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360 videos will become a bit more interesting with Facebook's 360 cameras

Why it matters to you

Facebook users can scroll through 360 photos and videos but Facebook is working on the tech to allow you to move in any direction within the footage.

Facebook is looking to “establish a creative norm” by engineering its own 360 cameras to put in the hands of professional filmmakers. On Wednesday, during the annual F8 conference, the company introduced the Surround 360 x24 and x6, both 360 cameras named for the number of lenses in its sphere-shaped body.

Unlike the social media platform’s last 360 experiment, the latest cameras use six degrees of freedom (6DoF) which means users can move through the footage. The 6DoF experience allows viewers to do more than just pan through footage from side to side, but to move forward and backward as well as up, down, left and right. The Surround 360 x24 is a professionally geared camera with 24 lenses set to be manufactured by Flir, while the x6 is a smaller camera geared toward consumer use and built without a third-party manufacturer.

So why is the social media platform continuing to experiment with 360 hardware? “One of the reasons we want high-end creatives to use [the camera] is to teach the rest of the world how to use it,” Facebook Engineering Director Brian Cabral told Venture Beat.

The original Facebook Surround 360 was released as open source software. When some developers used only the software and made their own hardware or developed new software for the same hardware, Facebook discovered what works and what does not. Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer said that 3D 360 was not offering realistic real-world movement. With the 6DoF technology, that could change.

Facebook’s 6DoF cameras, which do not have a release date, are not the first to create a video experience where the user can move in six directions within the footage. Lytro’s Immerge also uses the 6DoF, but since the hardware is so large and expensive, the Immerge is only rented out, not sold on the market. Even Facebook’s 24-lens variation is significantly smaller, and while designed for advanced users, is arguably more prosumer than Lytro’s model.

To process all that information, Facebook is working with several software companies for the stitching software to accompany the cameras, including Adobe, Foundry, Mettle, and Otoy. Dxomark is also working with Facebook to create a benchmark to measure image quality for 360 cameras, Facebook said.

There is no word yet on when the Facebook Surround 360 24x and 6x will be available, but Cabral said during Wednesday’s conference that while there is still work left on both cameras, Facebook is en route to a finished product. The camera announcement comes after Facebook announced a beta augmented reality program on Tuesday for creating objects and placing them inside an augmented reality that users can see with their smartphones — like Pokémon Go — such as placing an object on a table that is not really there or turning a blank wall into virtual street art.