Friday, June 17, 2016

DEALS: 3DR Solo with Gimbal just $599 for Father's Day!

Here's a very special drone deal: Normally $999, the 3DR Solo with 3-axis Gimbal is just $599 through Father's Day!

The 3DR Solo was the drone that innovated several autopilot features such as the famous "Orbit" mode (the drone rotates around a chosen point of interest  -- inside joke for drone users ^_^ ).  Of particular interest to readers of 360Rumors, 3DR has teamed up with Kodak Pixpro to create a special dual mount bracket that lets you use the Kodak SP360 4k to capture aerial 360 videos effortlessly (pictured above), with no drone visible in the shot! See HERE for more info.

Please note that the 3DR Solo does not have its own camera.  Instead it uses a GoPro camera (which you buy separately) and has electronics to allow live view with the GoPro.  But if you plan to use the 3DR Solo with the SP360, you won't need to add a GoPro camera.  Note also that the $599 bundle here does not include the SP360 4k or dual brackets either.  The Aerial Pack (which includes the special bracket and a pair of SP360 4k cameras is $999; or just $169 for the bracket by itself).

*It MIGHT be possible to use a GoPro 1/4-20 adapter to use another 360-degree camera instead of the SP360 4k. But we don't know for sure until we try the dual bracket.

The special deal is available on Amazon and B&H.  I prefer to buy from Amazon because I got dinged by B&H when returning a drone I got from them even though the drone was defective (according to their own tech personnel).  If you would like to buy from Amazon, please consider using the link below, which would be an awesome way to support the blog at zero cost to you!

Litchi app for iOS adds VR mode

The popular Litchi app for the DJI Phantom 3 and Phantom 4 added a VR FPV mode to its iPhone version!  With this mode, you can use a Google Cardboard viewer to get a first person view from the drone's camera, making it feel as if you're flying! 

I havent tried the app myself yet but it appears that turning your head will also control the camera.

The FPV mode had already been implemented in the Android version of the app.

Samsung Gear 360 spare battery now available

I spotted the Samsung Gear 360 spare battery on eBay:

However, the price is higher than the price posted on another store.

3 Examples Setups for 360 Aerial Videos with 360 Cameras

One exciting way to use a 360-degree camera is to use it for aerial 360 videos.  On one hand, if you have a 3DR Solo drone and you have the Kodak SP360 4k dual pro ($899), there is a ready-made bracket (and software) to allow you to capture aerial 360-degree videos with ease.
Kodak SP360 4k dual pro mounted on 3DR Solo

However, it is also possible to use another 360-degree camera, such as the Samsung Gear 360 ($350 to $400), with a drone.  Here are three examples.  Although a Samsung Gear 360 was used in these videos, theoretically it could be used with any other 360 camera with similar weight and a standard 1/4-20 tripod attachment.

Update: Modified Samsung Gear 360 Manager app runs on Non-Samsung phones, adds 4k support

Developer Bin4ry strikes again!  His modified Samsung Gear 360 Manager app runs on non-Samsung phones.  Moreover, it one-ups the Gear 360 Manager by adding full 4k support for other phones!

The Samsung Gear 360 is the most affordable fully spherical 4k camera right now, but it can only connect to the latest flagship Samsung phones (S6 and above).  Another limitation is that even if the video is captured in 4k, it has to be stitched, and if you stitch it on a phone other than the S7 (or S7 edge), the stitched video will be limited to 2k.

Bin4ry created a modified version of the Gear 360 Manager app that solves both of these problems.  First, it runs on non-compatible phones, including a Sony Xperia Z5.  The app has all the functions of the original, including remote shutter and stitching photos and videos.

In addition, Bin4ry's modified Gear 360 Manager allows non-S7 phones to stitch the video in 4k resolution!

The app requires Samsung Accessory Service to work.  And if you have a phone that is natively compatible with the Gear 360, such as the Galaxy S6, you will be blocked from installing Samsung Accessory Service!  So, I unfortunately haven't been able to install Bin4ry's modded Manager app.

Bin4ry was very kind enough to walk me through the installation on an S6.  On an S6 (with Marshmallow), you don't need Samsung Accessory Service.    I had to uninstall the original Samsung app.  Then I downloaded the version that's been posted on Google Drive (the other version had a parsing error).  At first I was blocked from running the app.  I clicked on settings and allow an app to run from unknown source.  The app installed as normal. 

The app works just like the original.  However, if I try to stitch a 4k video, the app crashes after exactly 29% regardless of how long the 4k video is.  I will try to work with Bin4ry to see if this can be fixed.

For more info and to download, please click on this thread on XDA Developers forum!  Also please consider supporting Bin4ry's development efforts.

- use an iPhone to trigger the Gear 360 remotely.
- trigger the Gear 360 remotely with the dedicated Bluetooth shutter.
- stitch on a Mac without 3rd party software

Samsung Gear 360 Waterproof Case Update PLUS New Accessories!!!

Now we have a photo of the waterproof housing for the Samsung Gear 360, and new accessories!

As you can see, it has buttons to enable you to continue to control the Samsung Gear 360.

The part number is EF-YC200BTEGWW (or EZ-C200H) and it is already in stock in at least one online retailer for CHF 85.86 (around USD 89.30). Other European stores are reporting that it will be available July 1.

Update: I haven't seen this stocked anywhere anymore.  Instead, I use this waterproof pouch for the Gear 360.  Here is a sample with the waterproof pouch.  

2. DEDICATED REMOTE CONTROL and other accessories

There is also another accessory pack that includes:
  • a dedicated remote control
  • a selfie stick
  • a quick release mount that works on both flat and curved surfaces such as helmets

The Samsung Gear 360 can be controlled with the Gear 360 Manager, but a dedicated remote would be more compact.  It MIGHT also be waterproof - not sure yet.  To connect the Gear 360 to the remote, you would hold down the Menu button, then when "Gear 360 Manager" shows on the display, press the menu button to move to the next option which is Remote Control,  Then you press the shutter.  You'll have 1 minute 30 seconds to turn on the remote for them to be paired.

The part number for the value pack is ET-YC200BBEGWW (or EZ-C200P) or and at least one retailer is offering it at CHF 49.90 (around USD 51.90).

A huge thanks to reader Floris de Best for spotting this and sharing this info with all of us!

UPDATE: Here is a brochure that confirms the accessories!  Thank you very much to reader Alex Caizergues for finding this and letting us know about it!  The brochure states that the maximum depth is 40 m according to this brochure

The brochure also gives an alternate part number for the spare battery as EZ-C200B!

8/20 UPDATE: The accessory kit is now available in the US.  See here.

- Samsung Gear 360 $350 with free one-day shipping; how to check if you can use the Gear 360
- Gear 360 accessory kit now available in the US
- modified Gear 360 Manager app that can run on some Android phones.
- use an iPhone to trigger the Gear 360 remotely
- stitch on a Mac without 3rd party software

Thursday, June 16, 2016

DEALS: Free Samsung Gear VR offer for Father's Day

From now until Father's Day (June 19), Samsung is offering a free Samsung Gear VR headset (worth $99) with the purchase of a qualifying phone. 

If you haven't tried it, Samsung Gear VR is a headset that provides a true virtual reality experience, beyond what any Google Cardboard viewer is capable of.  HERE is an explanation of why it's way better than Google Cardboard.  Even if they don't care about 360 or any of the dozens of games, a Gear VR will let them watch Netflix or Hulu, or surf the internet with their own private giant screen in their very own virtual cinema theater (yes you can watch your own videos too).
Here are the qualifying phones, which are also the phones that are compatible with the Gear VR:
  • Galaxy S7 edge
  • Galaxy S7
  • Galaxy S6 edge+
  • Galaxy S6 edge
  • Galaxy S6
  • Galaxy Note5
The phone must be purchased between June 1 to June 19 from a participating retailer (check with a retailer).  The offer requires a "device installment plan, 2-year contract plan, lease, or outright purchase at full retail price."

Once you purchase the phone, go to this Samsung site on or before June 30 to request your free Gear VR.  Allow 6 to 8 weeks to receive your Gear VR.

Once you get the Gear VR, here's how to set it up.

Vrse is now Within

The VR content company Vrse has been renamed to Within.  If you haven't already, check out their app, available for Android, iOS, and Gear VR.

12 VR / 360 Gifts for Father's Day

Are you looking for a Father's Day gift?  Consider one of these VR / 360 presents for dads of any age.  There's something for any budget!

1.  Tiltpod ($5).  This pocketable "tripod" can help your dad position his 360-degree (or other compact camera). Review here.

2.  JJC DLP-7 Camera Bag ($25).  This extra-tall camera bag can accommodate a 360-degree camera and a selfie stick.  It's also great if he has a long lens such as a 70-200.  Smaller versions of this bag are available.  Review here.

3.  BoboVR Z4 headset ($40 to $50).  The Bobo Z4 is a Google Cardboard headset.  What makes it different from other Cardboard viewers is that it has an unmatched field of view of 120 degrees.  Besides that, it has built-in headphones and is comfortable to wear.

4.  Samsung Gear VR ($99).  If your dad has a compatible Samsung phone, this would be the perfect VR headset.  The Gear VR is in an entirely different class from Google Cardboard (despite similar appearance) and is much more immersive than any Google Cardboard viewer due to the extremely accurate tracking.  Detailed review here.

The Gear VR is compatible only with the Samsung Galaxy S7, S7 edge, Note5, S6 edge+, S6, S6 edge.  *Note5 and S6 edge+ may require software update. 

Note that there are older versions of the Gear VR called the Innovator Edition which has a white plastic piece in the forehead area.  This version was designed for the S6 (or S7), and is not compatible with the Note 5, S6 edge+, S6 edge, or S7 edge.

5.  LG 360 Cam ($199).  This is a fully spherical 360-degree camera.  Although it is the most affordable spherical 360-degree camera, it actually has pretty good specs, including 16mp photos and 2k video with 5.1 channel sound.  It is compatible with both iOS and Android.

Note: there are cheaper hemispherical 360-degree cameras on eBay and elsewhere but I recommend against them.

6.  Ricoh Theta S ($350).  This is the 360-degree camera that started it all (well actually it's on its third generation).  Its 1080p video resolution is now passé, but it still excels for 360-degree still photography.  In addition, it is capable of livestreaming, unlike the LG 360 Cam or Samsung Gear 360.  Here is a detailed review.

7.  Samsung Gear 360 ($360 to 400 on eBay).  This new spherical 360-degree camera is not yet available in the US but is already winning acclaim for its 4k video resolution and 30mp photos.  In a recent 360-degree camera shootout, Wall Street Journal called it the most balanced 360-degree camera for consumers.  My first impressions here.

However, please note that the Gear 360 is compatible only with the latest Samsung flagship phones: Samsung Galaxy S7, S7 edge, Note5, S6 edge+, S6, S6 edge.  It is possible to use it without a smartphone, but the desktop stitching software is for PC only and is not compatible with older graphics cards.

8.  360fly 4k ($499).  This is a hemispherical 4k 360-degree action camera that is water resistant.  It also has livestreaming capability.  You can livestream from anywhere with the 360fly 4k and the Livit app.

9.  Kodak SP360 4k ($499).  This is another 4k-capable hemispherical 360-degree camera.  What makes it different is that there are many accessories to expand its capabilities.  For example, there is a bracket and stitching software so that you can place two of them back to back for high quality spherical video.  There is a waterproof housing for it (even a double housing for a pair of SP360 cameras).  There is even an upcoming dual bracket to mount it to a 3DR Solo drone for nearly effortless aerial 360 videos.  Here are comparison videos between the SP360 4k dual pro pack ($899) and the Samsung Gear 360.

10.  Oculus Rift ($599).  The Oculus Rift is probably the most widely recognized VR system.  Oculus is now owned by Facebook, which means that there will be plenty of resources to support the Rift.  Note: this requires a VR-ready PC. Here are my first impressions from an Oculus Rift demo.

11.  HTC Vive ($799).  The HTC Vive is a VR system that costs a little more than the Rift but already includes motion controllers, and more importantly, is capable of room-scale VR (allowing you to move around a small area).  Note: as with the Oculus Rift, this requires a VR-ready PC.

12. VR-Ready PC ($949 and up).  When paired with a VR headset such as the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, your dad can be one of the first to enjoy VR.  At the time of this writing, there's a sale right now on the HP Envy 750.

Brahma Duo: a more affordable 360 rig for Xiaomi Yi cameras

For high quality 360-degree photos or videos, the preferred solution among professionals is still a rig, a frame that arranges two or more cameras to capture a 360-degree view.  Most 360-degree rigs, such as the Freedom 360 are based on GoPro cameras, which usually puts the total cost at thousands of dollars.

photo by VRExperience
What if a rig instead used Xiaomi Yi action cameras, a Chinese clone of the GoPro with decent image quality?  That's the idea behind the Brahma rigs by Stephen Jones of VRExperience.  Some of the Brahma rigs use 6 cameras.  The Brahma Duo is VRE's smallest rig which has full spherical 360 capture with only two Xiaomi Yi cameras, modified with 220-degree lenses.

The Duo comes in two versions: wider Standard version and a more compact Slim version (both shown above).

Here is Stephen Jones, talking about the Brahma Duo:

I asked a Brahma Duo user, Martin Smith, about the process for assembling the rig.  Modifying the Xiaomi Yi requires removing the old lens, grinding down part of the casing, and installing a 220-degree lens.
photo by Martin Smith
photo by Martin Smith
One of the challenges was nailing the focus:

"I had to use a Dremel tool to grind down parts of the casing to allow the fisheye lens to be screwed in enough for a decent focus. That left a big gap that Stephen fixed with an elastic band. I found some O-rings that did the job nicely. They closed the gap and secured the lenses so they would’t turn once focusing was complete."

Assembling the rig required adding some mounts.  Here is the completed rig:
photo by Martin Smith
Martin also used a camera mount for a drone to attach the rig to his bike helmet.  The drone mount has rubber dampeners to help add some stability to the video.
photo by Martin Smith
Here is video by Martin with the Brahma Duo (on a bike) at 1080p / 60fps:

To stitch the videos from the Xiaomi cameras, Martin used AutoPano Video.  As you can see from the video, the stitching is seamless, and although the video is 1080p, you can see that it a lot of detail and dynamic range.  The 60fps frame rate from the Brahma Duo also makes the video look smoother, especially when viewed on a VR headset such as a Google Cardboard viewer or the Samsung Gear VR

UPDATE: Here is another sample (on a tripod).  Great for viewing on a headset.

Thanks to Martin for showing us the Brahma Duo rig!  Check out his YouTube channel for more Brahma Duo videos.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Samsung Gear 360 Sharpness Inconsistency Part 2

I tried to get to the bottom of the inconsistent sharpness of my Samsung Gear 360.  Here's what I found.

I took several test shots, trying to test the following variables:

  • triggering with the on-camera shutter (2 sec. timer) vs. the app.  
  • the sharpness setting on or off, 
  • the auto angle correction on or off.  

For each combination, I took several shots.  I also took photos before and after shooting a video.  Moreover I did the entire series twice just to see the repetition of any patterns.  The gap between the two sets of tests was about 50 minutes.

For all of them, I stitched the shots using the Gear 360 Manager app, with the resizing setting turned off, and auto angle correction turned off (I reasoned that turning on auto angle correction could not possibly improve sharpness) though I don't know if that overrode the settings used when the shot was taken.

The ambient was cloudy weather, in late afternoon.

I found that the first photo was consistently sharper than the last photo, until I turned off the camera, left it alone, then turned it on again.

Let's look at 4 photos:

  • the first photo from the first series (#410). ISO 100, f/2, 1/640.
  • the last photo from the first series (#433). ISO 100, f/2, 1/400.
  • the first photo from the second series (#434). ISO 250, f/2, 1/100.
  • the last photo from the second series (#445). ISO 320, f/2, 1/100.
Comparing 410 and 433, we see that 410 is significantly sharper than 433, even though their exposures are almost identical (only 1/3 stop apart in shutter speed).

Comparing 434 and 445, we also see that 434 is significantly sharper than 445 (only 1/3 stop difference in ISO).

One possibility is that the blurriness has to do with shutter speed or ISO.  To test this, I examined 433 and 434.  Recall that 433 (the last in the first series) has a lower ISO and higher shutter speed than 434 (the first in the second series).  If the blurriness had something to do with ISO or shutter speed, we would expect 433 to be sharper.  But instead, 434 is sharper:

Another possibility is that this is some kind of stitching error.  To examine this possibility, I compared the unstitched double-fisheye versions of 433 and 434 (433 on the left).

As you can see, even when comparing the unstitched versions, 434 is still sharper than 433.  This means that the blurriness is with the original unstitched file.  The blurriness is NOT due to a stitching error.  It also appears that if there is a loss in sharpness in the image, the loss is not recoverable.

The only discernible pattern so far is that the first photo is definitely sharper than the last photo, and that the blurriness never reverses until after the camera is turned off.  Based on this behavior, it appears that the most reasonable explanation is that the blurriness may be caused by the sensor and/or processor overheating.  Going further, given that the Gear 360 does not stitch the images (stitching is done on a phone or desktop), I believe it is more likely to be the sensor overheating (rather than the processor).

In either case, IF it is true that the cause is overheating, one way to keep the Gear 360 images sharper is to avoid leaving it on unnecessarily.  I will continue to investigate this.

Fixing vertical orientation: Hugin vs. Flexify 2

If you capture a 360-degree photo while the camera is not completely vertical, viewing the resulting image can be confusing.  Here is a sample where it is intentionally used for effect:
Legoland airplane ride - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Suffice to say, for conventional shots, it is desirable to have a perfectly vertical orientation.  In fact, decent 360-degree cameras have a built-in gyroscope exactly for that purpose - to automatically correct vertical orientation.

But sometimes the gyro doesn't work as intended:

When this happens, it is possible to fix the vertical orientation in post-processing.  Two such software that can be used for that are Hugin and Flexify 2.

Hugin is a free panoramic editor with powerful features, however it does not have a very user-friendly interface.

Flexify 2 is a Photoshop plugin for manipulating spherical panoramas and polyhedra.

I used Hugin to fix the vertical orientation in the shot above.  This is what I got:

Looks ok until you look at the middle, which is a little messed up.

I then tried Flexify 2 to correct the same image:

Here's a closeup (Flexify on the left, Hugin on the right):

No that's not a stitching error on the Flexify image.  My belly is really that big.  I appreciate Hugin's attempt to give me a slimmer figure, but the winner for this brief test is clear!

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

360 Rumors is now on Facebook just launched on Facebook!  Here is our page.  You can Like the page to keep updated with the latest news and info on VR/360 degree cameras.  There are some news that I won't have time to do a blogpost about but will be posted on Facebook and Twitter.  I may also do a 360-degree livestream on Facebook -- something which I can't do on the blog or on Twitter.

Samsung Gear 360 Sharpness Inconsistency

Sorry I didn't post the Samsung Gear 360 review yet.  Part of the reason is that I'm having a hard time analyzing the Samsung Gear 360's sharpness, which is important given that one of the key features of the Gear 360 is its higher resolution.

The reason I'm having a hard time assessing the Gear 360's sharpness is because it seems it can change drastically.  Check out this comparison.  It's a 100% crop of a portion of two test shots from the Samsung Gear 360 (both at 30mp). (Pls. click to see it larger.)

It's almost like they were taken by two different cameras.  The one on the right is so much more detailed.  Here is another comparison, at 14mp:

Similarly large difference in sharpness. 

The strange thing is that the shooting settings seem to have been the same as far as I can recall.  I thought maybe yesterday's firmware update would fix it, but the issue is still there:

The only thing that seems to be in common with both sets is that the sharper ones were taken before the blurred ones.  IOW, the images were sharp, then I took some more shots, and they became blurred.  Given that the Gear 360 sometimes becomes sharper again, it's unlikely to be a physical defect.  It seems to have something to do with software, possibly a setting that I missed or maybe an issue with stitching.

FWIW, the photos here were all stitched by the Samsung Gear 360 Manager software (yes I installed the update as well, and the first two sets above were before the update, and the last set was after the update).  I haven't tried stitching the photos using ActionDirector because thus far I've been unable to, on my 4-yr old laptop.

Anyway, here are the two files (after the firmware update) for your pixel peeping pleasure.  (The top one is the sharper one.)

I'm going to try to figure this out... If you have any theories, I'm open to suggestions!

UPDATE: Follow up testing results HERE.

You can run Samsung Gear 360 Manager app on other phones!

The Samsung Gear 360 is currently the most affordable fully spherical 360-degree camera with 4k video.  However, some users have been turned away from the Gear 360 because it can connect only with the latest Samsung Galaxy flagship phones (Galaxy S6 and above).

Thanks to the ingenuity of a programmer, that might change.  @Bin4ry created a modified version of the Gear 360 Manager that allows the Gear 360 Manager to run on Android phones that are not on the short list of compatible Samsung phones!  So far it has worked on a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 with Marshmallow, and has enabled viewing the settings and files.  It has also installed successfully on a Samsung Galaxy Note 3.  So far, live view doesn't work yet, but Bin4ry is working on that.

Check out this thread on XDA Developers forum to follow this work-in-progress!

Samsung Gear 360 spare batteries available in July

Soon you'll be able to get spare batteries for the Samsung Gear 360!  The part number is EF-BC200ABEGWW, and the cost is approximately EUR 16 from stores such as this one, which is a very reasonable price in my opinion. 

Thanks to reader Floris de Best for finding this information and letting me know!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Project Scorpio: a VR-ready edition of Xbox One

Firing the opening salvo at E3 2016, Microsoft announced Project Scorpio, an upgraded version of Xbox One that will be VR-ready.  The specs include an 8-core processor and 6-teraflop GPU (!).  For comparison, the GTX 980 graphics card is capable of 4.6 teraflops, while the recently-announced GTX 1070 is 6.46 teraflops.  With its processing power, Project Scorpio will be able to play existing Xbox One games at Ultra HD 4k resolution.

Although Microsoft emphasized that Project Scorpio is VR-ready, Microsoft did not say what kind of VR headset Project Scorpio will use, or whether Scorpio will be compatible with Microsoft Hololens holographic augmented reality headset.

Microsoft Hololens
​Project Scorpio will be released "Holiday 2017."  No word on pricing.

Update improves Samsung Gear 360 image quality

Samsung issued an update to the Samsung Gear 360 Manager with several improvements:

1. Added a Time Lapse menu to the camera, allowing you to change the resolution without the app.  Previously, there was no way to change any of the settings for the time lapse except with the Gear 360 Manager smartphone app.  Insofar as these changes would require a firmware update (not just an app update), I'm supposing this means the app will also update the firmware automatically.

2. Improve the matching of color between the front and rear lenses.  If you look at the sample video I posted, you'll see that there is a slight difference in color between the front and rear lenses, which makes the stitch line more noticeable.  This change appears to be intended to remedy this issue.  However, I haven't tried it.

3. "Image quality improvement."  I'm not sure what the improvement is exactly, but I will take new samples to test this.

I'm working on a detailed review of the Samsung Gear 360, which I hope to post by tonight.  The review might not take into account the new changes.  I'll just update the review when I've tested the changes.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Experience VR for yourself with Playstation VR demos at Best Buy

The Playstation VR will be available for you to demo at select Best Buy locations in the US next week, June 17-18.

The locations are:

- Fayetteville

- Dublin
- Montebello

- Northglenn

- Brandon
- Vero Beach

- Burbank
- Harlem and Irving
- Joliet
- Schaumnburg

- Plymouth
- Worcester

- Glen Burnie
- Wheaton

- Roseville

New York
- Chelsea (23rd and 6th)

- Reynoldsburg
- Tri-County

South Carolina
- Spring Valley

- Hulen
- Lewisville

- Potamac Hills

The demo dates and times are:
Friday, June 17: 3 p.m.–7 p.m.
Saturday, June 18: 12 p.m.–4 p.m.

Best Buy says, "Check back for additional PlayStation VR demo dates and more stores, coming soon."  Unlike the Oculus Rift demo at Best Buy, there does not seem to be an appointment system.  Hopefully there are at least some people assigned to the demo booths to keep things organized.

HERE is the official announcement.

I haven't tried the Playstation VR but I have tried the Oculus Rift, and early previews say the PSVR is just as immersive as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive even though the specs are a little short of the Rift and Vive.

Meanwhile E3 2016 is starting tomorrow June 14, and VR is expected to be huge.  We might even see VR-related announcements from Nintendo and Microsoft.

If you'd like to try virtual reality but the locations aren't accessible to you, check out the Samsung Gear VR (it is not just a Google Cardboard clone).  It's a level below full VR, but it does convey a strong sense of immersion, albeit not much presence.