Google expanded several of its virtual reality initiatives -- including a partnership with sport cameramaker GoPro -- that will slash the cost of producing and sharing 360-degree, three-dimensional video content.
The most significant news is the launch of Jump, a ring of 16 cameras that records immersive 360-degree video to create virtual reality footage.
The camera rig system records detailed imagery, which a user uploads to Google's servers. Google then stitches together the data to create footage with a 360-degree field-of-view and aspects of three-dimensional depth, with the results posted to YouTube.
Google will distribute Jump sets to selected videographers to get content created. The first virtual reality videos created by Jump devices will debut on YouTube in July.
The videos will be watchable with the Google Cardboard virtual reality viewer, a fold-out piece of cardboard that creates a hollowed out space around your smartphone's screen.
Today Google debuted a Cardboard app for iPhones. Up until now, there was only an Android app.
Slashing costs for VR
The Cardboard viewers are modest in cost, starting at about $20. About a million have been bought since their debut last year.
That's dramatically less than Facebook's Oculus Rift (about $350 for the viewer or $1,500 for a pro-sumer content creation system), Samsung VR (about $235), and other virtual reality headsets, while still retaining many of the similar experiential effects, according to press reports.
GoPro is creating a Jump-compatible 360-degree camera array that uses 16 of its HERO4 camera modules, plus technology that enables them all to act seamlessly. The cost of the device is not yet known.
Virtual field trips
Google also revealed a program to use Cardboard and smartphones in schools to provide virtual field trips called Expeditions.
Google showed a demo video in which a class took virtual trips to Venice and the Great Wall of China:
Travel marketers have been anticipating for some time new ways to virtually visit locations or enjoy 360-degree video. The 360-degree video could help travel agencies sell customers on resorts. Luxury hotels could use the virtual reality films to tout their properties, too.
Google Street View could also be updated with Jump video.
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