Home Technology Facebook Surround 360: An Open-Source 360-Degree VR Camera

Facebook Surround 360: An Open-Source 360-Degree VR Camera

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When Facebook purchased Oculus, the makers of the virtual reality viewer Rift, for no small amount of money, the writing was on the wall that the social media giant would need 360-degree VR content. What good is a VR viewer if you’re simply watching reruns of the “The Big Bang Theory?” Well, here’s your answer, an open-source, high-end capture system for VR.

Facebook Surround 360: An Open-Source 360-Degree VR Camera

You can’t buy this 360-Degree VR Camera

That alone, for many, will certainly prove to be a deal breaker. However, for others the idea of building a Facebook Surround 360 would be fun. Others will surely use the plans that Facebook will provide for the construction of the flying saucer-shaped 17-camera array and rent it out to people looking to get in on the VR content bandwagon. All of which will suit Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook just fine. Facebook doesn’t really make anything physical, but if you want to follow their plans and use the web-based software also made free to the public, Zuckerberg figures more the merrier.

Facebook maintains that it’s the best 360 camera on the market. But, of course, it’s not on the market. Facebook will be releasing the plans to hobbyists, photographers, and likely porn directors on GitHub sometime in the summer of this year.

Easy to build? Cheap?

For someone who struggles regularly with Ikea furniture, I’m going with no to the first question. Cheap? It never was going to be if being “the best on the market” was the goal. That said, surely if there is demand for a camera like this where you live $1,000 a day wouldn’t be out of line for a rental fee. If you can rent yourself and the rig regularly, sure, it’s cheap.

The materials to make the Facebook Surround 360 will cost you right about $30,000 if the items are purchased in the United States. Now, that sounds like a lot, but again rent it out to someone who has $1,000 but not $30,000 and the ability to build it.

In September of 2015, GoPro began selling a 16-camera VR setup that it created in partnership with Google. The camera called Odyssey, retails for $15,000 and represents the high-end of the low-end in VR camera rigs. On the high end, Nokia began shipping its next-gen 360 camera targeting professionals last month with a price tag of $60,000. Ozo was unveiled by Nokia late last summer. So, today’s plans and costs are somewhere between, but the other two do come assembled.

The specs for the Facebook Surround 360

Early 360-degree VR cameras faced the problem of getting the pole that holds the array upright out of the shot. The aforementioned three rigs have worked this out. Facebook’s flying saucer design has 14 wide-angle camera’s bolted to it (I’m seeing my personal issues with construction again), with a fish-eye camera on top and two more on the underside of the saucer. Rather than a rolling shutter, Facebook has employed something called a global shutter that makes certain that the closing of each shutter doesn’t make it onto the video.

Facebook demonstrated the rig on Monday at its Mountain View, CA headquarters and those in attendance remarked on the crisp video that was captured with seemingly no flaws when viewed with the Oculus Rift.

“There’s something about how high-quality the experience is that immediately makes you believe in 360 film,” said Chris Cox, chief product officer at Facebook, in an interview with reporters Monday.

The camera is meant to run for “many hours” according to Cox while also pointing out that Facebook though that open-source was the way to go with this one as the company has little interest in manufacturing cameras but will be happy to see the content created and provide a platform for viewing it with a smile on the company’s collective faces. Looking at Facebook’s stock performance and Zuckerberg’s rise in individual wealth this year, I’m not sure I would look to “fix something that isnt’ broken” either.

Brian Cabral, a director of engineering who led the project over the last year , says, “My goal is to put myself out of a job.” Reinforcing that Facebook, won’t be manufacturing its own cameras.

Filmmakers will certainly have a decision to make before they jump into VR content creation. From the demonstration, it’s pretty clear that Facebook has provided a viable option if you’re willing to DYI. Either way, someone will build it and with that Facebook’s efforts to get more content will move on down that road that can be viewed in 360 degrees owing to this bit of engineering and willingness to share.


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Brendan Byrne

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