Lytro revealed the first 360-degree light field video recorded with its Lytro Immerge light field camera technology. The days of standard 360-degree video might be numbered before the technology even got a foothold in the market.
The virtual reality industry is going to go through many rapid changes in the coming years. We’re in the very early days, and innovation is still rampant. Trends that are getting a lot of buzz today are bound to be yesterday’s news quicker than you might imagine. A great example of that is 360-degree video.
Right now, 360-degree videos are all the rage. Household-name companies such as Google, Facebook, GoPro, and Kodak (and more) have embraced this immersive video technology along with several lesser known companies looking to break into the immersive media technology, such as Human Eyes and Lucid VR. There are even companies, such as IM360 and Jaunt, that are betting that 360-degree video will catch on with professional video production professionals.
There’s a problem with the approach that all of these companies are taking, though. They are all taking an existing medium (cameras) and adapting them to work with a brand new medium (VR). This is a stop-gap solution at best. For true immersion VR, you have to be able to move around within the space you're experiencing. A 360-degree image or video is novel, but it's but a mere glimpse of an experience and isn’t going to convince anyone that they are truly living that moment.
There is at least one company that is attempting to tackle that problem with a technology worthy of moving forward with the virtual reality revolution. Lytro is developing a special camera that records light field information, as well as a backend system to handle the processing of that data. We first caught wind of Lytro nearly a year ago, when the company introduced its Lytro Immerge camera technology. Lytro had said that prototypes of its cameras were to be available in Q1 of this year.
We didn’t ever hear about the prototypes going out, but they must have sent cameras to at least one company, because the first film project recorded with Lytro Immerge Light field cameras has been announced.
The project goes by the name “Moon,” and Lytro claimed that it's the first ever live-action six degrees of freedom (6DoF) VR experience ever created. Lytro said that “Moon” allows a seated viewer to lean in, lean back, or move side to side, and your view will react as if it were a real-life experience. It gives you the ability to look around objects without distorting their appearance (parallax). The light field video also gives you the ability to tilt your head. Traditional 360-degree video only lets you look around, but if you tilt your head to the side, so will the video. Light fields provide all the information needed to process the scene at all angles.
Light field technology doesn’t really record video. It records real-world light ray trajectories and then calculates what the scene would look like based on your viewpoint. Lytro then combines that data with live-action video and with 3D renderings to reproduce true to life imagery. Light field technology also has the added benefit of being able to reproduce shiny and mirror-like objects that are difficult or impossible with 3D renderings. There’s also no need to stitch video clips together when the light field is captured, which is currently a pain point with 360-degree video production.
Lytro didn’t announce when the “Moon” video experience would be available to view. Tim Trillion, the company’s VR of Engineering, said that “much more about the production of 'Moon' and Light Field technology that powers it” will be revealed in the coming weeks. In the meantime, there’s a preview clip to get an idea of what to expect.