Yi Technology, mainly known in the industry for its range of GoPro competitors, has partnered with Google to expand into virtual reality and 360-degree video, with two new cameras in tow, both of which were announced at the NAB conference in Las Vegas.
The first, the Yi Halo, is aimed at professionals, made in concert with Google. It's a monster camera rig content creators will flock instantly to. Makers of 360-degree VR rigs should take note: Google and Yi's new rig is putting yours on the line.
Meet The Powerful Yi Halo
The Yi Halo signals the next generation of Jump, Google's VR platform announced two years ago that leverages cloud-based stitching algorithm and software to more easily create 360-degree videos. Put simply, Jump encourages content creation by removing some of the most significant barriers in doing so.
To that end, Google calls the Yi Halo as "next generation Jump camera," which it built with Xiaomi-backed Yi. It packs beastly specs, packing 17 Yi 4K cameras, 16 of which are flanked on the rig's circumference, and a lone one perched in the middle, facing up. This arrangement should render seamless stitching of upward-facing views.
The cameras can generate 8K video at 30 frames per second or 5.8K at 60 frames per second for a more lifelike smoothness. Sean Da, Yi's CEO, says that the rig will let operators control various manual settings, such as the ISO, white balance, and more.
For such an insanely complex and high-tech device, you'd expect something bulky and unseemly. But no — the Yi Halo just weighs 7.7 pounds. Truly, the focus of Google and Yi is to encourage content creators to create, and both have made the rig mobile, compact, and easy to use. Again, Google's intent to remove barriers is clear here.
The device itself packs in a battery that promises 100 minutes of continuous footage, which is enough of a running time for a standard feature-length film. It can also be plugged on a wall with an AC adapter. Users can also turn to third-party battery solutions, offering utmost compatibility.
Yi Halo: A VR Rig With Software In Mind
The camera was designed specifically with software in mind, according to Emily Price, a product manager for Jump. For instance, the lone camera atop the rig isn't actually on top but flushed down near the middle. This, according to Price, makes better automatic stitching results.
"If it were on top, it doesn't stitch as smoothly as you'd like," she said.
The Jump software makes half of Yi Halo. The Jump Assembler merges Google's computer vision tech and cloud-based wizardry, taking the content from the 17 cameras and turning it into a 360-degree video. The process behind this is fully automated.
Aside from automatic switching, the software also corrects exposure and maps correct tones, since the 17 cameras will most likely capture differently lit and exposed videos.
Price says that Jump might introduce a way to preview 360-degrees video users just shot, albeit in a very rough composition. It allows users to look at what they've just captured just a few minutes after taking them to see if everything's working well.
VR filmmakers will also love the Yi Halo's timelapse mode, automatic depth map generation, and sharp focus even when the subject is close to the lens.
With the Yi Halo, both Google and Yi are trying to cozy up to content creators, offering them a nearly no-frills VR rig and accompanying software that almost has all the tools any rational director or cinematographer will look for. Google and Yi wants to make sure that the VR rig will be "accessible and scalable to a wide number of people."
As such, Google is launching the Jump Start program for 100 eager filmmakers who want to try using the Yi Halo. They'll receive free access to a Jump camera and unlimited use of the Jump Assembler over the next year. The deadline for applications is on May 22.
The Yi Halo will cost $16,999 and will hit the United States first before Yi's home country of China.