Saturday, May 21, 2016

Escape from zombies in this new Jaunt VR video!

Jaunt VR has a new video featuring an escape from a zombie apocalypse. The action-filled short film is in the first person point of view, and is in 3D 360. Check it out!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Littlstar adds 3D video capability

The Littlstar app was updated to add support for stereoscopic (3D) videos. However, I haven't found a sample 3D video yet.

Olympus TG-Tracker: Probably not a 360 camera

When the Japanese website Digicame-info spotted an upcoming announcement about the Olympus TG-Tracker, we didn't know what to expect.  I speculated that it could be a 360-degree camera.  Well, info about the TG-Tracker has leaked to DigiCame-Info, and it does not seem to be a 360-degree camera.  Here is the Google translation.

The specs show that the lens is a fisheye lens, with 204 degree field of view (the "lens" on top is actually a video light).  However, it is not clear whether it is a circular fisheye or a rectilinear fisheye.  If it is a circular fisheye then technically it could qualify as a hemispherical 360-degree camera, such as the Kodak SP360 4k, or the 360fly.  If it is a rectilinear fisheye, then it can't easily be converted to equirectangular view, which means that for all practical purposes, it would not be a 360-degree camera.

Edit: based on the lens hood, it is a rectilinear fisheye.

Why I got a Samsung Gear 360 even though I don't have a Samsung phone

The Samsung Gear 360 is one of the hottest 360-degree cameras right now.  However, it only connects to recent flagship Samsung phones (Galaxy S6 and above), and unlike traditional cameras, 360-degree cameras are highly dependent on smartphones for their controls. 

I use an iPhone and don't plan to switch to Android but I ordered the Gear 360 anyway.  No, I don't expect Samsung to change its mind and allow the Gear 360 to connect to other smartphones.  I get the impression that Samsung is trying to build a closed ecosystem, Apple style.

Related post: Using a Samsung Gear 360 Without a Smartphone

Here are some of the most significant issues and how I plan to deal with them:

1.  Remote.
If you take press the shutter on a 360-degree camera, your hands will be very close to the camera, which will make them look very large.  The standard solution is to use a remote to trigger the shutter so the photographer can move away from the camera.  The Gear 360 uses a smartphone as a remote (just like many other 360-degree cameras).  But even without a smartphone, you can use the self timer.  By activating the self-timer, you can trigger the shutter even while being away from the camera.  In fact, with my Ricoh Theta S, I almost always use the self-timer instead of using my phone as a remote trigger.  So, not being able to use a smartphone as a remote with the Gear 360 is not necessarily a dealbreaker for me.

2.  Live view.
Without a smartphone, you cannot see a preview of the image that the Gear 360 will be capturing.  However, I've been using the Theta since June 2015 and have since learned how to visualize what a 360-degree camera will capture.  With practice, you can too (although I admit it's much easier to learn when you have immediate feedback from live view).

3.  Exposure controls
Without a smartphone, you can't change the exposure of the Gear 360.  This is a headache.  Without exposure controls, I can't bracket, and I'm at the mercy of the camera's chosen exposure.  However, most of the time, I rely on auto exposure on the Ricoh Theta S.  It's not because of laziness, but rather because I've found that the Theta does a reasonable job of finding a good compromise for a chosen exposure.  As for the Gear 360, I haven't used one yet, but the sample shots I've seen seem to indicate that it also has a reasonably good exposure algorithm.  I've also used the Samsung NX500 extensively, which has the same DRIME Vs processor as the Gear 360, and I think I have a pretty good idea of what the exposure will be like.

4. Sharing
To transfer the Gear 360's photos and videos to your phone, you need their smartphone.  This is a major problem -- as much of a problem as the inability to change exposure.  On the Ricoh Theta S, I almost always handle all the processing on my phone.  This is not just out of convenience, but because on my phone, there are several very useful apps for editing 360-degree images and videos, that don't have equivalents for desktop.  Nonetheless, it is possible to edit the images on my phone.  I will need to download the photos from the Gear 360 to my desktop, upload them to the cloud (I use Google Photos) then download them to my camera for editing.  Yes it's very tedious, but it's doable.

5.  Value
This is the most important reason I'm getting the Gear 360.  Currently, there seems to be nothing better for consumers that is close to this price.  Yes the Ricoh Theta S is great but its video is meh.  The LG360Cam looks good, is just $200, and works with all phones.  But ultimately, it seems that the Gear 360 has better image quality.

Even if I have to buy a separate smartphone, I think the price would still be justifiable.  On eBay, I've seen several used S6 phones that can be bought for under $250 (with some damage).  If I find that I absolutely need a phone, then I'm willing to get a used phone.  A side benefit is that if I got an S6, I could get a Gear VR as well.  But hopefully I don't have to.

So I bit the bullet and ordered a Gear 360. I will of course post a detailed review, with a detailed comparison against the Ricoh Theta S.

Is this what VR cameras of the future will look like?

True VR cameras might be coming sooner than you think.

The 360-degree images we have from current 360-degree cameras are not true VR images.  Although headtracking allows us to look around a 360-degree image, a true VR image should let you move up, down, forward, backward, left or right, and your perspective would change accordingly.  Tracking this type of movement (positional tracking) is necessary to truly fool our senses into believing that we have been transported to another location (presence).

DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), the research agency of the U.S. Department of Defense, in cooperation with Nvidia, has developed a way to capture an environment that may be a preview of how VR cameras of the future could work.  DARPA's "Virtual Eye" uses two cameras that each capture not only light but also depth information.  By combining the data from the two cameras, the Virtual Eye can reconstruct a 3D model of the environment.

Here is a demo image:

On the lower right corner, you can see the layout of the room.  The two blue dots represent the positions of the two cameras.​  The moving gray dot represents the user's point of view. 

On the upper left corner, you see the image captured by the left camera.  On the upper right corner is the image from the right camera.  The image in the middle is the synthesized 3D view from the images from the left and right cameras.

As you can see, the perspective adjusts as the user moves the point of view.  This would qualify as a true VR image, albeit with a narrow point field of view.

What is interesting about the Virtual Eye technology is that it does not require exotic cameras.  Indeed, the demo appears to use two Xbox 360 Kinect cameras (which use infrared to sense depth):

DARPA believes they can implement this technology in the field within just two or three years.

Although DARPA doesn't say it, its technology has implications for consumers as well.  Using a similar approach, it may be possible for consumers to use two 360-degree cameras, with depth sensors, to create a 360-degree 3D model, which could be a true VR image.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Inside the Ricoh Theta S

The Fictiv blog has just posted a detailed teardown of the Ricoh Theta S.  Writer Sylvia Wu marveled at the engineering that went into the Theta:

"The optical train blew us away: It's unlike anything we've seen before. The product has really high build quality, although some features felt excessive, such as the lit-up power button. ... The optical train alone probably takes longer to assemble than some complete products."

One interesting tidbit is that the memory is MicroSD (yes, it is possible to replace it with a larger card).  Moreover, the MicroSD slot is facing outward, which seems to me like it would have been easy for Ricoh to create a Micro SD port.  But for whatever reason, they opted to keep it enclosed.

Anyway, check out Fictiv's post!

DPReview launches VR camera forum!

Digital Photography Review, the most popular digital photography website and largest photography forum in the world, has finally created a VR forum (shared with action cameras). 

I asked for one 2 months ago but they didn't respond:

But finally they've listened!  Anyway, I will be checking out the VR forum from time to time.  My user name on DPR is creadvty.

Lower cost and cinema versions of Google Jump coming this year

The Google Jump is a 3D, 360-degree camera rig design that's been used by companies such as GoPro in the Odyssey camera.  It has amazing image quality but costs about $15,000.

At the 2016 Google I/O developers' conference, Google announced that Yi, makers of the famous XiaoMi Yi GoPro clone, will make a Google Jump rig available later this year, based on "their 4k camera."  By that I think they mean the recently released Xiaomi Yi II,  with a Sony IMX377 12mp 1/2.3-inch sensor.

It would very likely be a lower-cost version of the Google Jump, although there was no word on the price of the rig.   The current price of the Xiaomi Yi II is about $250, which at about half the cost of the Hero4 Black, may mean a rig that is about half the price of the GoPro Odyssey.

Google also announced that they will be working with IMAX on a cinema-grade Google Jump camera.  I speculate that this also implies that IMAX will also be working on an almost fully spherical movie theater (by comparison, the IMAX Dome / Omnimax is 180 degrees).

Thanks to @MikeCane (Atomic Supermen blog) for bringing this to my attention!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Global Premiere of Detu F4, an 8k 360-degree camera with livestreaming

Detu relaunched their website, which is now available in English, and provided information about its Detu F4 professional 360-degree camera.  Here are some highlights:

1.  The Detu F4 has four backside illuminated sensors with 49.6 megapixels total resolution and can capture video at 7680 x 3840 @ 24fps.

2.  Detu has a livestreaming unit that works with the Detu F4 to provide realtime 4k livestreaming.

3.  The main Detu F4 page shows sample videos.  Here is a screenshot of one of them (on Safari iOS, you can tap on the bottom right corner button to change the image quality.  The one on top is the highest ("super clear") image quality.

4.  Detu also showed a little bit of the Twin 360 (which looks like a Ricoh Theta clone), although there were no additional details.

Samsung Gear 360 under $400 on eBay

When resellers started selling the Samsung Gear 360 on eBay, they had been sold for as high as $550 ($200 over the ~$350 MSRP).  The price has now decreased to under $400 with free shipping:

In my opinion, it's not because of a drop in the Gear 360's popularity, but rather just scalpers knowing that the Gear 360 will be released in the US and elsewhere soon.  Currently, it seems to be mid-June.

Google Daydream: Gear VR for everyone else?

Google believes that VR should be "mobile, approachable, and for everyone."  At the Google I/O developers' conference, Google announced their next big move for VR: Daydream.  Rather than being a Google-made device, Daydream is an open platform for high-quality mobile VR. 

The Daydream platform consists of the following components:
  • Smartphone hardware specifications to ensure high frame rate and high resolution.  Smartphones that meet these specs will be considered "Daydream-ready."
  • Headset.
  • Controller: a wand-like controller with orientation sensors.  Looks somewhat like Playstation Move, but doesn't require an external camera to track its motion.
  • Apps: VR apps will appear in their own space in the smartphone, called Daydream Home.  From there, you will be able to view VR videos and launch VR apps.
Here is a video of the Daydream presentation at I/O 2016:

Google promises that Daydream-ready phones will be able to provide less than 20ms motion-to-photon latency (the delay from the head movement to the time you see the image move).  If that sounds familiar, it's because the Gear VR does have that capability as well, thanks to its technology from Oculus.  In fact, it appears that Daydream is like Google's version of Samsung's Gear VR.  

That's not necessarily a bad thing.  For me, Gear VR is noticeably better than Google Cardboard, but Gear VR has thus far been limited to compatibility with the latest flagship Samsung phones.  It would be great if there was a Gear VR clone that works with any Android phone, and I think that's exactly what Daydream seeks to do.

However, Google did not say much about the headset.  The Gear VR headset has electronics to provide more accurate head tracking.  It was not clear from the presentation whether the Daydream headset would also have such electronics.  If I had to guess, I would say probably not, or else they would have made a bigger deal out of it.

BTW, watching the video, I did not see evidence of positional tracking, so I would not expect that.

Daydream headsets and smartphones will be available Fall of 2016.

Reminder: Google I/O 2016 starts at 10am PST today

Just a reminder: Google I/O 2016 is starting shortly at 10am PST today.  You can watch the keynote in a 360 livestream on YouTube here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Facebook Surround 360 - Sample 360 Video

Facebook posted a 360 video sample from their Surround 360 camera rig.  It's a scene from New York's Grand Central station.  Check it out!  Or you can see it in full 3D in the Oculus Video app. 

What do you think of the video?

You Can Still Preorder Samsung Gear 360 from Adorama

Although the Gear 360 is already being sold in Korea and Singapore since April 29, it has yet to be available in the US (except through resellers).  Meanwhile, online retailer Adorama had been allowing pre-orders for the hot new Samsung Gear 360 camera but has since stopped, likely because of restrictions by Samsung.  Nonetheless, it is actually possible to preorder the Gear 360: 

​You just have to preorder it over the phone, by calling Adorama at 800-223-2500.  Adorama is preselling the Gear 360 at $399.99, which is more than the ~$350 MSRP in Korea, and more than the ~$360 price at MobileFun, but Adorama's rep said they would match the price if it turns out to be lower, and if it turns out to be higher, they will honor the $399.99 price.  They do require a refundable $100 deposit, but you can cancel the preorder anytime before it ships (you should still confirm to be sure).

Samsung Gear 360: Overheating Issues?

It seems that the Samsung Gear 360 is hot in more than one way.  The Samsung Gear 360 has been getting a lot of attention ever since it was released in Korea and Singapore on April 29, because of its excellent image quality.  However, it appears that the Gear 360 is not perfect.  One aspect that may be an issue for some users is that the camera can overheat after about 40 minutes of continuous shooting. 

Reader David Grass ordered a Gear 360 and he noticed that it would automatically shut down from overheating after about 40 minutes of continuous recording.  It turns out that he is not alone, and others have noticed a similar limitation.

Thus far, there has been no overheating for photos or for shorter videos.

Eken H8: a GoPro Clone with a VR360 Mode

This is the Eken H8 / H8R, a GoPro clone that has a "VR360" mode.  Here are the key specs:
  • 12mp resolution
  • field of view: 170 degrees
  • 2-inch LCD at the back and a status screen in front.
  • Wi-Fi app for Andoid and iOS
  • Has waterproof enclosure
The H8R is the same as the H8 except it comes with a dedicated wireless remote.

The H8's sensor is supposedly the Sony IMX078, which, if true, would be a 1/2.3-inch back-illuminated CMOS sensor with 12mp resolution and 1080p at 60fps.  However, Eken claims that the H8 has 4k and 2.7k video modes.

Here is a sample video at 1080p/60fps:

Here is a sample video at 4k 30fps.  It appears that there is no actual increase in detail compared to 1080p:

Nonetheless, the H8 seems to provide decent video quality.  Here is a side-by-side comparison with the famous Xiaomi Yi GoPro clone (H8 on the left, Xiaomi on the right):

VR360 Mode
What about that so-called VR360 mode?  In this mode, the Eken switches to a circular fisheye view.

It appears you can use YouTube metadata tool to classify the video as a 360 video for YouTube.  The circular fisheye view will then be recognized and you can view the video in YouTube as a 170-degree "VR" video that you can interact with.  However, because the video is not in equirectangular format, there is some distortion at the edges.

Here is the official H8 website.  The Eken H8 and H8R are available from various resellers on eBay.

For related posts on low-cost cameras, click here, or on one of the labels/tags below the sharing buttons.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Google Cardboard view for YouTube now available for iOS!

For the longest time, iOS users had been missing a Google Cardboard view of 360-degree videos on YouTube.  Among other things, this made it impossible to watch a 3D 360-degree video on YouTube.

But the wait is finally over.  Google has now added Google Cardboard support for the iOS version of YouTube!  You need to update the YouTube app to be able to use the Cardboard view.

Insta360 posts 360 live streaming guide

Instructions for the Insta360 4k camera are now on Insta360's website, translated into English.  The instructions include steps for starting a 360 live stream, and a guide for live streaming on YouTube.

Here is the link to the instructions for the Instra360 4k.
Here is a link to the live streaming guide, and here are the steps for livestreaming on YouTube.

Ricoh Theta desktop app being phased out -- why this is GOOD news

Ricoh announced that they will cease supporting their desktop Theta software and the live streaming app on July 31, 2016 on both Windows 8 and Mac OS X 10.7 and 10.8.  On its face, the news might sound puzzling and somewhat troubling for Ricoh Theta fans.

The Theta S remains popular, and at the time of this writing, is still among the best-selling point-and-shoot digital cameras (and is still the top-selling spherical camera) on Amazon.  It seems strange that Ricoh would abandon support for the Theta software.

Fear not.  I believe the reason for the announcement is because there will be something better for Theta users: cloud-based services.

As I wrote a few months ago, Ricoh hinted at upcoming features, including "photo and media storage" and "video communication."  April has come and gone, and although third parties have facilitated livestreaming with the Theta, Ricoh hasn't announced these features yet.  Nonetheless, I believe their announcement about ending support for the desktop apps is a confirmation that Ricoh will indeed be migrating users to cloud-based services.  Indeed, the specific date for ending support seems to mean that Ricoh will be announcing their new cloud service on or before July 31, 2016.

I'm looking forward to seeing what Ricoh has planned for the Theta, with the new cloud services.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Voke VR is a 180/360 camera with 18k resolution

Voke VR is a broadcast-quality camera with several powerful features.  Hit the jump to find out more, and to see a sample video.

Spinnable app update

Spinnable, which was the first social media platform for 360-degree photos and videos, issued a significant update to their app (v 1.8), which adds two significant features.

Full screen mode

Until now, users were limited to seeing a seeing a square cropped view of their image.  Now, users can expand the view to fill the screen, allowing for a wider or taller view of the image.


The other major improvement is a menu on the upper left corner of the app that makes it more convenient to access several options.

  • Discover helps you to find users who you're not following yet.
  • Events is a convenient list of upcoming livestreams.
  • Shop is an online store for buying 360-degree cameras and accessories.  For example, you can order a Ricoh Theta S.
  • Manage is a file manager for supported 360-degree cameras (e.g. Theta and Theta S) when they are wirelessly connected to your phone.
For related posts on Spinnable, click here or on one of the labels/tags below the sharing buttons.