Lytro, a company that is best, commonly known for its cameras that let people shoot now and focus later, is using its image capturing technology to produce what it’s building up as the most refined virtual reality camera rig to hit the market.
That said, most details about Lytro Immerge are yet to be finalized; the precise launch date, price tag, and even the number of cameras within its array. But one sure thing is, this camera is not designed for consumers.
With no consumer headsets yet available for sale, virtual reality is very much in its infancy. If virtual reality companies want the technology to move past early adopter territory, they will have to dazzle consumers with high-quality content. Studios specializing in virtual reality filmmaking have done while getting attention, funding, and big clients. Disney just led a $65 million funding round in Jaunt, a virtual reality studio based in Palo, Alto, California. VRSE in Los Angeles is releasing today a film shot with the New York Times.
So far, many virtual-reality filmmakers have had to cobble together homegrown rigs using GoPro cameras. But some companies, including GoPro and Jaunt, are developing fully integrated hardware that’s easier to handle and bypasses having to stitch footage altogether.
Lytro wants Immerge to be an entirely controlled end-to-end system that takes some of the technical challenges out of VR filmmaking. The whole package includes storage, processing, editing tools, a server to stream VR video, as well as a Lytro application engineer to troubleshoot any issues. According to Jason Rosenthal, the CEO of Lytro, it will cost somewhere in the multiple hundreds of thousands of thousands of dollars.
While it will certainly sell some units, the company expects to make money largely off rentals – at a daily rate of about 2.5% of the equipment’s cost – and its ‘white glove’ service.
Though it was a technological breakthrough, the new-age camera came across as a gimmick to serious photographers [in Lytro’s early days, they had to use the company’s proprietary editing tools and rely on its servers to host images] and turned off casual shooters with its $400 price tag. Reports suggested limited adoption, and layoffs hit the company in 2013. Lytro declined to reveal sales figures, but Rosenthal says Illum, its$1,300 second-generation camera released last year.
Illum’s launch paved the path for Lytro’s transformation into a virtual-reality company. After the debut, VR filmmakers approached the company about using the technology to shoot more convincing footage, setting off 15 months of developments for the Immerge camera.
Virtual reality works only when it creates a sense of presence and mostly fooling the eyes and brain into believing what is in front, behind, and all around them is real. Headset makers like Oculus are tackling big problems like eliminating the delay between a person’s change in position and what’s displayed on the screen.