With all due respect to Yoga Berra, predictions are actually quite easy. It’s just accurate ones that are tough.
With that caveat firmly in place, we can sketch out a few possibilities for the emerging 360-degree and virtual reality camera market for 2017.
3D cameras make a comeback: 3D cameras briefly surfaced several years ago as a way to create user-generated content for 3D TVs. And, like the ill-fated 3D TV, 3D cameras and camcorders sold poorly and quickly disappeared from store shelves. But in the context of virtual reality video, 3D is not a gimmick. Indeed, stereoscopic image capture is vital to creating virtual reality with depth and dimensionality–for making the virtual seem realistic.
Most consumer 360-degree cameras launched to date capture a flat image, with no dimensionality. But a new breed of camera, represented by the likes of the Vuze camera coming in 2017 from HumanEyes, is different. It uses a pair of stereoscopic lenses on each side of its square body to record a 3D image, creating a 360-degree video that’s far more immersive. Since more cameras are being used, 3D VR solutions are also able to record more pixels and create a higher-resolution final video.
But while 3D VR is more realistic and of much higher quality, it’s also more computationally intensive to produce. The Vuze camera requires a PC to stitch and render the video into a single, 360-degree whole and that process occurs in real time, so one minute of recorded footage takes one minute to stitch and render (on Macs or older PCs with slow GPUs, it can take even longer). What’s more, this 3D VR video really shines in a VR headset with robust processing power (i.e. not inexpensive smartphone readers like Google Cardboard). As more consumers adopt VR viewers, the install base of users who can view more immersive, self-captured VR video will only grow.
Stream On: Two of the web’s largest platforms, Facebook and YouTube, have pushed 360-degree video and live video in a big way in 2016. The next obvious step is to merge the two and create streaming 360 cameras that can feed these platforms’ voracious appetite for content. One of the first 360 streaming cameras, the Orah, hit the market last year and several new cameras are expected in 2017 as the category evolves. This category will be helped by the growing penetration of HEVC (H.265)-enabled imaging chips, which can compress video more efficiently than the prevailing AVC (H.264) codec.
To the Skies: With camera drones growing in popularity and falling in price, we should expect to see models with integrated 360-degree cameras this year. Kodak and drone-maker 3DR had teamed on a solution last year to mount Kodak’s 360-degree Pixma camera to a 3DR drone, but with the later out of the hardware business, it will fall to other drone and/or mount makers to craft a solution to bring spherical imaging to the skies.