On Tuesday, Facebook showed off its most recent technological development; a high quality, 360-degree camera made specifically with the intention of creating virtual reality videos.
The camera, called the Facebook Surround 360 system, debuted at the F8 developers conference. The set-up includes a production-ready camera (valued at around US$30,000 just to produce) that involves an entire disk of cameras facing every direction as well as the necessary software for both controlling the camera and combining what it sees into one cohesive virtual reality scene.
“In designing this camera, we wanted to create a professional-grade end-to-end system that would capture, edit, and render high-quality 3D-360 video,” explained Facebook’s director of engineering, Brian K. Cabral. “In doing so, we hoped to meaningfully contribute to the 3D-360 landscape by creating a system that would enable more VR content producers and artists to start producing 3D-360 video.”
The Facebook Surround 360 will certainly help to bolster efforts to create VR content, though camera manufacturers likely won’t have to worry about Facebook horning in on their business.
“Facebook isn’t trying to sell lots of $30,000 360-degree cameras, but rather to make it easier for everyone to make really high-quality 360-degree videos,” explained chief analyst for Jackdaw Research Jan Dawson.
Michael Goodman, director for digital media at Strategy Analytics, concurred: “It’s not like GoPro camera… It’s not the kind of thing you’re going to take on your family vacation.”
That much seemed obvious; the camera is a highly valued, heavy and cumbersome set up that will likely interest few but the most virtual-reality-aspiring video aficionados. That said, Facebook’s willingness to offer up its plans for the camera and its code for the software for free on the popular developers’ website GitHub will perhaps enable the development of improved and more portable setups.
“We’re open-sourcing the camera and the software to accelerate the growth of the 3D-360 ecosystem– developers can leverage the designs and code, and content creators can use the camera in their productions,” explained Cabral.
the 3D-360 ecosystem could definitely use a kick from such a powerful company. After all, few people are interested or able to make VR content, and not many more have any way to access such material.
“Right now, 36o cameras have a very unique proposition,” explained Glenn Hower, an analyst for Parks Associates. “Traditional 2D content isn’t going to go away any time soon… That doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for VR content, but it creates a different value than you get from television or cinema.”
Jackdaw’s Dawson thinks that Facebook is hoping to bolster VR in an effort to bolster its own brand:
“360-degree videos are a big new category of video on Facebook, along with live videos, and are important to its VR initiatives like Oculus Rift and Gear VR as one of the two major content categories along with games.”
Zuckerberg is on record saying that he believes that VR will open doors in terms of a completely new social and technological frontier; and as Facebook’s CEO, he’s going to want to make sure he’s first in line to get a piece of that world if it comes into being. Only time will tell.