GoPro has made an excellent pro-level 360-degree camera rig, but that doesn’t solve its real problems

The GoPro Omni.
The GoPro Omni.
Image: GoPro
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On Aug. 17, anyone with $5,000 to spare will be able to buy the GoPro Omni, the company’s professional immersive video camera system. It works by meshing together six of GoPro’s action cameras into a sturdy aluminum rig that can film and stitch together 360-degree videos that—especially by its competitors’ standards—are relatively easy to produce, and look amazing.

But GoPro is in a precarious position right now. Sales of its action cameras are down, and the company has struggled over the last year to show that it’s anything more than a one-trick pony. It has stated that its big new bets for 2016 are virtual reality and 360-degree video, and aerial photography. So far, it has announced and pushed back its first drone, which it calls Karma, from an early 2016 launch to right before the Christmas holidays, and it hasn’t introduced a new consumer-level product since the GoPo Hero4 Session last summer, which has not sold as well as its predecessors.

Instead, the first big product that the company is releasing for the year is the Omni, which is likely an affordable solution for professional videographers looking to get into the burgeoning field of 360-degree video or virtual reality. (This is a system for creating high-quality 360-degree videos that can be viewed on VR headsets like the Oculus Rift or the HTC Vive, but the videos it produces are not in themselves really virtual reality.)

GoPro Omni shooting inside a wave
Here’s what the inside of a wave looks like through the eyes of an Omni.
Image: GoPro

It can capture truly spectacular shots in 8K resolution (something even most high-end VR systems would even struggle to output.) And using the included software wizardry, the Omni can produce high-definition flat video that appears to pan and zoom when in reality it’s just an editor picking and choosing which parts of the 360-degree video they want to show. From a demonstration, I can say it really does appear to work like magic.

But it’s unclear whether there are enough videographers out there interested in a product like this to have an affect on GoPro’s bottom line.

GoPro's magic Omni software in action.
GoPro’s magic Omni software in action.
Image: GoPro

Last week, Samsung announced that its 360-degree camera would cost $349 and go on sale Aug. 19. Having spent the last week testing it out in various situations, I found it relatively easy to capture and share 360-degree video that looked halfway decent on YouTube and Facebook. Obviously, it can’t produce video to the same standard as GoPro’s Omni, but it isn’t trying to, either. It does, however, cost about $100 less than GoPro’s current top-of-the-line camera, and it’s about the same size as one.

GoPro Omni 360 view paris
This is what downtown Paris looks like while shot on an Omni from a military plane flying over the city.
Image: GoPro

GoPro has sold millions of its action cameras over the years, and they are pretty much staples of every extreme sport event, from surfing to adventure obstacle races, to even drone races. It managed to produce a camera that a large group of people could incorporate into the activities they loved doing. Those same groups of people, and the general public more broadly, are starting to get interested in more immersive videos. While the Omni goes part of the way to ensuring that expensive, super-professional immersive action videos will look great in the near future, it doesn’t really help the average GoPro user.

GoPro hasn’t announced when the next version of its Hero camera will be released, although leaks have started to trickle out, but there isn’t much indication, at least as of yet, of how it plans to get the average GoPro owner excited again.