Samsung’s $350 Gear 360 VR camera finally hits the States, but there’s a catch

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Ever since the advent of affordable virtual reality headsets like the Gear VR and Google Cardboard, 360-degree cameras have begun sprouting up like daisies. LG debuted a 360-degree camera this year, as did Nikon and Giroptic. And now, Samsung’s Gear 360 is stepping into the limelight … with a catch. The company announced that the camera will begin shipping to the U.S. for $350 “this summer,” but chances are you’ll have a tough time nabbing one. Initially, it’ll be available “on a limited basis” to attendees of VidCon in Anaheim, California.

“We want to bring the power of VR technology directly to the people.”

To coincide with the Gear 360‘s launch, Samsung is taking the wraps off Samsung Creators, a program that aims to spur indie creatives to produce VR video. It’ll include free, instructional courses on 360-degree video techniques that will be open to the public, the first of which will be held at VidCon, plus seminars and other free resources. In July, Samsung is launching a contest that will see ten winners chosen from one of each following categories: music, auto, science and tech, gaming, travel, fashion, culinary, cause-related, 4D and sports.

Samsung is also relaunching its Milk VR library of 360-degree content. The app has been renamed Samsung VR, and will now play host to user-generated content — creators can upload and share their creations to VR headset users.

“We want to bring the power of VR technology directly to the people,” Samsung Electronics America’s Chief Marketing Office Marc Mathieu said in a press release. “To help creators learn and perfect the art of VR storytelling, we’ve built an entire VR ecosystem that pushes beyond the frame and empowers them to develop unforgettable, immersive stories, and inspires us to do the same.”

Samsung’s Gear 360, which the Korea-based electronic maker unveiled at Mobile World Congress in February, is a compact, globular shooter with a dual-fish-eye lens capable of capturing “immersive” video. Video streams, as with 360-degree cameras like Ricoh’s Theta S and Nikon’s KeyMission 360, are stitched together by the camera’s dedicated image processor, and the final result are videos 3,840 x 1,920 in resolution or pictures up to 30 megapixels.

The Gear 360 has a small electronic viewfinder for plotting out your VR footage, plus buttons for powering the cam off and on and quickly switching its recording mode. It pairs to a Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge via Bluetooth for remote control feature, video previewing, rendering, and automatic syncing through a partner Gear 360 app. There’s a PC program, too, for more in-depth editing.

Both of the Gear 360’s lenses sport Bright Lens F2.0 apertures and are capable of capturing individual, 195-degree wide angle vids and pics for those situations when 360-degree video isn’t convenient. The Gear 360 boasts respectable internals besides: a 1,350mAh removable battery that lasts roughly 2 hours on a charge; a MicroSD card slot capable of supporting cards up to 128GB in size, enough for up to 7 hours of video at the highest resolution; a Micro USB charging port, a dust- and water-resistant exterior (up to IP53); and a universal camera mount that attaches to the included tripod.

Those specs may not measure up to the top-end competition, but Samsung stresses that the Gear 360’s a consumer device, first and foremost. “VR is amazing, but is in its infancy,” Samsung research chief Injong Rhee. “It’s not just for professionals. It’s for consumers as well. With our introduction of the Gear 360 camera, we enable more people to create VR content.”

To Rhee’s point, the shooter is one of the more affordable 360-degree cameras on the market. It’s positioned to compete squarely with the $350 Theta S, and even pricier devices like the $500 Giroptic 360cam and $800 Bublcam. It may lack a few of its siblings’ bells and whistles, chief among them 4K and additional sensors, but for an affordable, entry-level package, it’s quite competitive.

Samsung hasn’t announced U.S. availability beyond VidCon. It began shipping the Gear 360 globally in the second fiscal quarter of this year.

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