Facebook partners with RED to develop a high-end, professional VR camera

Facebook is partnering with the RED camera manufacturer to develop a professional-quality virtual reality camera system that can capture high resolution images in the so-called 6DoF, or six degrees of freedom, allowing it to be seen and explored in real time within virtual reality. The platform, which does not yet have the price information or release date available, is the culmination of Facebook's internal efforts in its Surround 360 platform. The next RED VR camera will now be the one that Facebook suggests to filmmakers and other creators. who want to make the entertainment and the art of greater fidelity and immersion. The news was announced today at the Facebook F8 developer conference.

"A year ago we set out to find a hardware partner to help us offer this technology," says Brian Cabral, Facebook engineering director specializing in computational photography. Facebook needed not only "the image quality we wanted", but also the workflow that would allow creators to easily capture the necessary photography and video on the set, and be able to transfer them to the necessary software that would later unite them and help create VR- prepared experiences, or what Cabral calls a "photon-to-photon" experience.

Over the last two years, Facebook has been basically advising the camera industry on what a camera like this would be like. The launch of Surround 360, in 2016, involved the launch of an open source specification sheet and a hardware design document for a device with a matrix of 17 cameras for capturing virtual reality. The idea was to help camera manufacturers and other companies with experience in manufacturing industrial and consumer technology to physically produce a product, which these companies could then sell and, in turn, help more filmmakers and creators to produce content. of virtual reality.

The original 360 Surround prototype of Facebook.
Photo by Nick Statt / The Verge

Facebook, at that time, did not want to put their name on a device or sell it directly to consumers. Rather, the company wanted to start the creation of virtual reality so that consumers actually had content to consume if they bought an Oculus Rift headset or if they wanted to access publications of 360 videos or other social video products on mobile devices. A year later, the Surround 360 team launched an updated VR camera design with a matrix of 24 cameras, as well as a lighter 6-camera matrix model. Those cameras were able to capture 8K video and capture content in 6DoF, which greatly increases the immersive quality of virtual reality video by allowing viewers to move naturally as if they were in a completely virtual world.

"We have taken all our teachings in the last two years and all of our cameras and the development of algorithms to … inform many of our decisions about our associations and the design of the cameras," says Cabral. "We've also heard a lot of people who use our prototypes and others to incorporate all the industry lessons to record with virtual reality cameras, and many of the comments we get are how easy to use on the set."

Now , with its partnership with RED, it seems that Facebook has finally found a company with a reputation in Hollywood and independent film circles for its technical expertise to push the high-end VR video closer to the mainstream. Cabral says the camera is designed for professional storytellers. "The idea is to empower the best narrators and give them the best team," he adds.

Facebook and RED still do not have a working image of a prototype or render of the product to share, and RED will decide at a later date how expensive the camera will be. But since RED cameras typically scale from $ 5,000 to $ 15,000 to even $ 50,000 – the company announced an $ 8,000 model of $ 8,000 last fall – we can only assume that this camera will be very expensive. Still, for Facebook, the more virtual reality content is available in the world, the more attractive their Oculus and Facebook Watch platforms become.

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