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Google’s VR180 Format Stalls After Camera Manufacturers Pull Back

Google’s plan to establish a new immersive media format on YouTube and beyond has hit a roadblock: VR180, the stereoscopic video format that Google launched with big fanfare in 2017, has lost some of its key supporters, Variety has learned. Camera maker Yi has all but given up on launching its long-promised VR180 consumer camera, and Lenovo has stopped selling its Mirage Camera in the U.S.

A Google spokesperson told Variety that the company didn’t have any updates on VR180 to share.

Both Lenovo and Yi prominently joined Google in 2017 when the web giant announced VR180 as a new, simpler format for immersive media. Named after the fact that compatible cameras can record a 180-degree field-of-view in 3D, VR180 was meant to bridge the gap between VR headsets and the web.

It promised creators an easy way to record video that would look great in a VR headset without the need for any stitching — the complicated process of merging video from multiple cameras into a complete picture that’s common with most 360-degree VR capture systems. What’s more, VR180 footage could easily be uploaded to YouTube, where web and mobile viewers could watch the clips without a VR headset.

Google’s launch partner for VR180 was Lenovo, which at the same time also released a standalone VR headset running on Google’s Daydream VR platform. The Mirage Camera was meant to offer a simple click-and-shoot experience, and work together with a dedicated VR180 app to offload footage to a mobile device.

However, two years later, the Mirage Camera is sold out on Lenovo’s website and at a number of other retailers. A Lenovo spokesperson said that the company was still selling the device in select markets, but declined to comment further.

Fellow consumer electronics maker Yi was a bit more upfront when asked about the fate of its Yi Horizon VR180 camera. First shown off at the Consumer Electronics Show in January of 2018, the camera was supposed to go on sale later that year. However, 2018 came and went without the device reaching store shelves. This month, a Yi spokesperson told Variety that the company had no plans to launch it this year either. The company was instead focusing on home security and in-car cameras, the spokesperson added.

LG, which was also supposed to make a VR180 camera, never even got around to announcing a dedicated device for the format.

Without any consumer-grade VR180 cameras available in the market, Google seems to have put software support for the format on the back-burner as well. The VR180 mobile app was last updated in December of 2018, despite the fact that many reviewers complain about issues with offloading content. “VR180 appears abandoned by Google,” one of those reviewers concluded.

That’s not to say that VR180 is necessarily dead. Videos produced in the format are still being uploaded to YouTube every day, and there still seems to be interest among video professionals looking to produce immersive video in the format. Some of them are filming with high-end 180-degree cameras like the $3000 Z CAM K1 Pro, while many others use 360-degree cameras like the Insta360 Pro to export video in VR180.

There may even be a future when hardware companies once again embrace VR180 for consumer-grade cameras. To facilitate this, Google quietly open sourced the technology necessary to build VR180 cameras earlier this year.

VR180 is just the latest of Google’s VR projects to stall. Earlier this year, the company shut down its Jump cloud-based stitching service for 360-degree video footage. A VR camera jointly developed by Google and Imax never saw the light of day, and while Google’s Daydream VR platform is still up and running, it has been abandoned by multiple app publishers, including HBO and Hulu.

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