Digital camera maker Lytro is no stranger to making groundbreaking technology. It first appeared on our radar three years ago when it developed the first-ever light-field camera, which allows photographers to capture everything within the range of the camera's finder and later decide what to put into focus, after the picture is taken.
The company released two consumer cameras, the first a kaleidoscope-like shooter that retails for $400 to $500, followed by the Lytro Illum that is close to a DSLR with the price tag of $1,600. And while neither of these models can shoot video, it was only a matter of time before Lytro applied its tech to create a product with filmmakers and gamers in mind.
The company is now taking a giant leap into the VR market by announcing the Immerge, a video camera that uses this same light-field technology to capture immersive live-action video and computer graphics.
But Immerge is more than just a VR camera, it's actually an entire system combined with software that can then be used with various VR headsets.
Lytro's Immerge can be best described as a ring of cameras that capture an entire sphere using its "hundreds" of cameras and sensors, providing Six Degrees of Freedom so the user can move around and interact in the world.
The goal of this technology is to create professional-level content for virtual reality by blending CG content with live action in a realistic way that doesn't "cost a million dollars."
A 360-degree video that is filmed now can be described as a flat plane that is wrapped around the users's headset. This makes the VR experience seem clumsy since you don't have three-dimensional space to walk around in, as the world seems attached to your line of vision.
Instead of just filming a scene in 360-degrees, Immerge recreates the scene that is being filmed. The camera captures every ray of light (and the direction of the light) that not only colors things in the frame, but reveals how far things are from each other. Therefore, the camera is able to create a model of a spherical world for a truly immersive viewing experience.
"Lytro Immerge is a true light-field volume solution, which means we aren't just sticking together the images that are captured," Lytro CTO Kurt Akeley said. "Instead, we are essentially rebuilding a version of the scene. As a result, we have very reliable depth information, and that makes it possible in subsequent processing to merge computer-generated imagery with the imagery that's captured with the rig."
This technology will then allow the scene to react to what you're doing in it, which would completely change the gaming experience and make it interactive in way like never before. Talk about next-generation storytelling.
Along with announcing the Immerge, Lytro also announced a portable server made specifically for this VR camera, one which can store an hour of raw video and process light-field recordings; a set of light-field editing tools that also works with production tools like Nuke and Final Cut Pro; and the Lytro Immerge player that allows filmmakers to play back their light-field content on all the leading VR headsets and systems that currently exist.
The whole package will probably cost hundreds of thousands of dollars when the system is commercially available. For now, Lytro is hoping to have a prototype ready for the first quarter of 2016.