While there are an increasing number of ways to consume virtual reality content (Cardboard and Samsung’s Galaxy VR come to mind), there aren’t a lot of devices available for consumers to use in making content. But that’s about to change. At CES, HumanEyes Technologies showed off the Vuze, a device it calls the “world’s first affordable consumer 360-degree 3D VR camera.” That’s a marketing mouthful, but it’s essentially an easy-to-use point-and-shoot camera that takes a full spherical image of what’s around you, and it contains proprietary software designed for processing the content — whether it’s reliving a birthday or wedding — allowing you to view the result with VR headsets. The company is scheduling availability for August 2016, and a price of $1,000.
Described as bringing “immersive content creation to the masses,” the Vuze is an all-in-one solution to making 360-degree 3D VR, which usually requires elaborate film-making equipment; the company even touts the camera as a benefit to professional photographers and movie makers. The third-dimensional capture is important in a VR viewing experience, because it adds the sense of depth that is natural to how our eyes sees things, versus a flat image.
To capture 3D 360 as well as regular 2D, the Vuze uses eight full-HD cameras with ultra-wide-angle lenses — each able to shoot 120 degrees horizontal and 180 degrees vertical for a nearly full sphere — in 4K at 30 frames per second and at a variable bit rate of 120Mbps, the company says. The images are processed in near real-time and stitched using the Vuze Studio desktop software for Mac or PC. Videos are compressed internally in H.264 format for easy post-editing on a computer. The company says content from the Vuze will work with any VR headset or glasses, as well as with devices and software that support 3D viewing, such as 3D-capable TVs and YouTube and Facebook. With the Vuze VR Kit, a headset, made by Homido, will be included.
“Featuring a stylish design, the highly portable lightweight camera will be available in a variety of vibrant colors and comes with its own purposely engineered versatile selfie stick and tripod,” the company says. “Its battery and removable SD card can capture up to one hour of video allowing people to capture and relive every part of the world around them in breathtaking detail.” The camera can be controlled via an app for iOS and Android.
The Vuze Studio software is easy to use for novices, but complex enough for those skilled at video editing. The company touts the software’s fast processing and stitching (one minute per one minute of footage), and attributes it to a proprietary technique called “Adaptive Blending.”
“Conventional stitching techniques merge images together at regular linear points which can result in images appearing slightly disjointed when they intersect detailed or complicated objects,” the company says. “Adaptive Blending solves this by identifying objects the human eye is drawn to such as straight edges, light contrasts, and faces, then blends around them to create a seamless stitched image. Just as the brain fills in information delivered by the eyes, Vuze Studio combines captured images with intelligence to form a perfect picture.”
According to HumanEyes, the software also handles camera calibration; vignette, fisheye and perspective correction; white balance and exposure correction that supports separate manipulation of left and right panorama spheres to ensure consistent correction between left & right panoramas; 3D 360 video stabilization without cropping; stereo alignment for consistent parallax; and a variety of editing capabilities, including insertion of objects, images and text (including 3D) and with stereo effect, embedding logos in the nadir (bottom) and changing the field of view of 360 x 180-degree scene, and adding 3D text and objects.
The Vuze is the first consumer hardware product from HumanEyes. The company may not be a familiar name, but it has been around since 2000, described as a “pioneer in photographic 3D, animated content creation, printing, display and processing in lenticular graphic arts,” and led by experts in computer vision. From some of the 360 samples HumanEyes posted to YouTube, the image quality looks decent with smooth motion, although the colors look a bit off. HumanEyes told us that the lower quality is an issue on YouTube’s end. We had a brief opportunity to try out the experience on a VR headset, running on a phone. Again, the panning motion is smooth, but it doesn’t look as vivid as we expected. We aren’t sure how much of that is due to the display limitations of the phone, but the Vuze is still in its development stages.
While VR will be making a lot of noise at CES 2016, it’s still nascent technology, and hardware like the Vuze is still early-adopter territory. It’s hard to tell if cameras like this will gain traction with consumers at the initial stage. Still, we can expect more of these cameras to appear if VR continues to grow, and Vuze is certainly trying to position itself at the forefront.