At the second day of its F8 Conference, Facebook announced the second-generation Surround 360 VR cameras, and the company is serious about commercializing them, as opposed to last time's strategy.
Facebook Outs 2nd-Generation Surround 360 Cameras
Facebook unveiled the first Surround 360 camera last year not as a full-fledged product, but as an open-source guide for third-party developers to build upon.
The second-generation Surround 360 cameras have been upgraded into two iterations, one of which is a bigger, more capable model; the other is more compact but still highly capable version. Both are tipped for expanded commercial visibility.
The big model is called the x24, referencing its 24 built-in cameras arranged in an orb, much higher than the 17 cameras on the original Surround 360. The smaller model, meanwhile, is called x6, referencing its six built-in cameras.
Facebook has opted to cozy up to a select group of hardware partners to manufacture and sell these devices, instead of just releasing design blueprints and guidelines, as it did with the original device. There's no mention of the cameras being Facebook-branded, but the company clearly states that it has no plans to sell them directly.
Six Degrees Of Freedom: What Is It?
As for the cameras themselves, so much technology is packed into both. For one, they can capture 8K-quality video. The real deal, however, rests with a technology called Six Degrees of Freedom, or 6DOF. This allows for the human body to move in any point of a VR scene dynamically, as long as it's wearing a VR headset capable of positional tracking. It'll be like actually walking in a real-life scene.
6DOF is not that different from the kind of freedom Oculus Rift can showcase, but with the Surround 360 cameras, that freedom now involves panning, walking, and moving around live-action 360-degree environments. The technology involves a mix of hardware and software that renders the depth of objects in a particular scene, then it replicates the 3D space the cameras never originally captured.
"[Both cameras] create some of the most immersive and engaging content ever shot for VR," says Facebook. "The new camera technology lets you move around within the video scene and experience the content from different viewing angles."
But 6DOF technology isn't new. High-profile movie studios dabbling in special effects and advanced editing tools have been using it for a while. Yet many companies are trying to bring development costs down to make 6DOF content more accessible.
The Implications Of 6DOF Technology Hitting Mainstream
Facebook thinks it can redefine the 360-degree format, especially since content creators will have more freedom to create more immersive and engaging 360-degree content. Moreover, the great thing about Facebook's plans is that it involves democratizing not only 6DOF technology, but the ways in which people can view them.
To that end, Facebook says that content captured with the Surround 360 cameras can be reformatted and adapted for different platforms, such as Samsung's Gear VR headset, or even a plain old smartphone. Of course, without positional tracking, users will lose the intended level of immersion, but they'll still get high-quality 360-degree content, thanks to the cameras' ability to capture native 8K.
"Part of what we are doing with the ecosystem, and the camera itself, is giving these tools to content creators so they can start to develop this artistic language," said Brian Cabral, head of engineering at Facebook.
Jumpstarting a whole trend will of course be a tall order, but the task is easened by the torrent of 360-degree videos already littering Facebook's social network.
But it knows technology isn't enough for a product to catch on. Content, as always, is king. To that end, Facebook plans to partner with a roster of post-production companies the likes of Adobe, Otoy, Foundry, Mettle, and more. If the partnership spews significant output, it'll keep the VR ecosystem potent and relevant in the years to come.