It seems practically inevitable that virtual reality (VR) will one day pervade popular media, but while the devices for consuming it are moving rapidly forward — the Samsung Gear VR is already in its second iteration, and both Valve and the Facebook-owned Oculus will ship their first consumer headsets early next year — the creation tools, especially around video, haven’t quite been cracked. But Jaunt, a company specializing in VR film, believes it’s come the closest to addressing the medium’s biggest challenges in a holistic, cohesive product.
Jaunt VR’s Neo at first glance seems cut from the same cloth as camera rigs from Samsung, GoPro, and Google, but don’t let its appearance fool you. Packing “a series of professional-grade camera systems specifically designed for capturing fully-immersive, 360-degree cinematic VR experiences,” the Neo’s much more an all-in-one system than souped-up housing — Jaunt VR designed the wide-angle cameras and centralized computer within in-house.
The Neo looks a bit like a bladed wheel, and, much like most other VR arrays on the market, uses software to stitch footage together into a navigable sphere. Unlike other VR-capturing cameras, though, Jaunt says its cameras are made to spec for capturing virtual reality. It took five generations of prototypes to get it right — the company tried everything from a GoPro rig of its own to a non-portable camera cabinet — but Jaunt says it’s finally identified, and subsequently focused on, the elements critical to high-quality VR video.
The first element, low-light performance, is essential because of the VR medium’s unbridled perspective — artificial lighting is way too easy to spot in scenes, so natural, dimmer sources are a must. The second, shutter speed, is critical to the smoothly panning image viewers expect. “If the camera moves, or there’s fast action as with sports and the camera’s aren’t perfectly in sync, you’ll have motion artifacts,” Jaunt co-founder and CTO Arthur van Hoff told Wired.
To those ends, the Neo features 16 shutter-synchronized lenses with large image sensors, supports 3D light-field video (after-the-fact refocusing a la Lytro’s cameras), and delivers up to 8K resolution per eye. It’s top tier, needless to say — van Hoff calls it “bespoke” — but unsurprisingly won’t be cheap. Van Hoff told The Verge that the Neo will be made “at low volume” because of the high costs associated with custom parts, and will primarily be available for rent or lease rather than sale.
Those lucky enough to get their hands on a Neo can expect two models when it begins shipping in August — one for indoor events and the other for higher-resolution outdoor shots — and spit out footage compatible with editing software like Adobe Premiere. Jaunt’s offering individualized shooting instructions for the first partners to receive it.
The Neo’s high price tag and exclusivity puts it far from mass market territory, but commercialization was never Jaunt’s intention. “We actually don’t mind working with other professional-quality VR cameras if they were to exist, because we’re not really a camera company,” van Hoff told The Verge. “We just built this camera because we needed it” to shoot VR film for Conde Nast, Google, and other companies it’s partnered with, he said.
Still, that’s not to say the Neo is Jaunt’s last foray into filmmaking hardware. The continual refinement around VR techniques means the Neo “is not the last camera that we’re building,” van Hoff told Wired. “I’m absolutely sure of that.”