To do live 360 video streaming, aka VR video, you’ll need a 360 video camera to capture the scene. A 360 video camera is a camera that films in all directions simultaneously. Some 360 video cameras capture fully spherical video (360 degrees horizontally and vertically), and others in more of a ‘donut’ shape (horizontal only). The latter basically miss the ‘top and bottom bits’ (aka zenith and nadir).
In practice, a 360 video camera means combining multiple video camera ‘heads’ into a single unit, since there is no single camera that can capture 360 degrees. Typically the arrangement is in a circle or sphere. The outputs of these multiple cameras must be stitched together to create a 360 video, similar to how a panoramic picture is made out of multiple photos.
For streaming live 360 video (as opposed to pre-recording to cards and stitching later for non-live 360 video), you’ll need a 360 video camera that provides a pre-stitched 360 output, or some means to live stitch the outputs of all the individual camera heads. Stitching is covered on our 360 Video Stitching page.
Here is a list of 360 video cameras that we know about as of Oct 2015, and which we feel are well suited or offer potential for live 360 video streaming.
Prosumer 360 Video Cameras
Offers 3D printed mounts for (multiple) GoPro camera heads. Well marketed, expensive for what they are, and some question marks over the viability of their 3D (stereo) rig configurations. The problem with GoPro’s as the choice of head for a 360 video camera is their reliability. They are known for being unreliable, either over-heating and shutting down or incapable of handling high data rates consistently. When this error rate is multiplied by 6, 12, or 14 cameras, it becomes untenable (in our view). You’ll also need to live stitch from flaky micro-HDMI outputs, which can break easily. No option to synchronize the camera’s frames (genlock or tri-level sync) means it’s not suited for fast moving action.
Another company which offers 3D printed mounts for multiple GoPro camera heads. This company has a better reputation among professionals and recently began offering a ‘broadcaster’ rig designed specifically for live 360 video streaming, featuring six GoPro’s. The problem again is the choice of GoPro’s and their reliability, connection and frame synchronization issues.
The recently unveiled GoPro Odyssey is GoPro’s own entry into the 360 video rig market, and features 16 GoPro’s in a single horizontal axis configuration (no zenith or nadir capture), along with custom backplates for power and synchronization. Since its GoPro, they’ve been able to solve the problem of frame synchronization. The camera is not yet commercially available and there’s no word yet if they’ve solved the reliability issues of the individual cameras. The rig does appear to offer access to the Micro-HDMI port for live stitching, with its inherent issues, but we question the lack of zenith and nadir cameras, which we feel are important for an immersive experience.
Professional 360 Video Cameras
Jaunt Neo is a new high-end VR camera, which is not available for sale commercially, and with apparently no plans to sell it. Jaunt is well known in VR circles having raised $100 million from its investors. The camera has some impressive looking specs, but does not offer pro broadcast features such as interchangeable lenses, or access to individual camera outputs. No word on any ability for live 360 streaming.
Nokia OZO is another high-end camera that is not yet available for sale, and with very few public specs released. The camera features 8 camera heads in a compact form factor, and there’s no word on whether live 360 video will be possible, although one statement we read suggests it won’t be possible.
This ultra high end professional VR camera is built around the brand new Blackmagic Micro cameras, which offer a much larger image sensor (better for low light) than GoPro’s, interchangeable lenses, frame synchronization, timecode, and many other professional features. Presumably they will also be more reliable, as Blackmagic is well known for making professional broadcast cameras. The camera is certainly not cheap, but for live use, there’s the intriguing possibility to use Blackmagic’s Micro Studio camera as the camera head, which provides broadcast quality locking SDI connectors (as opposed to HDMI), which also offer the intriguing possibility for stitching live 4k output (as opposed to 1080p) via broadcast standard 6G-SDI.