Facebook Unveils Open Source VR Camera, The Surround 360


a1It seems as though everyone is entering the 360-degree camera space as virtual reality headsets begin shipping, begging content creators to produce more virtual reality experiences.  While Samsung, LG and others all plan on debuting afforable 360-degree cameras for producing VR content, Facebook has also just entered the game in a big way.

We all know that Facebook has a vested interest in virtual reality.  After all they acquired Oculus, the manufacturer of the Rift VR headset, back in 2014 for $2 billion.  As CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg took the stage at this year’s Facebook F8 Developer Conference beaming with enthusiasm about the company’s long term plans, one area in which he is quite bullish on is that of distributing virtual reality content to the 1 billion+ members that the social network currently has.

What’s the best way for Facebook to entice its members to produce and share more VR-compatible content online?  How about an open-source 360-degree camera called the Surround 360?  The schematics for the high-end video camera will be released on Github some time this summer in an open-source format, hopefully leading to widespread adoption of such devices.  The design for the camera rig features 14 separate lenses going around a disc-shaped skeleton.  Then there is an additional fish-eye lens on the top and two more on the bottom, allowing for clean, uninterrupted filming in 360 degrees.  The 17 lens device also is accompanied by special software which allows for the stitching together of all the images instantly as one films.

“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.

This device certainly is of the utmost quality, with the ability to put out incredibly high resolution 8K content.  While Facebook hopes that companies will adopt this open-source design, one can be sure that any camera which does enter the market based on these schematics will be quite pricey.  Facebook says that the components which go into the Surround 360 will cost approximately $30,000 alone.  What this does do, however, is provide a starting point for companies to launch high quality 360-degree video hardware over the course of the next 12-18 months.  As component prices go down, and demand for such camera rigs increase, I’m sure we will see a major influx of new VR-compatible content appearing on the web very soon.

Let’s hear your thoughts on this open-source design in the Facebook Surround 360 forum on VRTalk.com.