GoPro Enters Virtual-Reality Market With 16-Camera Capture Rig

(Los Angeles Times/TNS) -

GoPro is moving into virtual reality with the announcement of a 16-camera, 360-degree array that can capture stereoscopic and spherical video. But this early model is too big to wear on your head.

The rig, meant to be mounted on a tripod, has yet to be priced. It will support 16 of GoPro’s Hero4 cameras to record 360-degree video that can be used for virtual reality. It comes integrated with software from Kolor, the virtual-reality company GoPro recently acquired, which stitches and synchronizes the recorded footage. GoPro introduced the camera at Google’s developer conference on Thursday.

“What people don’t know is we’re already the de facto capture device for capturing virtual-reality content today,” said C.J. Prober, the head of GoPro’s software and services division. “GoPro cameras weren’t designed for virtual-reality capture purposes, but the quality and the content they enabled just made them a natural choice.”

According to Prober, there’s no shortage of home-brewed rigs that support multiple GoPro cameras, and many people have used them to effectively record footage for virtual reality. But they tend toward overheating, short battery life, synchronization issues and cumbersome post-production video stitching, he said. GoPro’s rig will address these “pain points” by letting users control all 16 cameras through one master camera, providing automated synchronization and stitching through built-in software, and solve the battery-life problem with an external battery source.

“If you have the rig connected to an external power source, in there, there’s no outer limit,” Prober said.

At another conference, on Wednesday, GoPro also introduced a ball-shaped rig that supports six cameras, and a camera-mounted quadcopter drone geared toward consumers that will launch in 2016.

GoPro will initially partner with Google to make its multi-camera, 360-degree rigs available to select YouTube content creators so they can make videos for Google’s new JUMP platform.

Prober said the company has plans to bring spherical and photo capture “to a mass audience,” perhaps through a smaller and more accessible rig (Hero4 cameras currently retail for $399.99 each), but declined to comment on future products.

The company’s move into virtual reality is being seen as a boon for the VR market, according to Jens Christensen, co-founder and CEO of virtual-reality content creator and camera maker Jaunt. Jaunt also provides an all-in-one camera and software solution for capturing 360 video. Like GoPro’s rig, the technology is not yet available to the public.

“We’ve had Facebook buying Oculus, Google announcing Cardboard and Valve partnering with HTC, so GoPro moving into VR is another great validation point for the whole VR space,” Christensen said. “I think they’ve established a strong brand, especially around action sports, and there’s a natural follow-on for GoPro to take action-sports content into VR.”

Having an end-to-end spherical video-capturing rig also helps virtual-reality-headset makers because it makes it easier to create content for the headsets themselves, according to OSVR’s product-marketing manager, Chris Mitchell.

“What GoPro is doing is really providing a better solution to what’s been done in the past,” he said. “Right now, everyone is doing their own thing. What we’re hoping to see is a complete solution. That can only help us.”

Tech and securities experts have long said companies like GoPro need to diversify their offerings because, in the ultra-competitive hardware space, it often only takes a slightly better and slightly cheaper product to dethrone a market leader.

According to Gregory Sichenzia, a founding member of securities law firm Sichenzia Ross Friedman Ference LLP, to maintain its position as a market leader, GoPro will have to be more than just a camera manufacturer.

“It has to be this lifestyle that millennials or whoever find great value in,” he said. “They need to share their experiences with one another, and this is a medium in which to do that.”

On Thursday, GoPro shares closed at $56.81, their highest closing price in more than four months. On Friday, the shares dropped $1.35, or 2.4 percent, to close at $55.46.