Virtual reality startup Jaunt is getting ready to build its own camera. Jaunt announced a new series of camera systems code-named Neo Tuesday that promises 360-degree high dynamic range video capture for cinematic virtual reality (VR) experiences.
Jaunt has been in the business of producing cinematic VR since 2013. But up until now, it has used custom rigs made from off-the-shelf cameras and 3-D printed components to capture VR video, which has had a number of downsides. For one, the cameras are not synchronized, making both recording and processing content cumbersome.
But Jaunt’s director of hardware engineering Koji Gardiner also said that most off-the-shelf cameras have inadequate image sensors for VR. A 360-degree camera captures the entire scene, making it close to impossible to hide a light kit from a viewer’s eye, which is why most VR is being shot with natural light. “Lighting is hard for VR,” Gardiner said. That’s why the Neo systems use a custom lens design and large image sensors to capture more light.
A number of companies have built their own camera rigs for VR, with some embracing very expensive, high-resolution cameras while others simply use GoPros or other action cams. There’s also intense debate about the number of cameras used in a VR rig. Google recently introduced its own camera rig called Jump that’s based on 16 GoPro cameras.
Jaunt CTO Arthur van Hoff didn’t want to reveal just yet how many cameras Neo will be using, but said that the company has realized that there is an upper limit. Jaunt initially began to experiment with arrays of hundreds of cheap cell phone cameras, but quickly realized that the amount of information captured was hard to handle, and that there was little upside over fewer, better cameras. “There is a trade-off to be had,” said van Hoff.
Jaunt is going to give first Neo cameras to select partners in August, but don’t expect it to come to your nearest Best Buy anytime soon — or ever, for that matter. Jaunt is going to use the camera to produce its own content, and to lease it to customers it is collaborating with, but has no plans to go retail. “The reason we are building the camera is we need one,” said van Hoff, adding: “We are not a camera company.”
Which is why it’s so interesting that Jaunt put so much effort into making Neo look good. The company hired San Francisco-based design studio Lunar for this task, and first preview photos released by Jaunt show a camera that looks a lot more like a commercial product than what most companies are using today. Jaunt wanted to build a camera that was recognizable, said van Hoff: “It’s gonna be onstage with famous people.”
That could help get Jaunt new customers — but the company also wouldn’t mind if camera manufacturers eventually paid attention as well. Jaunt is open to licensing its camera technology to others, said van Hoff.