Critical Impact on a Viewer’s Virtual Reality Experience: 360 2D Vs. 3D Cameras

How the Differences in Building 360 2D Vs. 3D Cameras Will Shape VR Adoption?

The definition of Virtual Reality has been evolving over the last couple years. While we are all clear about what a VR headset is and what it needs to do, people often are confused about what VR cameras should be able to do. Is it 360° or 3D or both? There is clearly a hype around 360° 2D consumer cameras right now, but the wave of 3D cameras is not far behind. However, to bring more clarity around why 3D is still behind, this article should explain some of the differences and especially challenges which make building 3D cameras much more difficult than a 360° 2D camera.

2D vs. 3D 360°: More than Just a Couple Lenses

First of all, the amount of camera modules and lenses needed to do 2D 360° is at a minimum two and can go up to four, but 3D needs way more than that. If you imagine that capturing 3D in one direction can only happen with at least two lenses – as we reproduce what a human eye can do in stereo – then you will understand that the most you can achieve in 3D with two wide angle lenses is 180° through and with six lenses is 360°. It is possible to create 360° 3D with four lenses, two facing one direction and two facing the opposite, but then you are sacrificing the sides which will be only in 2D. Many 3D cameras use eight or more lenses to create 360° 3D, because the more lenses you use the better resolution you can achieve with stitching.

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A 360 3D camera system

 

Straightforward Vs. Additional Alignment: Manufacturing 2D and 3D

Second, 360° 2D cameras have a more straightforward manufacturing process than any 3D camera for Virtual Reality. In the assembly, two lenses are mounted on sensors back to back, and the key step is the mechanical calibration to precisely align them. However, 3D VR cameras have to go through the same step in manufacturing, but then add an additional software calibration process which guarantees a perfect 3D experience. Every single 3D camera has to go through that process in order to generate 3D data necessary for playback.

 

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A LucidCam production unit

 

Stabilizing Multiple Points: Image Processing in the 2D vs. 3D

Finally, image processing needs for 3D cameras are much higher than for 360° 2D cameras because of stabilization, high dynamic range and calibration. For 360° 2D, you need the stitching software to combine the two lenses, and that happens mostly in real-time. However, for 3D cameras, you need more than just stitching, since you always have two reference points which you need to consider instead of one like in 2D. That means when you stabilize 3D, you are not stabilizing one point, but multiple points in differently shaking images. It can create a huge challenge, as for a perfect 3D effect and depth, you would need to keep the reference points at the same distance. Another impact is on the high dynamic range between two lenses capturing with a slight offset.

Even though you are recording the same direction, the light might be different due to the offset of the lenses. Besides those two you have to also deal with calibration which we briefly discussed above, but not just in manufacturing. What happens when the camera falls on the floor and the lenses get misaligned?

Those are just a few reasons why building 3D cameras is so difficult and needs time to get right. The smallest error can cause a huge impact on the viewer, leaving behind an experience which keeps people away from ever adopting Virtual Reality. Therefore, ramping up 3D cameras have taken an incredibly long time compared to all the 2D 360° cameras in the market. All we can hope is that the computer vision technology for 3D keeps getting better and better over the next couple years to finally take true VR content to the next level.

 

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Calibration of 3D from two lenses is challenging

 

Consumer Insights of 360 VR cameras

 

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360 VR Cameras landscape. Image courtesy of http://www.roadtovr.com

In the last couple of months, many Virtual Reality cameras have come to market which try to put content creation into the hands of consumers. However, sales of these VR cameras have been only moderate with the Ricoh Theta and Samsung 360 leading the pack. Because the unexceptional sales volume surprised us, we have collected the feedback to see what is holding down the pace of purchase.

Most consumers who bought a 360 VR camera mentioned that the big thrill in owning a VR camera  frequently faded after a few weeks, and after only using it a couple of times. This feedback was consistent and widespread and really surprised us because purchasing a VR camera is not only expensive but also requires time and effort to learn how to operate. Therefore we looked carefully at the user experience, storytelling and day-to-day integration to try to determine why consumers are not completely satisfied.

The first barrier is simply getting consumers ready to actually make a purchase. When consumers enter a retail store like Best Buy and walk past the unusual  ball-shaped camera devices, at first glance it does not quite resemble a camera at all, and it’s not very intuitive in terms of how to hold it and see what it captures. The biggest difference between a techie and consumer is the amount of effort he or she is willing to put in to learn a new technology. While a techie would spend hours researching and learning how to operate a 360 VR camera, the average consumer is more impatient and wants the device to directly function. Since the 360-degree camera capture experience is completely different from traditional digital cameras, there is just no obvious reference point for a consumer to know how to easily use it.

The second barrier to purchase or use is related to the 360 content itself which is very different from what consumers are used to — the 16:9 frame. With 360 degrees you pretty much capture everything, meaning you have no option other than to include things you want and things you do not want in the frame. This raises two more problems. First, consumers like presenting themselves from their best side and in the best light, but now they no longer can control that because it would take too much effort to make sure all 360 degrees look great. Second, consumers like telling a story by framing the perfect moment, and now they have to find other ways to direct the viewer’s attention. Given these challenges, it makes more sense that most 360 VR cameras are bought by professionals now. They either have the time and resources to stage 360 degrees or know the ins-and-outs of storytelling with sound and movements in 360 VR.

Lastly, portability and ease of carrying is a huge factor for consumers. Most of today’s pictures and videos are taken with smartphones because it fits into what you are already carrying like your phone in your pocket. However, 360-degree cameras are normally the size of a ball which often does not quite fit into your pocket and requires a bag or a mount in order to carry them around.

The only one which does fit is the Ricoh Theta which is almost the size of a smartphone, but still needs to be connected through wifi to a phone. The best integrated solution would be a 360-degree camera embedded into a smartphone, but since today we don’t want to buy thick or bulky phones, it would have a huge impact on the design of the smartphone.

360-degree Virtual Reality cameras are a great invention, but their value add compared to a standard panorama shot by a smartphone is small compared to the price you pay. We do not know if 360 VR will hit mass consumer adoption, but we know that professional videographers and content creators love capturing and developing commercial experiences with it. Therefore we believe that consumer adoption of 360-degree cameras will be way behind actual 360 content produced for commercialization.

Han Jin
Founder & CEO – Lucid VR
Check out Lucid Cam at http://www.lucidcam.com

Why 3D cameras will finally take off

For decades humanity has experimented with binocular cameras, trying to reproduce the same sight we have in 3D. One of the first 3D cameras, Verascope f40, came out in 1938. But why hasn’t everybody gotten their own 3D cameras these days to capture their experiences—just as they have with their GoPros?

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Verascope f40 – one of the very first 3D cameras. Photo courtesy of Collectiblend.com

Three major reasons have kept 3D cameras from mass adoption:  availability of viewing devices; sociability of 3D content; and the maturity of 3D technology.

First, until recently the only way to watch 3D content had been through an expensive 3D TV or a side-by-side view-master. As the Virtual Reality industry has ramped up and more head mount displays saturate the market, viewing 3D content has become easier than ever.  Today viewing videos or images captured with 3D cameras or even VR cameras is possible not only on an expensive HTC Vive or Oculus Rift, but also on anybody’s mobile phone with a Google Cardboard. This has drastically increased the devices available for viewing 3D content.

Google Cardboard allows many people to have the first experience with VR.

Google Cardboard allows many people to have the first experience with VR.. Photo courtesy of slashgear.com

Second, capturing 3D content and viewing it on a 3D TV would allow you, your friends and family to view it, but sharing it with someone remotely or exciting someone to jump into 3D content creation was not possible. Although Virtual Reality, especially mobile VR, allows you to transfer and watch 3D content easily, it is still an isolated experience. However, when you consider that a 3D TV costs thousands of dollars, you now need only a mobile phone and low-cost Google cardboard to view 3D content. And as I believe that VR headsets will replace mobile phones in the future, the options to consume content created by 3D VR cameras will exponentially increase.

Lastly, one of the challenges 3D technology faces, especially 3D displays, is the angle from which the person watches the video on the screen. If you are not standing directly in front of the screen at a 90° angle, the 3D effect does not work and can cause people to feel uncomfortable viewing it. Many companies have tried to make VR content viewable for everyone. Solutions range from shifting screens to segmented depth calibrations to eye tracking paired with customized playback. However, none of these technologies can currently ensure a comfortable and fast viewing experience for 3D content. This is another area where Virtual Reality headsets provide a much easier solution by literally mounting the screen directly before your eyes and using an accelerometer to adjust the display as you move your head. The additional data coming from the accelerometer provides the feedback needed to directly adjust the 3D, making it comfortable to watch. As VR technology matures, 3D playback will continue to improve.

Affordable and sophisticated VR Headset will improve consumers' experience with VR and bring it closer to the mass.

Affordable and sophisticated VR Headset will improve consumers’ experience with VR and bring it closer to the mass.

As we have seen, Virtual Reality can finally provide a scalable platform for 3D content which was never possible before. The more VR is adopted in the coming years, the better the solution for viewing, sharing and displaying 3D content created with 3D cameras. As the VR market becomes saturated with head mounted displays, the market will not be satisfied with purely 2D 360° content, but will demand more and more true 3D content, thus giving 3D cameras the chance to come back from its prematurely-announced demise.  

How about you? What is your opinion on 3D camera?

Han Jin
Founder & CEO – Lucid VR
http://www.lucidcam.com

Prototype - birds eye view

Lucid VR raises $2M and partners with Wistron to bring LucidCam to Mass Production

We are very excited to announce today that we have closed our Seed round with $2.1M and signed a partnership with Wistron, one of the top 5 ODMs worldwide. We received investments from Wistron, S2 Capital, Lab360, TEEC Angel Fund, 17 Miles Technology as well as other angel investors. The funding coupled with the Wistron manufacturing agreement provides the means to bring our one-of-a-kind, affordable VR camera, LucidCam, to mass production.

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Lucid VR Co-founders CEO, Han Jin, and CTO, Adam Rowell

“LucidCam brings people together across the world by capturing incredible immersive experiences in VR, the same way as your eyes see them. Now you can easily share your moments with friends and family within seconds in VR,” said our CEO, Han Jin. “With our relationship with Wistron we will be developing a beautifully designed and engineered camera that is going to surpass our original plans. We are very excited to announce that we will be upgrading our backers with a first production version of the LucidCam with double the resolution and frame rate, in addition to extended battery capacity. The viewing experience in VR headsets will be so much smoother with 2K and 60 frames per second.”

We successfully crowdfunded our first round of production cameras in December 2015, with the cameras now to be produced by Wistron Corporation and delivered in the later half of 2016.

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Easily relive moments that matter

LucidCam eliminates what has until now taken hours and thousands of dollars in big-size equipment and software to do. For the first time, anyone can easily capture amazing 3D spherical videos and images with the simple touch of a button. Semi-pros and photo video enthusiasts can capture amazing cinematic 3D experiences. Game developers can easily create lifelike environments and innovators can disrupt industries by building businesses around VR content.

LucidCam is available for pre-order here.

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LucidCam is the easiest-to-use VR camera out there and can enable mass content creation

The camera’s unique technology was created by our founders, Jin and his co-founder and Dr. Rowell, a Stanford Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering who is specialized in computer vision and image processing. LucidCam breaks down expensive Hollywood 3D production camera systems to a small form factor, making it more affordable for the masses and eliminating the long-winded postproduction processes. It leverages binocular lenses to create true depth as well as peripheral vision and utilizes two microphones — essentially mimicking human eyes and ears. It fits into your pocket like a mobile phone so users can capture immersive images and videos anywhere, anytime. With a 180-degree field of view, LucidCam allows users to stick to the traditional point-and-shoot approach, simply pressing the shutter and holding the camera steady to capture everything – no panoramic sweeps required.

We will be bringing a remarkable VR camera to capture great immersive videos. There are so many applications for 3D VR content, but the potential is limited when only a few people have access to the tools. With LucidCam we want to put the power of content creation into your hands, because only then the potential of VR will unfold.

lucidcam

Meet AR… The Sister of VR

Blog by: Micah Blumberg

Micah is a freelance writer with Virtual Reality Media Associates

I’ve talked a lot about Virtual Reality. Now, we’re going to change directions a bit and meet the related Augmented Reality company, Meta.

Right now Meta is about 80 people and they are hiring. They previously secured 23 million dollars, sold 1000 Meta 1 headsets, and now they have just released the Meta 2 headset for 949 dollars, it is a real step forward in the evolution of human tools, one that will lead to the replacement of flat screens like those used for TV, computers, tablets, laptops, and phones. With the Meta 2 development kit you can do holographic telepresence, and you can do work in a remote way that is also very immersive. Meta is a see through device unlike Virtual Reality. You can create new programs for it with a game engine called Unity which runs on Windows. Later this year Meta will support Unity on Mac as well. It’s a stereo 3D display so you can see objects in real 3D. The headset’s sensors measure depth, and recognize gestures. With Meta people can work together from different places, and hand each other data as if they were in the same room.

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Meta 2

 

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Will Social Engagement Save VR?

Blog By: Janessa White

The rise of the internet didn’t originate from search engines, news sites or web browsing. In a time where dialup connection and computers were expensive, mass adoption of the World Wide Web was predominantly motivated by forms of social engagement: chat rooms and email.  People were rushing to get online to interact with one another.

Virtual reality right now faces a similar predicament the internet did in its early days: how do you get people to adopt to a new medium? As history has proven, it won’t be through games, films or other forms of entertainment. Until we can incorporate social media and social engagement into the VR space, this industry may remain a bit obsolete on a mass scale.

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Photo Credit: Aaron Rodriguez

Geek.com recently published an article ,‘The Dream of Virtual Reality is Dead for Now,’ throwing quite the gut punch to the VR industry. The article’s author, Will Greenwald, states that until higher quality headsets are more affordable, the industry won’t prevail. What he’s missing in his argument is that companies like Oculus predict it will take five or more years for mainstream adoption of VR. Sony, Samsung, Google and other players in the VR industry are all taking similar approaches: they’re in it for the long haul.

How do you turn a singular experience as stark as putting a VR headset on into a communal or socially engaging activity? Harvard professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski has spent years studying user behavior on social media platforms. What has he concluded? It’s all about pictures, voyeurism and cloaked engagement. Users spend hours online looking at funny photos, gawking at the lives of their friends or acquaintances, getting furious over the latest political debate recap and messaging with friends and family.

How can VR take from Piskorski’s learnings? Perhaps the future of VR is chatrooms like AltspaceVR , where your avatar engages other avatars? Maybe Skype will transform into a virtual arena? Or maybe we’re looking in the wrong place and AR will trump VR by a long haul and we’ll someday wine and dine with holographs of our favorite mythical creatures as teased out by Magic Leap?

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An Environment in Altspace VR

If virtual reality is to make the splash we all hope it will, it has to find ways to connect us as humans. Through stories, social media platforms or other forms of human engagement we may find the key to unlocking mainstream VR.

About the Author:

Janessa Nichole White is the founder of the virtual reality blog VR Dribble. She is a Creative Partner in the Boise-based endeavor Boise Virtual Reality Project.  She is currently developing several VR stories and is working to establish herself as a 360° film creator.

Shoot her a line: jw@vrdribble.com or @janessanwhite

Erin Brockovich meets Joy Mangano – Interviewing Ela Darling

Blog by: Micah Blumberg

Micah is a freelance writer with Virtual Reality Media Associates

Ela Darling has been called the modern Erin Brockovich  for her legal activism, but she seems to be just as brilliant as an entrepreneur as Joy Mangano who was recently played by Jennifer Lawrence in the 2015 film called “Joy.”

Women in VR
Darling is a proud member of the “Women in VR” foundation (a video interview is at the bottom of the page). She is also a humanitarian who speaks out about treating other people ethically and with respect. She has called for the tech industry to be more welcoming of all people, but especially people who are traditionally underrepresented in the tech industry, particularly women, people with diverse backgrounds, and transpeople.

Darling is a woman’s rights activist who is excited to encourage and help more women to join the tech industry, to find their niche, and to be successful wherever they apply themselves.
So Women in VR?
Well according to Darling, tech is a traditionally male dominated industry, and she hopes to change that by encouraging people who are not well represented to come in, join, stand up, and be counted. What Darling see’s in “Women in VR” is a place where she can lend her voice, where women like her can lend their voices, to uplift those who are grossly underrepresented, to create a more welcoming Virtual Reality industry, and to help encourage a stronger future for all people who use Virtual Reality.

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Imagining Reality

Blog by: Carl White

Carl White is a professional videographer.

As a film maker, when I imagine a story for a short film, I close my eyes and see things. It12544183_1755026958058422_1975714765_o all starts with an environment and I
can then see things happening. There are colors, objects and people moving and interacting.

When I first tried a modern Virtual Reality headset I was stunned to “see” something very similar to what my imagination would generate. “Eureka!” I thought, “I will make Virtual Reality short films.”

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Why I’m On Board for the VR Revolution: Thoughts from a Professional Photographer

Blog By: Josh Shagam

Josh Shagam is a photographer and educator.

I’m incredibly excited for the much-promised virtual reality era that sits just on the horizon. I’m excited because I’m a gadget nerd, a gamer, and a sci-fi lover. VR is poised to transform how I play games, watch movies, shop, how I use social media—maybe you’ve heard the lofty promises. But the aspect that has me behind VR the most? Photography. Professionals, amateurs, everyone in between—it’s all going transform the visual media that we create and view every day. Photography is primed to be the “killer app” for virtual reality. Allow me to summarize my thoughts on the topic.

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Following Footsteps in VR

Blog by: Kai Hubner

Kai is one of the founders of the growing VR meetup in Stockholm, Sweden. 

The Stockholm Virtual Reality (SVR) Meetup was created in July 2014, after two VR enthusiasts lacked a platform to stockholm vr meet-upexchange ideas and discussions centered on Virtual Reality topics in Sweden. And for Stockholm – nowadays called one of the most innovative regions outside of Silicon Valley – it seemed just a big flaw to not have a platform that gathers local VR enthusiasts, spreads the word about VR, and sets out to follow in the footsteps of awesome meetups like the Silicon Valley Virtual Reality Meetup (SVVR).

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