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Facebook Surround 360

Facebook open sources Surround 360 camera with Ikea-style instructions

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Facebook needs you to fill its News Feed, Oculus Rift, and Gear VR with 360 content. So today it put all the hardware and software designs of its Surround 360 camera on Github, after announcing the plan in April. Thanks to cheeky instruction manual inspired by Ikea’s manuals, you can learn how to buy the parts, assemble the camera, load the image-stitching software, and start shooting 360 content.

Essentially 17 cameras on a UFO-looking stick, the Surround 360 camera can be built for about $30,000 in parts. The 4-megapixel lenses can shoot 4K, 6K, or 8K 360 video, and fisheye lenses on the top and bottom remove the blindspots. Facebook forced a random engineer to try to build the Surround 360 from the open source instructions, and found it took about four hours.

360 ikea

“We set out to open source this and accelerate the development of this ecosystem and capturing 360 video. We believe it’s the first camera to be fully open sourced end-to-end” said Facebook’s director of engineering on the project Brian Cabral. “Build it yourself, modify it, make different versions — that’s the goal. We wanted to connect the world with rich, new media. This is how we can get there faster.”

Here’s a build video showing the Surround 360 coming together:

For the average consumer, the Surround 360 is surely too expensive and laborious compared to the ~$400 off-the-shelf models you can buy like the 360Fly or the Ricoh Theta.

Professionals who need an adaptable, portable, durable camera for commercial shoots would otherwise have to spend $60,000 for a Nokia Ozo, $15,000 for the Google Jump-powered GoPro Odyssey which is only in limited production, or wait for the Lytro Immerge. The Surround 360 is immediately available for construction with generally available parts, and can be tweaked to a creator’s needs.

As with Facebook’s other big open source initiatives like the Open Compute servers, React JavaScript library for building interfaces, it hopes developers customize the designs to their needs, but also contribute suggestions for changes that it can share with the community. “They can help improve our blueprints” Cabral tells me.

Surround360_1

360 videos come out of the camera with little need for post-processing thanks to Facebook’s image stitching software and operators can even watch a low-resolution live preview of what it’s picking up. Those make it vastly quicker to get the perfect footage without the need to wait a day or more to check to processed data. Thanks to a special super-long cable, video directors can operate the camera from afar so they’re not in the shot.

Watching content shot on the Surround 360 is impressive. It’s remarkably sharp, especially when shooting in 8K. However, since some headsets like the Gear VR can’t process or stream that high of resolution fast enough, the Surround 360 offers dynamic streaming.

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Imagery from two fisheye lenses on the bottom of the Surround 360 camera can be combined to remove the pole it stands on

This puts what you’re looking at in the headset in high definition 8K, but if you swing your head, you’ll see a lower resolution image for a second until that angle pops into HD. The lag is noticeable, but it’s all a smart tradeoff to provide an extra-sharp albeit limited window into another place.

One of the big problems with 360 and VR content is how tough it is to produce. That bottleneck means avid headset users may run out of top-notch experiences to view, and let theirs VR rigs gather dust. By catalyzing content creation, Facebook is widening the funnel into its VR distribution channels. The Surround 360 is especially adept at making great News Feed photos and videos that could attract users to Facebook since they can’t run on other social networks like Snapchat and twitter.

But for any of that to happen, the Surround 360 can’t be too daunting of a DIY project. So when asked if the assembly manual was directly inspired by Ikea’s black-and-white guides, Cabral chortled, saying “We made it accessible. We wanted it to be something somewhat familiar and clean. We didn’t really set out to do that but it just kind of evolved that way.”

360 Surround parts