Wolverton: Startup offers camera for VR fans

After you buy a virtual reality headset, you may start wondering how you can make your own VR content.

Han Jin has an answer.

Jin’s company, Lucid VR, has developed a camera specifically designed to create videos for VR headsets. Dubbed LucidCam, the $400 device is one of the first such gadgets that’s targeting consumers and can shoot 3D stereoscopic video.

About the size of a smartphone, the LucidCam has two front camera sensors that collectively give it about a 180-degree view. That makes LucidCam distinct from most other VR cameras, which attempt to give a fully circular 360-degree view of the world.

Jin, who is Lucid’s CEO, said the Santa Clara-based company chose to make a 180-degree camera because it meant that the company could use fewer sensors, allowing the LucidCam to be more portable and less expensive than competitors that offered full 360-degree stereoscopic views. While rivals including Ricoh’s Theta and Samsung’s Gear 360 are less expensive 360-degree cameras, they take flat, 2-D videos and pictures, not stereoscopic ones.

By having fewer camera modules, the LucidCam generates less data that 360-degree stereoscopic systems, making it easier to transfer and store.

Many companies have focused on making 360-degree VR experiences with the notion that that’s what people will expect when they are in VR — the ability to turn their head in a full circle to see an entire world around them. But the novelty of being able to turn fully around wears off in about 30 seconds, after you do it one time, Jin argued.

The problem with 360-degree video is that it can be hard for film makers to focus viewers attention on a particular subject. On the flip side, it can be easy for users in a 360-degree VR environment to miss the main attraction because their attention is focused elsewhere.

By contrast, video that’s limited 180-degree makes it easier to focus users’ attention while still offering them an immersive world. That angle of view is about three times the range of normal human vision, Jin said.

LucidCam will shoots 4K ultra-high definition video — 2K per eye — at 60 frames per second and will take 2K photos. I saw a short demo last week of some footage shot with one and was stunned at how sharp the video looked when viewed in a simple Google Cardboard viewer projected by a standard smartphone. If you stray too far to the left or right, you’ll see a black border indicating the edge of the video. If you continue turning in that direction, you’ll see a duplicate version of the video playing.

Lucid’s gadget can actually be used to create 360-degree videos, but it requires three LucidCams to be used simultaneously. Lucid plans to sell a tripod mount that would allow users to do just that, arranging the LucidCams in a triangle.

The device will come with 32 gigabytes of built-in flash storage, but will have a slot where users can insert a microSD card with up to 128 gigabytes of space. It also has built-in WiFi, allowing users to transfer their videos wirelessly to a computer, smartphone or tablet. Lucid has created a smartphone app that can be used as a viewfinder for LucidCam, which doesn’t have a display of its own; as a place to view videos created with it; and as a means to transfer videos to YouTube and Facebook.

Lucid, a 10-person startup that initially funded development of the device last year on Indiegogo, is already taking pre-orders for the device and plans to start shipping the LucidCam by the end of the year.

Photo: Han Jin, CEO of Santa Clara startup Lucid, shows off his company’s LucidCam 180-degree stereoscopic virtual reality camera. (Troy Wolverton/Mercury News)

 

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