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Google Really, Really Wants Filmmakers to Try Its New VR Camera

The search giant is betting that more content will lead to wider consumer adoption of virtual reality.
April 24, 2017

Google, convinced that live-action films and experiences are the way to get people interested in using virtual reality, is pushing out a new high-end camera system called Halo that it hopes will inspire filmmakers to create more things to watch.

Announced Monday for its Jump VR platform, Halo is being made with the Chinese camera company Yi and includes 17 individual cameras—16 arranged in a ring, and one more facing upwards to help turn the resulting footage into a smoother-looking sphere of imagery.

Like the previous camera system from Google, made with GoPro and called Odyssey, Halo is aimed at filmmakers and other kinds of professionals: it will cost $17,000, which is $2,000 more than Odyssey cost, but in addition to having a top-facing camera it is lighter and more portable, has a touch-screen display, and includes its own internal battery.

Google, Facebook, and a handful of other companies see the development of fancy live-action VR cameras as one way to generate more things to see and explore in virtual reality. That’s important because lack of content is just one of many issues (others include pricey, bulky headsets) that hamper consumer adoption of the technology (see “Oculus Rift Is Too Cool to Ignore”). Google and Facebook in particular also sell VR headsets (Google’s smartphone-centric Daydream View and Facebook-owned Oculus’s Rift), so they have an even bigger stake in the nascent market.

And Google’s continued focus on cameras seems to make sense given what people are currently doing with Daydream headsets. At a media event last week to show off the camera, Amit Singh, who heads up business for Google’s virtual-reality team, said that more than half the time people spend with them involves watching videos. A number of companies have used the first-generation Jump camera to make videos, including the New York Times and the NFL.

Since many filmmakers can’t afford to cough up thousands of dollars for a VR camera, Google is also starting a program called Jump Start that will let people apply to use Halo for free, along with the software for making VR films that goes with it.

Google’s unveiling comes less than a week after Facebook showed off its latest VR camera, which captures live action along with depth data so you can move around while wearing a headset that tracks the position of your head. Most current virtual-reality cameras, including Google’s new Jump model, don’t give filmmakers that option, though you can turn your head around to explore a spherical video or photo.

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