There' a pact you make with yourself when you take the road less travelled in tech. I'd be well pleased to have the liquidity to stump up a few thousand dollars for a state-of-the-art 360 camera, but I must make do with much less than that. Indeed, it's whatever I can cobble together at the moment. That's why I've gone with the Brahma Duo. It's cheap for what you get. But you must sing for your supper to achieve the best results. Meaning countless hours spent mucking about with scripts, custom firmware, trawling forums and learning esoteric commands. I've actually telneted (is that a word?) to my cameras, just to squeeze a little extra colour and clarity out of it.
The remote camera control android app is a side-project for a very busy chap somewhere in the U.K. — he's done an excellent job, but it's an alpha version. Sometimes you are lucky if it takes one video out of four attempts. Maybe only one camera will record. For this reason, you must remember to constantly restart the cameras, restart the software and occasionally reboot the phone. It's the classic 'IT Crowd' solution.
At the end of it, you'll sometimes come up with something like this.
But as much as I've had fun hacking and tinkering on the ground floor of 360 multimedia, it's already time to move up. My aspirations extend to better quality imagery, at least 4K, so my footage for will be at the minimum required for what I believe is demanded by truely immersive story telling. But my budget certainly won't extend up to a 5,000 dollar, six-camera GoPro rig.
That said, there is a contender that won't laser a hole through my wallet. The Samsung Gear 360, which looks like a giant robot eyeball, is a 360 camera that does 4K and is affordable. While the camera is only available in Korea at the moment, you can pre-order it on eBay from Korean sellers for about 320 to 400 dollars. From all the reviews I've read so far, Samsung is on to a winner here. This could be the Tesla Model 3 of the 360/VR camera world, the content creation device that really takes VR to the mainstream. Of course, there is the Ricoh Theta S, which I must say is an amazingly compact and capable package for what it can do. Unfortunately, it doesn't quite deliver in terms of image and video quality.
As with all good things, there is a catch. Actually, more than one. First, Samsung have made it so the camera can only be controlled by Samsung phones. Plus, the stitching software that glues the camera's dual images together will only run on these phones, or on a reasonably powerful Windows PC. So sorry Mac fans, this is Samsung sticking it to you for your devotion to fruit-branded consumer tech.
To stitch my Brahma Duo camera videos together, I purchased a licence for the very expensive, but very excellent 360 camera video stitching software from virtual reality company, Kolor. Autopano Video 2.3 is so good, it's almost worth the money. Almost. But it's arguably the best you can get at the moment, which certainly hasn't been lost on Kolor.
I run it on my Macbook, which isn't ideal for big rendering jobs, but it's what I have. There are no Windows PCs in this household. SO, while I'd love to move up to a Gear 360, I DON'T want to buy a PC so I can stitch and render footage.
My phone is a Samsung Galaxy Note 4, but it's not compatible with the Gear 360 Manager app (Supported devices are: Galaxy S7, Galaxy S7 Edge, Galaxy S6, Galaxy S6 Edge, Galaxy S6 Edge +, Galaxy Note 5). Double downer. It looked as though I was royally screwed. No robot eyeball for me.
BUT, as always, there is a hacked version of the app that WILL run on my Note 4, albeit with some bugs to iron out. Which got me thinking. If I can control the Gear 360 with my phone, what if I could make Autopano Video do the stitching and rendering?
I could expect no help from Kolor, as they are now recently acquired by GoPro and not interested in helping out the competition. And likewise from Samsung, for the same reasons.
However, where there is a will, there is a solution. Using some Gear 360 footage provided by Mic Ty from the 360 Rumors blog, I managed to come up with a template pano that I can use for stitching Gear 360 footage in the future. My first effort is a little rough and needs further refinement, but as a proof-of-concept, it works well enough. It means that I can keep using Autopano Video, I won't have to buy a PC yet (I may have to anyway if I don't want to spend 5 hours rendering a 7 minute video) and best of all, I can get myself a robot eyeball!
I'll detail the steps I took to create the pano in a later post. I've embedded the test video below. It's scintillating stuff.
Oh, and thanks again Mic for the source video! And thanks to Bin4ry for the modified Gear 360 Manager!
I've decided to gain some experience with creating 360° and virtual reality immersive multimedia. As a journalist, my focus will be on exploring the best way to exploit this technology to bring stories to life and better engage a new generation of digital native. I'm starting cheap. Very cheap in fact.
The camera I've built is based on designs from U.K.-based developer and multimedia specialist, Stephen Jones. At the bottom end of his range of DIY designs is the Brahma Duo. It comprises of a 3D-printed chassis that holds two Xiaomi Yi action cameras back-to-back. To ensure a full 360°x360° field of view, I modified the cameras with two 220° lenses. The videos and photos produced by each camera are joined together using software (Autopano Video 2.3) to create the final rendered 360° product.
In future posts I'll write in more detail about the experience of building the rig and using the software. For now, I'm learning to use both. Below is an example of my first tests with the rig. Important Note: view the video with either Chrome or Firefox to get the full 360° experience. Safari doesn't support 360 at the present time. And set the resolution as high as it will go. Enjoy!