticeable, but it’s all a smart tradeoff to provide an extra-sharp albeit limited window into another place.

One of the big problems with 360 and VR content is how tough it is to produce. That bottleneck means avid headset users may run out of top-notch experiences to view, and let theirs VR rigs gather dust. By catalyzing content creation, Facebook is widening the funnel into its VR distribution channels. The 360 Surround is especially adept at making great News Feed photos and videos that could attract users to Facebook since they can’t run on other social networks like Snapchat and twitter.

But for any of that to happen, the 360 Surround can’t be too daunting of a DIY project. So when asked if the assembly manual was directly inspired by Ikea’s black-and-white guides, Cabral chortled, saying “We made it accessible. We wanted it to be something somewhat familiar and clean. We didn’t really set out to do that but it just kind of evolved that way.”



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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