Ever since Facebook bought Oculus Rift for $2 billion, the company has been seeding the VR industry with money and technology to help generate content that might encourage people to give VR a try.
Facebook’s most recent effort: A new video camera built specifically to record 360-degree videos, the kind of videos that work well inside a VR headset. Facebook unveiled the camera at its annual F8 developer conference on Wednesday.
The new camera is shaped like a ball and comes with either 24 lenses (the x24) or six lenses (the x6). It’s the second 360-video camera to come out of Facebook in the past two years; the first camera, which looks like a flying saucer and has 17 lenses, was also unveiled at Facebook’s F8 developer conference, but in 2016.
Why is Facebook, a social media company that makes almost all of its money from advertising, building high-end 360-degree video cameras?
Because virtual reality is still a niche industry, and mainstream users won’t fork over money for a headset if they don’t have great content to enjoy it with. If Facebook can get its 360-degree cameras into the hands of filmmakers, perhaps they’ll make the kind of stuff that motivates people to go buy new products.
The new camera is different from Facebook’s original camera in two ways.
For starters, Facebook isn’t giving away the blueprints to this camera for free, like it did with the flying saucer version. The hope there was that people would take those blueprints and build the camera themselves.
In actuality, though, that camera was far from free — it cost $30,000 to build. Facebook realized that some people would rather just pay for the camera in the first place. So Facebook will license the designs for the new cameras to “commercial partners” and let them sell the cameras to interested buyers instead.
The new cameras also offer an extra visual element to the video they capture: Depth. The new cameras shoot in six degrees of freedom, which means viewers can move forward and backward within a scene, not just left/right and up/down. That’s an important element when it comes to creating a virtual world that’s meant to feel natural.
Facebook says it hopes to have the new cameras available, via its partners, by the end of the year. The company won’t say how much the cameras will cost, but it’s a camera for professional photographers, not amateurs, which probably means it’s expensive.