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Building a VR future.

Facebook is making public how to build its surround camera so that anyone can replicate the process

Ananya Bhattacharya
By Ananya Bhattacharya

Tech reporter

Facebook already thinks its future will be all video but can it be all 360-degree video?

In November 2015, Mark Zuckerberg posted on his Facebook page mobile 360 video taken by an ABC news crew in North Korea. He wrote, “We think people will share a lot more 360 content in the future, especially as technology makes it easier to record it themselves. We’re excited you can discover them on Facebook.” On Tuesday (July 25), Facebook unveiled on Github the blueprints to build the Surround 360 Camera.

Facebook hopes that professional videographers will use the blueprints to build their own 360 cameras—at a cost of $30,000 for the off-the-shelf parts. If such video is then posted to Facebook, perhaps its 1.65 billion monthly active users will be lured into buying its virtual reality headsets–which cost $599 before taxes and shipping–in order to watch it. Facebook spent $2 billion in 2014 to buy virtual reality company Oculus Rift.

Although the company has technology on its site that permits scrolling around a panoramic photo or video, the experience is richer with a VR headset. Some analysts still remain skeptical about the sales potential of Oculus Rift headsets, which began selling in March.

Facebook is “ensuring that if VR becomes a major communication platform, Facebook will be well-positioned,” Avi Greengart, an analyst at Current Analysis, said in an interview. Few consumers are likely build a Surround 360–which is why Facebook isn’t bothering to do so itself. Greengart said the company is one of the few with enough capital to push the VR industry while it’s young.

Facebook’s chief product officer Chris Cox had committed to making the camera’s design and hardware publicly available prior to releasing the first video shot by Facebook’s Surround 360 camera in May this year. Facebook posted a time-lapse video of the process, with an Ikea-esque instruction manual. The company also revealed the code to stitch the camera’s images together into one seamless 360-degree product.

Professional cameramen and videographers shooting in 360-degree now use cameras like the $15,000 GoPro Odyssey or the $60,000 Nokia Ozo. For them, building the Surround 360 may be a viable option—especially since creating one’s own camera allows for customization that store-bought models don’t.

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