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Facebook open-sourcing the specs for its Surround 360 Camera

Keeping its promise made in April 2016, Facebook announced on Wednesday (27 July) that it is open-sourcing the specs for Surround 360, its 17-camera array designed to capture video in 360 degrees.

It wrote, "We believe making the camera design and stitching code freely available on GitHub will accelerate the growth of the 3D-360 ecosystem — developers will be able to leverage the code, and content creators can use the camera in their productions. Anyone will be able to contribute to, build on top of, improve, or distribute the camera based on these specs." (read the full release here)

The company has open-sourced both the hardware efforts as well as the software technology for the 360 Surround camera.

With the PDF manuals provided now anyone can build and use their very own 360 Surround camera

Using this, Facebook hopes that developers will develop the required apparatus and content creators will use this to populate News Feeds with 360 video content.

The equipment that Facebook has listed for the 360 Surround camera is 17 cameras on a stick. The lenses recommended by the company are 4-megapixels each. This will allow content developers to shoot 4K, 6K, or 8K 360 video.

Part of why the company wanted to open source the camera design is because its engineers think they’ve developed a unique combination of hardware and software not yet on the market. The camera is designed to be modified and tinkered with:

  • tried with different configurations,
  • made smaller, cheaper, lighter,
  • marking it with bigger resolution, etc.

Of course, the company has a vested interest here. While not exactly disingenuous in its claims, the social network does clearly want to foster the creation and sharing of as many new video formats as it can.

At Facebook’s preferred configuration, the camera cost about $30,000 to build and, with the proper parts, can be constructed in about four hours.

What is a 360 video?

A 360 video is created with a camera system that simultaneously records all 360 degrees of a scene. Viewers can pan and rotate a 360 video's perspective to watch it from different angles.

These videos have a “360 video” label in the lower left-hand corner and are viewable on computer, iOS devices and Android devices.

When watching a 360 video on a computer, the viewing angle is changed by dragging with the mouse. Make sure you're using the latest version of your web browser (ex. Chrome, Firefox). 360 videos on Facebook aren't viewable on Safari or Internet Explorer.

On iOS and Android mobile devices, the viewing angle of a 360 video is changed by dragging a finger across the screen or by navigating with the device. Make sure you're using the latest version of the Facebook app. If you're using an iOS device, it should be an iPhone 4S or newer or an iPad 2 or newer. The iOS device also should be running iOS 7 or later. If you have an Android device, make sure you're using Android 4.3 or later.

Problems

According to the social giant, there are a variety of problems in recording and rendering 360 video. These include:

  • The amount of data involved is huge. Because we have so many cameras, and because we capture RAW, uncompressed data to preserve maximum image quality, it amounts to roughly 120 GB of data per minute of video (for 30 fps; double that for 60 fps).
  • There is little room for error. For mono 360 content, some stitching errors can be tolerated, but for stereo it must be near perfect or it can cause physical discomfort.
  • In order to create VR video practically, we need to be able to process all this data as fast as possible, which is often in opposition to the goal of maximizing quality.

Traditional methods and technology do nothing to resolve these issues. So, Facebook came up with its own new ways to solve them. Instead of going with simple old methods, Facebook says that the design of the 360 Surround camera is based on sophisticated geometry.

The dynamic streaming incorporated by Facebook’s tech puts what you’re looking at in the headset in high definition 8K. The rest of the stream is streamed at a lower resolution. So, if you turn your head while watching a video, you’ll be able to observe the lag in rendering.

One of the 360 video is made of Grand Central Terminal in New York City uploaded in facebook, you can check out it here.

If you’re a developer and want to build a 360 camera for yourself, you can get all the info and guides on facebook360.