Slowly but surely, China-based Yi Technology has made its name known in the world of imaging technology. From action cameras that compete toe-to-toe with GoPros to in-home security cameras that give Nest and Canary a run for their money, the Xiaomi-backed company continually impresses with solid gear at an affordable price.
It should be no surprise then that its latest offering, the Yi 360 VR Camera, is a capable device that comes in at a much lower price than its competition. To see how well Yi’s GoPro Fusion competitor stacks up against its more talked-about counterpart, Yi sent us a pre-production unit to put it through its paces. Note: being this was a pre-production unit, not all features, capabilities, and bugs may be present in the final version, which officially launched November 13th, 2017.
Unlike GoPro, which opted for a more square design with its Fusion camera, Yi settled on a more rectangular shape. In fact, it’s overall shape and size reminds us quite a bit of the long-defunct Flip cameras that ruled the video world before smartphone cameras caught up. The build quality is about what we expected for the device. It feels substantial and despite being made of a rubberized plastic material, it doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall apart after a drop or two. In fact, during one of our test shots, the camera fell off the top of the car onto concrete and managed to escape with little more than a scratch.
The interface of the camera is surprisingly easy to use
Looking at the two faces of the camera, there’s no discernible difference. Both the front and the back — which is relative depending on how you’re holding the camera — features a 220-degree, f/2.0 lens, a microphone, and an LED light for status information.
The two sides of the camera do differ. One side features a single power button, while the other side has a cover that hides the battery, MicroSD slot, Micro HDMI port, and USB Type-C port. During our time with the camera, these ports seemed like the perfect combination. The only other port it could possibly have is an audio input, but considering this is oriented more towards consumers than professionals, the lack of a 3.5mm jack isn’t a dealbreaker.
The top of the camera surprises a bit with a pair of up/down buttons and an OLED screen used to navigate the shooting modes and settings. The interface of the camera is surprisingly easy to use, despite being so small and considerably simplified. While the buttons on the top are used to switch between the menu settings, pressing the power button on the side selects the options presented. On the bottom of the camera is a sole ¼”-20 tripod mount for almost unlimited mounting options.
Summed up, the design of the camera manages to find a solid balance between form and function. The screen all but disappears when the camera is off and the buttons —all three of them — are easy to access, yet manage to be all but invisible on the blacked-out device. Even when used without a smartphone, the camera still functions without a hitch.
Specs and Features
Processing the data coming from the pair of sensors is an Ambarella H2V95, an image processing chip designed specifically for 4K footage. Together, these components output full 360-degree video in 5.7K resolution at 30 frames per second. If you want to live-stream or share 360 video on the fly, the Yi 360 VR Camera includes in-camera stitching for 4K video at 30 frames per second.
A tough little 360 camera that punches well above its weight.
Keep in mind that while 5.7K resolution sounds impressive, this video is wrapped to create the immersive experience, so the overall pixel density isn’t nearly as high as standard flat video is. Regardless, it looks great when previewing it on mobile devices and when uploaded to Facebook or YouTube.
As with all cameras that don’t include a screen, connectivity is an important element. Yi tackles this by including 2.4GHz and 5Ghz WiFi connectivity, which made for incredibly fast transfers, even with full—resolution video. Bluetooth 4.2 is also included, but is reserved only for its optional Bluetooth remote that can be purchased separately.
Although the camera can be used as a standalone device, without the help of a smartphone, the experience truly comes to life when paired with a smartphone and Yi’s VR 360 application, available on both iOS and Android. Through the app, you’re given complete control over every function and setting the camera has to offer. Even with our preproduction review unit, we didn’t have any struggles connecting to either of the WiFi bands across a collection of iOS and Android devices and the video stream was always clear.
The app itself features a solid interface and overall smooth experience. When using live view, there are five viewing modes to choose from: Stretched View, Little Planet View, Round View, Panoramic View, and Dual VR View. Each of these modes warps the footage to give a different perspective of what’s being captured.
For the most part, we didn’t have any issues with the live view dropping out on us. The only exception is when we attempted to capture footage in a different from from where the camera was. But even then, it didn’t completely disconnect; it only stuttered here and there.
Compared to the GoPro Fusion, the Yi 360 VR Camera holds its own. It might not be waterproof or feature unique editing tools like Angel View, but it captures consistently quality footage at a far lower price point. GoPro prices its Fusion camera at $699, while Yi opts for a smaller $399 price tag.
Wrapping it up
Overall, the Yi 360 VR Camera is a tough little 360 camera that punches well above its weight in features and capabilities. Don’t expect professional-level VR content to work with, but so long as you have the computer power to edit the full-resolution footage, it’ll look more than good enough to produce impressive content.
Once again, Yi has proven GoPro isn’t alone in the world of action and VR cameras. And any competition is good competition for us consumers. Whether you’re looking to boost your home movie production with 360 content or are working with VR content production, the Yi 360 VR Camera is just what you need at a price point that won’t break the bank.