Is this the solution to the VR content creation problem holding back the industry?
Nearly six months after unveiling the OZO virtual reality camera to the world, Nokia Technologies has finally announced that the product will be available on the market. Retailing at $60,000, the OZO is Nokia’s first major entrance into the virtual reality arena and is expected to make waves.
When the OZO was first revealed in July, Nokia made it clear that this was going to be a device for professional media and entertainment customers, with a price tag to match.
Thankfully, Geektime had the chance to test it out recently.
Stepping inside the orb
Last month at SLUSH 2015 in Helsinki, I was very impressed with the OZO, both on the hardware and platform levels. Contained inside the OZO’s orb are eight synchronized global shutter sensors that capture stereoscopic 3D video, while a set of eight microphones pick up the spatial audio. The platform pushes out content that can be viewed on all formats, either using the Oculus Rift headset or on a smartphone.
Wearing an Oculus Rift, I tested out the director’s view that pushed out a rough version of live stream being sent through the camera and platform running on a Mac Pro. One of the first noticeable elements was the directional sound pickup, giving me the sense that I could really tell where the noises were coming from around the camera that was set up a few feet away.
The director’s view had only a slight 1.5 second delay in delivering the video from live motion to processing the feeds of the eight cameras and finally ending up in front of my eyes. This fast stream of video would be essential for directing action on a set or in the field, allowing for real-time adjustments.
Making quality content creation a reality
Even with its sky high price tag, the OZO could be the gift the media and entertainment industries — who are desperately seeking solutions to crack the barriers to virtual reality content — have been waiting for.
Technology for consuming virtual reality content has been growing in leaps and bounds over the past year, with big names like Facebook’s Oculus and Google getting in the game. No longer the ungainly experience of 20 years ago, improved computing power and design have finally led to VR consoles that deliver smooth video that can trick the senses.
On the opposite side of the equation, content producers have been slow to catch up in providing a seamless video experience that encapsulates the “I feel like I’m really there” sensation that elevates VR to the next generation. This has been less of an issue for game designers who create digital landscapes. But for those seeking to transport their viewers with live video and images, the results have been less than ideal.
Part of the problem is in building a device that takes the full 360° range of motion and audio and turning it into a seamless experience. A number of jerry rigged solutions have taken to linking GoPros together such as Google’s Jump or less involved options like VideoStitch or 360Heros.
While they should be applauded for their creativity, this is an imperfect solution at best that the OZO handily outpaces with its ability to pull together the different feeds into a single cohesive image. The backend software plays as much a part here as the camera itself.
Integrating virtual reality into content creation
These are still the early stages. Early last month the New York Times waded in on virtual reality content with a set of feature articles set in conflict zones like Syria, Ukraine, and South Sudan, showing viewers the content through the eyes of children living there.
Media organizations are likely to meet with much more success than big entertainment studios. Imagine a journalist sticking an OZO on their body, using a drone to report on a story, or collecting VR footage from interviewees like a Syrian girl, for example. Give the OZO to a National Geographic or war reporter and the options are endless. On the flip side, directors still need to tackle the issue of how to focus their audience in a format that provides for nearly absolute freedom, which is part of why forays like the CNN VR broadcast of the Democratic Debate bombed so much.
While virtual reality cameras have a long road ahead of them, the OZO is already being well received. Even their competitor Jaunt has announced that they will make their production platform open to the OZO, perhaps recognizing that Nokia has created a truly amazing device.
It is probably safe to bet that when Facebook bought Oculus for $2 billion in 2014, they had more in mind than investing in another format for viewing professionally produced content. Their entire business model is based on user created content.
While the OZO is a great step in the right direction, Facebook and others are still searching for user capable content creation devices that will be shareable and worth putting your phone even closer to your face.
Nokia’s decision to come out with a professional VR camera is both curious and telling about the company as it continues to pivot away from its former status as a consumer mobile device manufacturer. While they are returning to their engineering routes, this seems like a further step into the commercial sector as they set their sights on being the backbone of the IoT sector. The company’s recent moves have been far more focused on infrastructure products in the field of connectivity and networks.
The camera is scheduled to ship in the first quarter of 2016. Media enthusiasts should expect some lag time before VR enters the mainstream, and maybe even longer until they figure out how to do it well.