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Sphericam 2, a new 360º video camera for virtual reality

Sphericam 2, a new 360º video camera for virtual reality

Panorama photographer Jeffrey Martin has entered the 360-degree video camera race with his Sphericam 2 and launched a Kickstarter campaign to help develop it. Many who shoot high-resolution 360-degree video have relied on a set of six GoPro cameras clustered in a cube. Martin’s camera is a self-contained unit that he says overcomes many of the drawbacks of the GoPro setup.

“Parallax will be reduced significantly, noise will be reduced and colors will improve,” Martin said via email. We previously reported on Jaunt which is also working on a camera. He has been innovating in the 360-degree photography field for years, creating 360cities.net and shooting extremely high-resolution panoramas like this one of Milan.

Here is more of what he has to say about Sphericam 2:

Q: What stage is Sphericam 2 at currently?

A: We are finishing the miniaturization of the electronics, ordering custom batteries and finalizing the manufacturing plans with our factory, which is located here in Europe, just a short drive away from me. I’ll be closely supervising the production at this very modern, competent and trustworthy factory. While we are still manufacturing in the thousands, it is much better to build them here, than in Asia.

Our image-processing pipeline is still under development, which is why we are going to be updating the public with new video samples every few days.

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Q: What are a few of the most important features that you think make Sphericam 2 better than other efforts out there?

A: 1. Six cameras that are protected — no protruding fisheye lenses that are in danger of being easily damaged. With the legs on, you’ll be able to really beat the hell out of this camera, in fact!

2. Global shutter: Nearly all image sensors have a “rolling shutter,” which exposes the image line by line over a short period of time. You’ll notice if you make a video with your phone from a moving car, pointing sideways, that all the vertical lines become diagonal.

When stitching multiple videos together, this can obviously be a real problem. If you use multiple action cameras bolted together to create 360 video, as most people are doing these days, this is a serious problem that really has no easy solution.

Our camera exposes every pixel in the whole sphere at the same instant — with only 50 microseconds difference per sensor (that’s 0.05 milliseconds).

3. 4K resolution: The spherical image can be up to 4096 x 2048. This is the ideal resolution for Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, Google Cardboard, etc. When the spherical video is viewed interactively, you get Full HD picture with whatever view you’re looking at. This is about four times higher resolution than any other consumer 360 cameras out there, and no one can use higher resolution than this in VR today.

4. Small size: Again, this rig is a lot smaller than using six action cameras stuck together, so the parallax (difference in view from one lens to another) is much smaller, resulting in fewer artifacts in the final video.

5. High frame rate: VR really needs 60 frames per second for smooth motion. 30FPS works OK for some stuff, but 60FPS is really what you want, ideally. We are the only 360 camera that offers that.

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Q: What are some of the limitations in 360 video that you are working to overcome?

A: We have done our best to address all of the worst issues in 360 video today:

Synchronization: Our sensors are fully pixel-synchronous in every respect — exposure, white balance  and so on — so there is no need for tricky corrections in post production and the steep learning curve that comes from that.

High quality: We are utilizing six micro-SD cards, and we are writing to them in the maximum bandwidth possible, so we are getting 2.4Gbps (gigabits per second) bitrate. If you shoot at 30FPS, you can get totally uncompressed video in Cinema DNG format, at 12 bits. This is something that you’d expect from high-end studio cameras.

Awful post production: We will provide real-time stitching while recording for those who want something that “just works.” We will also provide unstitched, uncompressed videos that can be processed afterward in higher quality, with plenty of latitude for color grading.

Q: What will the workflow be after shooting the video to make it viewable? What platform will people use?

A: If you record with real-time stitching, then the resulting video is ready to be viewed in VR.
You can also record the videos separately and process them afterward; this will result in higher quality footage at the expense of extra processing needed. We will provide our own tool for this. However, many people are already comfortable using commercially available video stitching software, and we will make it possible for those tools to work also. We’ll provide the starting templates that people can use in other software.

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Q: What are some of the uses for Sphericam 2?

A: We are going after the VR market because there is a huge chicken-and-egg problem in VR. There is not enough content, and there is no way to shoot good video easily. That is what we want to solve and are laser-focused on that now. I imagine people using this for journalism, documentary filmmaking, and creative filmmaking. But I really enjoy watching the most mundane scenes from faraway places as well — people having dinner, scenes on a street and so on. Things like that, which might not be so interesting as normal videos, somehow become really interesting and enjoyable when viewed in VR!

Of course there are many applications such as security, law enforcement, military, teleconferencing and so on. We will go after some of these markets in the future.

Here is a sample video that is best viewable in the Chrome browser for full interactivity or download it here:

1 Comment

  1. October 2, 2015, 2:46 am

    science fiction but reality

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