Lytro built one of the world’s most interesting cameras, pioneering a new approach to capturing images that enabled users to refocus an image after it was captured. For all its novelty, Lytro had difficulty convincing photographers to buy into the concept and following a round of layoffs and an infusion of new capital, the company is trying its hand at something new, though closely related: cinematic virtual reality.
Lytro’s push into VR involves a new camera and an end-to-end system that will process virtual reality videos and output them for viewers like the Oculus. The system, dubbed Immerge, consists of a camera capable of capturing light rays from all angles of an environment, enabling Lytro’s software to not only calculate colors but depth from the viewer. The result, they claim, will deliver six degrees of freedom and make VR experiences more lifelike without having to stitch together individual frames. Rather than view a two dimensional image, Lytro’s technology will enable photo realistic VR experiences that edge closer to gaming, where users will be able to navigate within a scene.
Since a VR camera captures everything around it, including camera operators and production crews, the Immerge camera can be remotely controlled via Wi-Fi and operated using a mobile device.
Joining the camera is a server to hold the voluminous amounts of image data it will generate. One server rack can store about an hour’s worth of video. Footage from the Immerge camera can be edited in standard programs like Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere through plugins Lytro is developing.
Lytro will begin to rent and sell the Immerge system in 2016. Exact prices weren’t announced, but a price tag of “several hundred thousand dollars” has been bandied about.
Just as the competition is heating up among lower-cost spherical imaging devices like Ricoh’s Theta, there’s now some serious movement for production-grade VR capture devices. GoPro and Google are giving beta testers access to a VR system they’ve co-developed, while Jaunt VR has built a bespoke VR production camera it’s already used to produce work for The North Face and others. Jaunt’s system in particular seems like Lytro’s biggest competitor, as it too can create stereoscopic images with depth–although it sounds like Lytro’s system will be capturing far more information.
Check out the video below for a few more details on Immerge.
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