Plans afoot for a $500 cam­era that brings vir­tual re­al­ity to the masses

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - MEDIA& MARKETING - DO­MINIC BA­SULTO

A NUM­BER of me­dia com­pa­nies are busy ex­per­i­ment­ing with vir­tual- re­al­ity jour­nal­ism. But the abil­ity to pro­duce – not just con­sume – high-qual­ity vir­tual-re­al­ity con­tent quickly and cheaply is still largely out of the grasp of the av­er­age per­son.

One so­lu­tion to this prob­lem might be Lu­cidCam, a stereo­scopic, 3D 180-de­gree vir­tual-re­al­ity cam­era. To take a shot, a user sim­ply holds the cam­era and presses a but­ton. Since the cam­era has a 180de­gree field of view, users just hold the cam­era steady – there’s no need to do a dra­matic panoramic sweep.

The Lu­cidCam is part FlipCam, part GoPro, with the look and feel of a slim smart­phone. It’s meant to be a point-and-shoot cam­era for cap­tur­ing vir­tual-re­al­ity con­tent on the go. It’s por­ta­ble and mount­able, and makes it pos­si­ble to cre­ate high-qual­ity con­tent from a first­per­son per­spec­tive. With its 180de­gree field of view and true depth per­cep­tion, the cam­era creates the sen­sa­tion that you really are there. You can then watch this vir­tu­al­re­al­ity con­tent on your smart­phone, or a vir­tual-re­al­ity head­set.

Lu­cidCam is the prod­uct of Lu­cid VR, a com­pany founded by a group of Berke­ley and Stan­ford grad­u­ates, who started de­vel­op­ing the cam­era nearly two years ago and plan to launch it in mid-2016.

Lu­cidCam has gone through a num­ber of it­er­a­tions and pro­to­types, and the next step is to take it to mass pro­duc­tion. To make that pos­si­ble, Lu­cidCam is in the mid­dle of rais­ing $100 000 on the crowdfunding site IndieGoGo. With 45 days to go, the prod­uct has al­ready pulled in more than $90 000.

Han Jin, a co-founder and the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Lu­cid VR, said the goal is to put the cre­ation of vir­tual-re­al­ity con­tent in the hands of the av­er­age con­sumer, what he calls “VR for ev­ery­one.”

“There are in­fi­nite ap­pli­ca­tions for vir­tual re­al­ity, but the po­ten­tial for truly cre­ative con­tent is wasted if only a lim­ited num­ber of peo­ple have ac­cess to the tools for cap­tur­ing VR footage,” Jin said.

Jin was in­spired to cre­ate the Lu­cidCam by his fam­ily in China, with whom he wanted to share mo­ments and mem­o­ries from his life in the United States.

The im­me­di­ate ap­pli­ca­tions go be­yond just first- per­son fam­ily videos. Ideas for user-gen­er­ated vir­tual-re­al­ity con­tent con­tinue to roll in from early users of Lu­cidCam, Jin said. Some peo­ple want to cre­ate ex­pe­ri­ences such as vir­tu­al­re­al­ity yoga classes or wed­dings.

The best con­tent, Jin said, is still be­ing made by pro­fes­sion­als, not am­a­teurs. Com­pa­nies such as Jaun­tVR are ap­ply­ing Hol­ly­wood­style tech­niques to cre­ate im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ences.

As a re­sult, you can al­ready see two ex­treme sce­nar­ios for vir­tual re­al­ity to play out.

The first sce­nario is the “ama­teur” version: vir­tual re­al­ity be­comes a user-gen­er­ated hit and widely ac­ces­si­ble, but most of the con­tent is really just high- tech Vines, GIFs or In­sta­gram videos – funny or amus­ing stuff you cap­ture in 3D as you go about your life and that can be re­played in quick bursts. Maybe it’s a scene from a party you’re at­tend­ing, or a cute thing your cat just did.

It is vir­tual-re­al­ity con­tent you don’t need to edit and can up­load quickly.

An­other sce­nario is the pro­fes­sional sce­nario: Vir­tual re­al­ity re­mains the pre­serve of deep-pock­eted me­dia and pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies ca­pa­ble of craft­ing high-end ex­pe­ri­ences that take view­ers to places they would nor­mally never be able to see, such as dan­ger­ous war zones or for­eign lo­cales such as Cuba. Th­ese videos would also be shot with a lot of rigs and mounts and of­fer full 360-de­gree im­mer­sion ( com­pared with the 180- de­gree im­mer­sion of­fered by Lu­cidCam).

To en­sure that the first sce­nario hap­pens, Jin said the Lu­cidCam team is work­ing to keep the cam­era af­ford­able. One pric­ing model, he said, is GoPro’s. The cam­era, he said, needs to have just enough fea­tures to of­fer a su­pe­rior ex­pe­ri­ence, but not be so com­plex that it’s hard to op­er­ate. He hopes to keep the price of the cam­era at launch be­low $499 (R7 000). – Wash­ing­ton Post

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