Hands on: Attempting teleportation with Google Jump panoramic VR videos

VR headsets like the Oculus Rift can drop you anywhere from the edge of a comic-book skyscraper to a dinosaur-infested swamp, but how do we capture real-life experiences for VR? The answer is easy enough: 360-degree 3D video.

Shooting video in every direction at once from multiple viewpoints is really, really tricky, however. The rigs to do it right cost enough to make even James Cameron think twice. But at Google’s I/O developer conference in San Francisco on Thursday, the company introduced Jump, a new solution that may make it possible for anyone to shoot 3D panoramic video in the near future. And we got to try out the engulfing results.

It makes Google an early leader in the field of shoot-it-yourself VR tourism.

The first videos from Jump were shot on a special 3D-printed rig developed by GoPro in collaboration with Google. Sixteen cameras fan out on a tripod-mounted wheel that looks like a nightmare from some futuristic surveillance state. Right now, that video gets fed into Google’s proprietary algorithm, which both weaves 16 individual feeds into one panorama and generates stereoscopic viewpoints for the illusion of 3D. You can only watch it, at the moment, on an Android phone wrapped in Google’s functional but inelegant Cardboard 3D viewer.

Donning this clunky headset for the first demo, the limitations of the medium are immediately apparent: The images are grainy and pixelated. The field of view is narrow. Moving your head too much ruins the illusion. But sure enough, this is true 3D video. You can move your head in any direction and witness life unfold around you, in 3D, as if you were there.

In one demo, a hiker treks his way up a glacier in the foreground while distant mountains wrap around you in every direction. In another, waves wash up on a black volcanic beach, making you want to lift your feet before the frigid waters soak your shoes. In the best, a custom motorcycle builder bangs away on his latest creation while you peer around his cluttered shop, unnoticed.

new google cardboard vr

Like all 360-degree video, it’s hard to shake the feeling that you’re missing out on something by taking in only one view. This horse is poking its head out of a stall in front of me, but is there another horse behind me? A rancher fitting horseshoes? An epic view of Montana’s sprawling sky?! Oh, no. Just more barn.

When the camera moves, as it does in one demo shot inside a climbing gondola or in another set on the deck of a ferry motoring into port, it’s possible to lose your balance or orientation for a split second. But Oculus Rift this is not. You have to want to believe the illusion to lose yourself in it, and many little details will nudge you out of it whether you want them to or not. Moving your head too quickly causes a noticeable judder as you’re ratcheting between a number of finite viewpoints, rather than smoothly shifting your view in 3D. And it lags. Looking down shows not feet on a beach, but an amorphous circular blur from an absence of camera footage. Without head tracking, your viewpoint is essentially fixed; you can rotate in any direction but not lean or crouch to take a closer look at something, as you can on the latest Rift, or Microsoft’s HoloLens.

Donning this clunky headset for the first demo, the limitations of the medium are immediately apparent:

None of this is enough to defeat Google’s triumph here: This footage was captured from gear that costs less than a compact car – about $8,000 worth of GoPro Hero 4 Black cameras, plus a 3D-printed rig to bind them all together. Along with its commitment to put this footage on YouTube, that makes Google an early leader in the field of shoot-it-yourself VR tourism. That’s not insignificant, when you consider that other VR platforms, like Oculus, are still figuring out what users will actually want to watch or play on them. Games offer imagined 3D worlds; Google is offering the real thing.

Will you take a virtual tour of Hawaii this time next year rather than hopping a plane to see it for yourself? Not likely. The experience still feels inauthentic, and the cameras cost more than the entire trip. But as the cost comes down, the quality goes up, and the entire experience migrates to more immersive platforms like Oculus, you had better believe VR vacations are around the corner.

I’ll take mine from an aerial drone, please.

Social Media

3D Facebook photos jump out of the newsfeed, no glasses needed

You're not seeing things -- that photo in your Facebook newsfeed is 3D. Launching today, 3D Facebook Photos use the depth maps from dual-lens smartphones to add dimension to an image as you move your phone.

Pixel 3 XL vs. Pixel 2 XL vs. Pixel XL: Which XL is best for you?

A Google Pixel XL is the best phone to get if you want the perfect Android experience on a big screen. However, with the release of the Pixel 3 XL, you have more choices then ever. Which Pixel XL should you buy?
Movies & TV

Never miss a moment of the NBA season with our streaming guide

The NBA season is in full swing, and if you want to watch games online, you've got plenty of options. Here's our guide to the best ways to watch NBA games online, as well as some additional resources.
Emerging Tech

Here’s all the best gear and gadgetry you can snag for $100 or less

A $100 bill can get you further than you might think -- so long as you know where to look. Check out our picks for the best tech under $100, whether you're in the market for headphones or a virtual-reality headset.
Emerging Tech

Curious how A.I. 'brains' work? Here's a super-simple breakdown of deep learning

What is deep learning? A branch of machine learning, this field deals with the creation of neural networks that are modeled after the brain and adept at dealing with large amounts of human-oriented data, like writing and voice commands.
Emerging Tech

Drop everything and watch Boston Dynamics’ robo-dog dance to ‘Uptown Funk’

After a few years of Earthbound training, Boston Dynamics’ SpotMini robot dog is ready to take on Mars. Bruno Mars, to be precise. Check out Skynet's future pet as you've never seen it before.
Emerging Tech

Self-correcting quadcopter can keep itself aloft even if one rotor fails

Most quadcopters won't fly unless all four rotors are functioning. But what happens if one gets damaged during flight? Researchers from the Netherlands think they've come up with a solution.
Emerging Tech

MIT is building a new $1 billion college dedicated to all things A.I.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has announced a new $1 billion college of computing designed to offer the best possible education to future machine learning A.I. experts.
Emerging Tech

This gadget lets you sleep on airplanes without snuggling a stranger

Odd gadget, or a hug for your face? The Napup Fly+ is a travel pillow, sleep mask, and personal speaker system all rolled into one, attached to the back of the headrest to hold your head up.
Emerging Tech

From flying for fun to pro filmmaking, these are the best drones you can buy

In just the past few years, drones have transformed from a geeky hobbyist affair to a full-on cultural phenomenon. Here's a no-nonsense rundown of the best drones you can buy right now, no matter what kind of flying you plan to do.
Emerging Tech

Healthy mice born from two genetic mothers using stem cells, gene editing

Healthy mice have been born from two genetics mothers and later went on to bear healthy offspring of their own, according to a recent paper published by researchers at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Emerging Tech

Japanese scientists are chewing over an ‘electric gum’ that never loses flavor

Researchers at Japan's Meiji University may have found the secret to unlimited chewing gum -- and it just involves zapping your tongue with electricity. Here's what makes it all work.
Smart Home

Vector, the engaging Alexa-like robot, is ready to roam around your home

Anyone who has ever watched Short Circuit or WALL-E has surely dreamed about having a robot buddy come live with them. Finally, that dream is now a reality. It's name is Vector, and it's available now.
Emerging Tech

Ekster 3.0 lets you ask, ‘Alexa, where did I leave my wallet?’

Ekster's newest smart wallet is its best yet. It's slimmer than ever, boasts a neat card-dispensing mechanism, and will even let you know where it is, thanks to smart speaker integration.