Facebook Surround 360 is a 360-degree camera capable of capturing footage in 3D and then rendering it online.
Facebook announced the camera last year – but it wasn’t for sale. Now, Facebook has unveiled two new cameras, the x24 and x6. Neither will be sold to consumers today, but they could be sold to consumers in the near future.
What Is Facebook Surround 360?
The cameras work in a similar way to the original Surround 360. They use multiple cameras to take 360-degree images of the world. In this case, however, the cameras shoot in six degrees of freedom for a more immersive VR experience.
Facebook introduced the cameras at this year’s F8. The cameras aim to improve upon the Surround 360: the Surround 360 never delivered a full VR experience. The x24 and x6, however, aim to bring a full virtual reality experience to consumers.
Both cameras can shoot 360 degree footage. They look like beach balls: they’re spheres with multiple cameras pointing in different directions.
The x24 has 24 cameras, while the x6 has – you guessed it – 6 cameras.
Both cameras are designed for professional content creators. The x24 is about the size of a volleyball, while the x6 is the size of a tennis ball.
Both cameras are part of the Surround 360 family. Facebook has renamed their original Surround 360 camera the “Surround 360 Open Edition”, which makes sense because its source code was released on Github last year.
Facebook Surround 360 Difference
Obviously, we already have 360 degree cameras. You can go on YouTube and watch 360 degree videos of everything from sports matches to travel clips. What makes Facebook Surround 360 different from other 360 degree capture technology?
Facebook Surround 360 has an enormous advantage. It’s not a traditional fixed camera. It doesn’t film the world through a fixed lens.
Most VR content on the internet today is stereoscopic 360. If you’re viewing the content in a VR headset, then decide to move around, the world will stay still as you move.
That’s not what happens in the real world. This can “break” the VR experience in your mind, taking you out of the scene and reducing immersion.
Facebook Surround 360, however, is shot with 6 degrees of freedom. You can move your head to a position where the camera never was, then still view the world as if your head was actually there.
Facebook’s technology is smart enough to reconstruct the view from different angles. You have full movement inside a photosphere – you’re not just looking around a photosphere.
One of the cool things about this technology is that you can look “through” where the camera is. Normally, in a stereoscopic 3D space, you can look down and see the camera tripod at your feet.
With Facebook’s technology, you look down and see the ground – it’s like you’re a disembodied ghost.
Another cool feature with Facebook Surround 360 is that every pixel has depth – each pixel has a 3 dimensional space. That means content creators can add 3D effects to their footage. Previously, you needed a green screen for that.
Engadget tested Facebook Surround 360’s new cameras and discovered that Facebook added 3D butterflies to the footage. Those 3D butterflies drifted away when the reviewer swiped at them with a Touch controller.
Purchasing Facebook Surround 360
Facebook doesn’t plan on actually selling the cameras themselves. Instead, Facebook will license the x24 and x6 designs to a “select group of commercial partners”.
Facebook partnered with FLIR (a thermal imaging camera manufacturer) to create the x24, although the x6 was made in-house. Both cameras are just prototypes at this point. They were made in Facebook’s secretive on-site hardware lab (called Area 404).
Facebook Surround 360 Summary
If you’ve ever used today’s VR technology, then you know it’s pretty cool – but not anywhere close to fully immersive. There are still kinks that need to be worked out.
Facebook Surround 360 will take a significant step towards working out those kinks, making for a more immersive VR experience in the future.
The x24 and x6 likely won’t be available to consumers for a few years. Facebook claims it will take a few generations of cameras before they hold a general consumer release.
Stay tuned for more information about the x24 and x6 Facebook Surround 360 cameras as the technology continues to grow!