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Google and Imax’s VR Camera Project Canceled (EXCLUSIVE)

Google and Imax won’t be building a virtual reality (VR) camera together after all: A joint camera project that the two companies embarked on in 2016 has quietly been canceled, Variety has learned.

A Google spokesperson declined to comment on the partnership, but an Imax spokesperson acknowledged that work on the project has stopped, sending Variety the following statement via email.

“We’ve currently paused the development of the Imax VR camera while we continue to review the viability of our pilot program,” they said.

Imax launched a pilot program for location-based VR in early 2017, opening seven VR centers in big cities around the world. The company recently closed two of those centers, and plans to decide the future of the remaining five locations in the next few months, as Variety reported last week.

However, the decision to discontinue the VR camera development was actually made by Google, a source close to the project told Variety. Google pulled the plug on the project late last year as part of an apparent shift of focus toward augmented reality, according to that source.

Google and Imax first announced their VR camera partnership in May of 2016. At the time, the two companies said they would jointly develop a cinema-grade VR camera “to enable today’s leading filmmakers and content creators to deliver the highest-quality 3D 360-degree content experiences to audiences worldwide.”

The two companies worked collaboratively on the development of the camera, with Imax bringing its experience in designing high-end cameras to the table, and Google contributing its cloud-based stitching solution for VR content dubbed Jump. A total of around 60 people, including contractors, worked on the project, according to our source.

Google previously partnered with GoPro and the Chinese camera maker Yi on VR camera development. The most recent result of these collaborations was the Yi Halo, a $20,000 VR camera that captures 3D VR footage with the help of 17 individual action cameras.

The Imax VR camera has been described to Variety as a lot more ambitious, capturing a more immersive 3D experience. Signs that the partnership may have ended first surfaced when Imax included a mention of a “final contractual payment owed to Imax related to the previously announced Imax VR camera” in its most recent earnings report.

Google has in recent months been putting more of an emphasis on augmented reality apps and experiences available to tens of millions of Android users. However, the search giant hasn’t completely given up on next-generation filmmaking technologies. For instance, Google researchers demonstrated advanced light-field photo and video capture technologies at the Siggraph conference in Vancouver last week. Google also hired a number of staffers of the now-defunct light-field camera maker Lytro in March.

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