These days we all take having a camera with us for granted. Every single phone has one built in and a culture of social media photography is deeply entrenched globally. Photographic content for consumption on VR headsets is a little harder to make.
You either have to use unreliable “photosphere” stitching apps or buy a dedicated 360-degree VR camera that’s very different from using a phone or actual dedicated camera. Now Google has further expanded its VR stable of products with a camera that’s ergonomically a point-and-shoot, but produces stereoscopic 180-degree videos and photos. I don’t know about you, but this VR180 camera feels a little like a big deal.
The Hardware Partners
Just as with their standalone Daydream HMD, Google will not be making the VR180 themselves. Rather, they’ve partnered up with Lenovo and Yi (who Xiaomi is an investor in) to actually make the VR180 cameras. Presumably, if they prove popular more manufacturers will make VR180-compliant devices.
In the case of Lenovo, the camera will be called the Mirage. Yi have decided to dub their version the Horizon VR180.
The Lenovo branding is in line with their standalone Daydream HMD the Mirage Solo. Together they’re being marketed as a content creation and consumption platform.
The Mirage comes with 4K resolution whereas Yi seem to be going for broke with a 5.7K resolution. However, when it comes to actual streaming 4K is the limit, which is more than most people’s bandwidth can handle at the moment anyway.
The Yi has an interesting flip-up LCD which means you can film yourself easily, which is a killer feature if you want to set up a livestream of yourself alone.
These two makers are only the first to have actual hardware on show. LG and Panasonic are also going to get in on the action and I expect we’ll get to see what they have to offer long before the “Spring 2018” launch date of the existing two cameras.
I Stand Alone
These are some very neat video cameras and I think Google might be onto something here. Thus far creating stereoscopic content for VR HMDs has been a little above the average user’s skill level. Something like the VR180 could change that for good. The problem is that it won’t be long before smartphones simply start integrating stereoscopic cameras if this does become popular. We already have dual-camera phones on the market so it’s not a major leap. I think most people would be OK with a camera bump at both ends of the phone.
The price might be another sticking point. 360-degree cameras aren’t cheap either but there are rumblings that the VR180s will be under $400. Which suggests more than $300. Steep if true, but then that didn’t stop people forking out for GoPro cameras.