Facebook Tries to Popularlize Virtual Reality with New Camera
Simplified 360 degree 3D cameras are being developed to bring Virtual Reality (VR) to a wide audience.
With a special responsive video posted by CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently, Facebook launched its awaited 360 degree camera to his Facebook account. The image allows viewers to use their computer cursor to move their point of view to get a full 360 degree motion-picture view of Grand Central Terminal in New York City. (by the way, the view is not available on Explorer, you need Chrome). The Facebook F8 developer’s conference in San Francisco on April 12 and 13, 2016 were the first to see the camera.
The Facebook Surround360 degree camera:
It is a circular device with a strip of 17 lenses around the outer circumference, and three fisheye lenses mounted, one on the top and two on the bottom of the camera body. The software uses the lenses two at a time to produce binocular stereoscopic images around the camera, with full coverage of the space above and below the camera, producing a full spherical view. The camera is designed to sit atop a pole stand. The two fisheye lenses below the camera record the stereoscopic image of what is below it, and the fisheye on the top covers the space above it.
The images in the form of video files can be uploaded to Facebook, or other net sites, viewed in virtual reality headsets, or on ordinary smartphones. The camera is described by Facebook as a bridge to full-fledged virtual reality they plan on releasing to go with the Oculus VR headset it released in April, 2016.
The Facebook 360 camera is uniquely open-source. Design details are publically available without cost. The developers of the camera are hoping that their device will stimulate more development. Facebook’s chief development officer, Chris Cox says, “We do not have ambitions of getting into the camera business, but we did observe that there wasn’t really a great reference camera that took really nice, high-resolution, 3D, fully spherical video.”
Veteran Facebook engineer, Brian Cabral led the small team who developed the Surround360 camera system. He says the aim was to produce a durable and easy-to-use camera.
“You can treat it like an ordinary camera. You can plug it in. You hit record. You get a big data file out. And somehow it gets turned into a seamless video, just like you would get with any video camera.”
Facebook has no interest in actually selling the device. The aim is to share the design with outside camera makers. At the moment, it is a camera for professionals or very serious amateurs. However, it is open source (which is the point). They want to find designers who could turn it into a consumer device. It is generally felt that the consumer market is still not fully prepared for popular virtual reality on a large scale. The Oculus Virtual Reality headset (and others of its kind) are still primarily used (and even here on a relatively limited marketing scale) to play games.
How will a Surround 360 degree 3D camera affect the camera market?
Photographer Nate Games says that VR photography isn’t really photography at all, but something entirely different. No one has quite figured out how VR will be created or consumed, although clearly new devices for creating it are regularly appearing. VR is clumsy and expensive to produce. It generates large files which require special equipment to view under today’s equipment limitations. It can’t just be plugged into advertising or ordinary web sites.
Photographers still perceive photography in terms of the still image. A photo has to be based on something real. It has to be framed and timed. Photography purists will even push heavily doctored images outside of their discipline, calling them “pictures” instead of photographs. Although VR may be a representation of reality made with a camera, there are those two aspects of virtual reality that divide it from what photographers insist on calling photography, framing and timing.
VR is a large number of photographs arranged in time and space to make it more than a photograph. What separates VR from photography is not the technology, but the experience of creating it, the way it is perceived and used by the audience. The quality of a photograph comes from its selectivity and its focus. The photograph is at the service of presenting a decisive moment. The photographer finds just the right time and position and pushes the shutter button. VR includes everything in sight. It relies on the viewer to find the important elements. Virtual reality, in effect, relies on the audience to “take the pictures” inside it.
In his article in the New York Times, Ben Solomon described it this way,
“taking a picture is like hunting, you have to aim, whereas VR is like setting traps, you leave most of the work to the prey.”
A photograph is a small slice of time. It is also stagnant in that it collapses the time into a form that is absolutely still. The photograph can be viewed in a single moment because the image entirely resides in the viewers static field of vision. That makes photographs marketable and presentable in a distinctly convenient and efficient way. If you have to view a VR through a headpiece or the Oculus Rift, for instance, it takes at least a few seconds to be exposed to each part of the scene, much as it would if there were no camera and high-tech instrumentation between you and the scene. In order to receive the entire VR image, you have to spend the necessary time with it.
There is a continuum in the photographic family. VR includes enough information that the viewer can decide on the time and the view. Cinema or video controls everything including how long it takes to get the images. Photographs give themselves entirely to the control of the photographer. Each has its own place in the marketplace.
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