Friday, May 13, 2016

ELI5: Intro to 360 Video



I had a discussion with journalist / vlogger @108morris108 (across 14 time zones!) and we talked about how the video landscape is changing with 360-degree videos.  Among the topics we discussed are:

  • why 360 videos are significant and how they can make a difference for viewers (beyond the novelty factor)
  • some of the challenges with 360 videos;
  • some camera suggestions.

Here is a link to the video.

Isle of Man TT motorcycle race to be livestreamed in 360



The Isle of Man TT, one of the most important and exciting motorcycle races, will be livestreamed in 360 thanks to a partnership between the Isle of Man Government, 360Fly and Livit app.  On-bike 360-degree videos will be shown on YouTube (on Isle of Man TT's channel and 360fly's channel) and Facebook (Isle of Man TT and 360fly).  There will also be a livestream on Livit from the race paddock and the pressroom.  They will be using the 2nd generation 360fly 4k camera, which ships on May 17.


Here is the official announcement, and here is a sample 360 video from the 2016 Isle of Man TT press launch:

Detu Twin 360 is a Ricoh Theta clone


This camera may look familiar.  It's the Twin 360, an upcoming 360-degree camera which looks like a clone of the popular Ricoh Theta S:

Ricoh Theta S (with Tiltpod)

It is to be made by Detu, makers of the Sphere 800 and the soon-to-be-launched Detu F4 (a 360-degree camera with supposedly 8k resolution).

Details on the Twin 360 have not yet been announced, however I spotted this photo at a trade event:
 

It's very hard to read the low resolution image but it seems that the Twin 360 will have 1080p video (see blue arrow below), and will have some type of Wi-Fi capability (see green arrow):

While the 1080p video resolution is nominally the same as that of the Theta, I would not jump to the conclusion that they have the same image quality.

For related posts on Detu, click here, or on one of the labels/tags below the sharing buttons.

Sample videos from Nokia OZO 3D 360-degree VR camera



Nokia just posted some samples from the Nokia OZO, their professional 3D 360-degree camera!

Red Rocks:


A ride in the Corvette in a racetrack:


What do you think of the image quality?

Thanks to @MikeCane (Atomic Supermen) for spotting this!

More information about the OZO:

Thursday, May 12, 2016

3D 360 camera Vuze Pre-Orders Have Officially Begun


Vuze is the first affordable 3D 360-degree camera with 4k resolution (previewed here) and preorders for the general public have now begun, with delivery in October.  Originally, the price was announced as "under $1,000."  During the pre-order, the price is $799, and that includes a complete package with a custom selfie-stick/tripod, VR headset, app, and video editing software.



If you had signed up on their website or if you're a regular reader of our site, you could have availed of an early-bird preorder a month ago.  Since orders are fulfilled on a first-come first-served basis, now's the time to preorder it if you haven't already done so.

For related posts on the Vuze camera, including sample videos, click here or on one of the labels/tags below the sharing buttons.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Cube 360 camera gets reviewed





Action camera website Pevly posted a detailed roast review of the Cube 360 camera (previewed here).  Sadly, his experience was not much better than mine with the X360.


For video, the camera supposedly has several viewing modes, from circular fisheye to hemispherical to "segmentation mode" to panorama.  But those views are only for previews.  The video is recorded in only one mode: circular fisheye.  In that regard, at least the X360 really does record in several modes, including a YouTube-ready equirectangular format.


While the Cube360 was advertised as having still photo capability, reviewer Alessio discovered that the photo capability consisted of requiring the user to take screenshots from their phone.  By contrast, the X360 does have an actual photo mode and does generate watercolor paintings "photos."


However, Alessio made no mention of any tendency for the camera to crash, which was the biggest problem of the X360 camera.


Check out Pevly's review for the gory details of the Cube 360.

360° Aerial Photos of Fireworks at Russia's Victory Day Parade

Aerial 360 photos are often amazing but this one is just spectacular.  AirPano captured some breathtaking 360-degree aerial panoramas of fireworks at Russia's Victory Day Parade. 



Courtesy of www.AirPano.com






Check out the rest of the series here!

Facebook support for 360 photos coming very soon!



Facebook has had support for 360 videos for a while now, but had no native support for 360 photos.  However, according to Slashgear, Facebook will be adding support for 360 photos very soon:


"Facebook 360 Photos will arrive in the next few weeks, supporting uploading a 360 or panoramic image from a smartphone or 360-degree camera like Samsung's Gear 360 or Ricoh's Theta S. That content can be viewed by dragging the photo around with a finger or mouse, or - if you're using the Facebook mobile app - by tilting your phone around.
If you have Gear VR, though, you'll be able to load the image and move your head to look around it."


This is fantastic news and will further increase the momentum for 360 / VR photos and videos.

PSA: B&H's Virtual Reality and 360° Video Live Panel Discussion begins at 2pm ET today

Just a reminder that B&H Photo Video will be hosting a Virtual Reality and 360° Video Live Panel Discussion at 2pm ET today.  Panelists will be:
  • Alex Chechelnitsky.  Head of Production, Koncept VR
  • Ben Nunez.  President, Littlstar
  • Douglas Sonders.  Co-Founder, 8112 Studios
  • PJ Morreale.  Head of YouVisit Studios
Here's the link:

If you're watching on iOS mobile, take note you'll need Flash.  So use the Puffin browser or other Flash-compatible browser for iOS.


Tweet your questions with the hashtag #BHPhotoLive


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Smoovie Stabilizer Now More 360-Friendly!

image by Smoovie

The creators of the Smoovie stabilizer just announced that they've added a much-requested modification that will make their stabilizer even more useful for 360-degree cameras.  With a little less than 48 hours left on its Kickstarter campaign, Smoovie has thus far raised 12 times its original goal.  Instead of resting on its laurels, Smoovie has actually listened to backers (including yours truly) who have requested a feature that would be very useful for 360-degree cameras: the ability to connect the Smoovie to a monopod or selfie-stick.


The ability to connect the Smoovie to a monopod or selfie stick is incredibly helpful for 360-degree cameras because on 360 cameras, distances are exaggerated.  Having to hold the Smoovie with the regular handle moves your hand much closer to the camera, which exaggerates its size.  A standard technique for avoiding gigantic hands or thumbs is to move farther away from the camera.  Allowing the Smoovie to connect to a monopod or selfie stick does exactly that.






image by Smoovie


By putting a 1/4-20 tripod mount in the middle of the handle rather than the end of it, the Smoovie creators were able to make a simple modification that would add nothing to the cost, nor create delays, and they can preserve the ergonomic design of their handle.

I'm very glad I supported this campaign and am really looking forward to using the Smoovie!  If you haven't supported the project yet, now's your chance.  This is one of the most affordable yet effective stabilizers for compact 360-degree cameras.

Official Samsung Gear 360 Instructions / Tutorial



Samsung posted a tutorial for their popular Gear 360 camera.  The instructions assume that you have a compatible smartphone.  If you don't, you can still use the Gear 360, with limitations.  See here.  Hopefully they will post the manual in PDF eventually.

Samsung Gear 360 pre-orders in the US and UK



You can now pre-order the Samsung Gear 360 in the US and UK from retailer MobileFun.  The US site, MobileFun.com, lists the price as $360.99.  The UK site, MobileFun.co.uk, lists the price as £299.99


Sammobile.com says MobileFun UK is expecting the stock in mid-June.




Thanks to @MikeCane (Atomic Supermen blog) for letting me know about this!

8k 360 Camera Detu F4 World Premiere on May 18



The Detu F4 (previewed here), a 360-degree camera which is claimed to have 8k resolution at 24 fps or 4k at 60fps will have its world premiere on May 18, 2016 1:30 pm Pacific Time.  Here is the official website for the launch.  It says "See the world's every degree.  Detu F4 professional VR camera global premiere."

Thank you very much to Andre Pariente for pointing out this info to me!

Oculus Rift Demo: a Truly Immersive Experience



I had never tried a "real" VR system until today, when I got to demo the Oculus Rift.  Although I have a lot of experience with 3D photos and videos, Google Cardboard, and 360-degree cameras, I was still very impressed.  It was the first time I truly felt as though I had been transported to another environment.

The demo consisted of two parts: the first part consisted of a series of vignettes meant to get you used to experiencing VR.  The second part was a demo of a rock climbing game, the Climb.

WHAT IT FELT LIKE

When I wore the headset, I saw a modern living room.  Although the graphics were not photorealistic, for the briefest moment, my mind was fooled into thinking that I truly was there, in that living room.  Everything looked like it had the correct proportions and perspective that you would expect if you had been in such a living room, looking around.  Then I "remembered" that it was just a demo.  But even after the initial shock wore off, I still felt like I was there.  Rather than feeling like I was using a device to see a room, it felt transparent and the Rift melted away, as though I was physically there, looking around at the room (not at the Rift) with my own eyes.

One analogy I would make is like the difference between a daydream and a dream.  When you daydream, you know you're daydreaming and you're more aware of your body where it physically is. If I asked you where you are, you would respond, "Right here!"  But when you're dreaming, you're usually not aware of your body in the bed.  Instead, you feel like you are in the location that you're dreaming of.  If someone could ask you where you are, you would respond with whatever location you were dreaming about.

I'm not saying the Rift felt as real as being in a dream, but it did fool my mind into "feeling" that I was in that room.  It was very impressive, considering that my logical brain was constantly reminding me it was just a demo, and there was a sales rep beside me, talking to me and guiding me through the demo.  Yet it still felt like I was in that digital living room.  I think that, to my mind, the perspective of the room was sufficiently convincing that it felt more real than my actual physical location.  To be fair, I am somewhat visually oriented, and I don't know if a person who is auditorily or tactilely oriented would have been similarly immersed.

Another observation: if I recall a time when I'm watching TV or Google Cardboard, I recall the feeling of looking at the TV or watching something through Cardboard.  If I try to recall the experience of being a Rift, the memory seems very similar to the memory of a dream (but again, I'm not saying that it's as real as a dream).

THE DEMOS

As I said, I believe the feeling of being there had nothing to do with the realism of the graphics.  The first demo was a digital forest, which reminded me of the Google Cardboard demo "Artic Journey."  The graphics were very simple.  About as simple as the graphics of the first Playstation.  Yet, to me, it still felt like I was in that digital forest.

The next demo scene looked like the surface of the moon, with a humanoid alien in front of me.  Although the surface of the virtual world was rough, with bumps and dips, contrasting with the smooth floor at Best Buy, the illusion of immersiveness was maintained.

Another demo showed a small city in front of me.  Again, the graphics were as simple as those of the Playstation.  Moreover, I sort of recall that I was supposed to be in the clouds looking at the city.  Obviously, the floor felt nothing like the clouds in the scene, but again, it still felt like I was there.

In the next vignette, I was transported to the top of a tall skyscraper, on a narrow ledge.  This was an interesting demo because you could peer over the ledge, and it genuinely felt a little scary to step over the edge, even though again my left brain was telling me it was just a demo.

Finally, there was a scene of a museum hallway where a Tyrannosaurus Rex enters and begins charging at you.  The T-rex was impressively modeled, but the strongest impression I got was how the hallway felt.  Again, although it fell short of a photorealistic hallway, it truly felt like I was in that hallway.

THE CLIMB

The second part of the Oculus demo was to try the Climb, a rock climbing game.  Here is the trailer for the game:



What was most interesting to me about this game is that when my character fell off the cliff, my body had a physical reaction similar to how you feel when you have a dream about falling, and for a moment it feels like truly falling, even though you're just in bed.  It felt more or less like that.  Not just the first time I fell, but even on the second and third time that my character fell.

At the end of the demo, I took off the headset and the sales rep said, "Welcome back!"  To an observer unfamiliar with virtual reality, the greeting may have sounded strange or even cheesy.  But it was absolutely appropriate because I really did feel that I was coming back from a trip.

COMPARISON TO GOOGLE CARDBOARD AND GEAR VR

So, how similar is the Oculus Rift to the Google Cardboard and Gear VR?  To me, they're similar in concept, but in actual feeling, they are completely different.

With Google Cardboard, it feels more like looking at a 3D TV, in my opinion.  I don't feel immersed, and it feels nothing at all like the Oculus Rift.  Please note, I 'm not trashing the Cardboard.  I still think it's awesome, and in my opinion, VR owes a lot of its growth to the humble Cardboard.  But if you think you know have an idea of what VR is like simply because you've used Cardboard, I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

I'm not an expert on the Gear VR, but I did get to try it.  In my opinion, the Gear VR is significantly better than the Cardboard.  I don't know exactly why, but it feels more immersive.  It might be because of the responsiveness of the head-tracking.  I don't know.  All I know is that to me, it feels more immersive than the Cardboard.  Having said that, it feels only slightly like the Oculus Rift.  Nonetheless, if I had a compatible Samsung phone, I would undoubtedly get a Gear VR.  Besides the access to apps, I feel it is significantly better than Cardboard.  (But please note, my Cardboard viewers are only low end ones).  UPDATE: I've since gotten a Gear VR and determined why it feels different from Cardboard - reviewed here.

WHAT ABOUT HTC VIVE AND PLAYSTATION VR?

During the demos, I was able to move around a very small space (essentially, one step in any direction).  This gave me the impression that the room-scale VR of the HTC Vive would be much better, and the difference in cost would be totally worth it, in my opinion.

However, I don't think a system's technical superiority would be sufficient for it to dominate its category.  I would prefer to play a game that is fun on a system that is less immersive, than to play a game that is less fun on a system that is more immersive.

Which system would have the best games?  It's far too early to say.  I speculate that Playstation VR will have a much larger user base, which would mean that all other things being equal, developers would prefer to develop for the PSVR.  If so, it may mean that the PSVR may have a larger library of games.  On the other hand, I have never tried the PSVR, so I would withhold judgment until I actually try it and see their games.

In any case, trying out the Oculus demo has made a VR believer out of me.  I'm very much looking forward to getting a VR system (or two or three).


Monday, May 9, 2016

What's the difference between 360 and VR? Here's a true VR camera!


These days, 360 and "VR" (virtual reality) are terms that are often used interchangeably.  Part of it is undoubtedly due to the popularity of VR.  But 360 panoramas are not VR, even if it's a stereoscopic (3D) 360 panorama.  As they say, a picture is a thousand words, so the difference is most easily understood through a sample of an actual VR "photo" here.

Matterport 3D camera

The VR "photo" was taken by the Matterport 3D camera.  The Matterport not only takes photos but also captures depth information.  Because it can capture depth, it can create an actual 3D model of the space.  In turn, this allows a viewer to move around the "photo."  That's something you can't do with a 360 panorama, even a stereoscopic one.  I hesitate to even call the Matterport's images photos -- I would say they are more akin to 3D models, with photos mapped to it (photomodels perhaps?).




One issue with the Matterport is that it has to rotate to capture a space.  In short, it is analogous to a smartphone (or regular camera) taking a 360-degree photo by rotating it, except the Matterport records the depth information as well.  In addition, to get a good 3D model, the Matterport needs to be moved to different locations in the space so that it can capture different points of view.  It works very well for real estate and stationary spaces, but it cannot be used for capturing action scenes in [true] VR.


Lytro Immerge
​Is there a camera that records spatial depth like the Matterport but also does it in 360?  Yes.  That's the premise behind the Lytro Immerge, which should in theory be able to do what the Matterport does, except to do it in 360 degrees.  But even the Lytro Immerge can only capture a scene from one point of view.  To allow a viewer to move around objects in the scene, a camera like the Lytro Immerge would also need to capture information from multiple locations, as with the Matterport.  Alternatively, you could use several spatially-aware cameras working in sync, as in the famous Microsoft holoportation demo.




This gives you an idea of the difficulty of creating a true VR camera for the masses.  It will be a long while before this technology trickles down to the casual photographers.  So, in the meantime, we can make do with 360 panoramas and 360 videos.  Even if you call them "VR," I personally think it's not a big deal because there's minimal risk of confusing them with true VR given that true VR photomodels are still very rare.




Until then, enjoy some more VR photomodels from the Matterport here!

TECHNIQUE: How to Turn Your Photos Into 360° Photo Collages



A 360-degree photo can be used not only to capture a scene in 360 degrees, but also to present conventional photos as an immersive 360-degree photosphere.  Here is a sample, where I used photos of our daughter growing up:




Post from RICOH THETA. #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA



It's actually very easy.  Here's how to do it.


1.  Create a canvas that has a ratio of 2:1 (the width is exactly twice the height).  It can be a blank canvas or you can fill it with a pattern*.  Alternatively, you can open an existing 360-degree photo in equirectangular JPEG format.



*Note that if you use a pattern or other non-360 image, it will converge and be distorted at the top and bottom of the photosphere.



Here is the sample photo I used as my canvas:




2.  Use any photo editor (e.g. Photoshop) to paste your photos onto the canvas but stay within the middle 1/3 or middle 1/5th band.  If you paste it farther above or below that, the photo will look too distorted.




3.  Upload or open the resulting photo in a 360-degree viewer or app.  That's all!



Getting fancy:

Suppose you want to create a complete photosphere, with photos even at the top and at the bottom.  That's possible too with the help of software such as Pano2VR, which I'll post about next time.

Using a Samsung Gear 360 Without a Smartphone



One of the hottest 360-degree cameras right now is Samsung's Gear 360.  When Samsung began accepting preorders for it in Korea, they reportedly sold out within minutes.  On eBay, it has been sold at up to $200 over its Korean MSRP.  But one of the drawbacks of the Gear 360 is that it is compatible with only recent high-end Samsung Galaxy phones, namely the Samsung Galaxy S6, S6 edge, S6 edge+, Note5, S7, and S7edge.



As with other 360-degree cameras, connecting to a smartphone allows the user not only to shoot remotely, but also control the exposure, and share photos and videos to social media.  Not having a compatible smartphone is a serious disadvantage.  Ordinarily, that would be a dealbreaker, but the Gear 360 has an ace up its sleeve: preliminary reports and samples seem to show that the Gear 360 has one of the best, if not the best, image quality for video among consumer 360 cameras as of the moment.



Here are some sample videos.



Suppose you wanted the Samsung Gear 360, but don't have a compatible smartphone.  What can you do with the Samsung Gear 360 without a smartphone?



The Gear 360 has a power button, menu button, and shutter.  Pressing the menu button cycles through several options, pressing the shutter works as entering the option, and pressing the power button cancels or goes back to the previous menu.



Here are the menu options:
  • Photo mode (2 second self-timer by default)
  • Video mode
  • Time lapse mode
  • Video looping mode
  • Switch between 360 degrees to 180 degrees front lens to 180 degrees rear lens (under Settings)
The self-timer can be changed from 2, 5 or 10 seconds.  This makes it somewhat possible to shoot from a distance.  In the settings menu, you can also change the resolution and quality.


(Thanks to Steve Shew for the info on the menus!)



SHARING YOUR PHOTOS
What about sharing your photos?  If your smartphone has a Micro SD card slot, you may be able to download photos that way.  Once downloaded, there are several apps that you can use to view and share a 360-degree photo or video.


Otherwise, you'll have to download to your desktop.  Please note that the included desktop software is Windows only.  If you have a Mac, you may be able to edit the video in equirectangular format on iMovie or Final Cut.  You just need to edit the metadata so that sites such as YouTube can recognize it as a 360-degree video.  If you have a Mac, you can only download the video in raw form, which shows two circular fisheyes.  The raw form cannot be processed using the Theta360 app.  (Thanks to Paul Gailey for pointing this out!)  UPDATE: The raw video can be stitched in Autopano Video.  See here.


Will Samsung add compatibility with other smartphones in the future?  In my opinion, it seems doubtful.  True, there are Samsung apps on the iOS App Store (such as the Samsung Camera Manager for controlling Samsung NX cameras).  However, Samsung seems to be more closed when it comes to VR and 360.  Specifically, they haven't opened the Milk VR app to other Android phones, even though it is technically possible.  Meanwhile, is it possible to use the Samsung Gear 360 without a compatible Samsung smartphone?  Yes, with several limitations.