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An App to Capture Virtual Reality Videos with a Smartphone

To let you capture immersive virtual reality clips with only a smartphone, startup Emergent VR is making an app that combines video with spherical photos.
October 29, 2015

A startup has come up with a way to use your smartphone to take photos and video of a scene that are then mashed up as a spherical combination of the two that can be watched in virtual reality.

Emergent VR’s app will let users shoot a video and a series of photos to create an immersive sphere that they can view from within virtual reality.

Emergent VR is planning to release a free Android app that lets you capture such mixed-media creations as part of a private “beta” test in late November. Users will then be able to watch the content with another app on a Gear VR—a virtual reality headset developed by Samsung with Oculus technology that relies on a smartphone for computing power.

Emergent is among a group of companies trying to figure out what, exactly, we’ll do with virtual reality, whether we’re using it with a smartphone-enabled device like the Gear VR or Alphabet’s Google Cardboard or, eventually, a headset like the Rift from Facebook-owned Oculus, which is set to be released next year.

While video games are expected to be popular, Emergent and others also expect that people will want to use virtual reality to take and share real-life moments like a pretty sunset or a kid’s birthday party.

Apps already let you do this kind of thing with spherical photos that you capture with a smartphone, but doing so with live-action video still requires a bunch of cameras positioned around a special rig so you can record a full sphere of imagery at once.

As an alternative, Emergent’s app will just have you record one segment of the sphere as a video, and the rest will be composed of still photos that you take, similar to the way you’d take a panorama. The company, which has raised just over $2 million in venture funding, hopes to expand viewing capabilities beyond the Gear VR to Google Cardboard (and capturing and viewing to iPhone users, too). Eventually, it plans to support headsets like Rift, too.

I strapped on a Gear VR to take a look at several of the photo sphere/video combinations that Emergent had already made with a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphone. One transported me to a cliff overlooking a beach at sunset in Half Moon Bay, California, where waves lapped at the shore; another set me at the edge of a grassy backyard, watching a bunch of children play.

The photos and video looked sharp, and stitched together impressively well. But some of the visuals needed work. I did find it weird to realize that one of the kids in the backyard scene was motionless because he wasn’t part of the video scene, which indicates how tricky it may be to capture certain things with Emergent’s method. Exploring a big party in virtual reality, for instance, would feel pretty weird if most of it is frozen in time.

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