What did we think of GoPro when they were first around? A bit niche? A bit of a fad? Or did you pick it to be a huge bazillion dollar market in consumer electronics?. Well, we’ll look back in a few years from now and determine if the idea of 360 degree video recording was a fad or a big idea. I for one think it’s got a solid future.
When I was first sent the 360 fly camera to review I simply couldn’t understand the concept. Here’s a sphere just a bit smaller than a tennis ball, with a glass “corner” to it on just a small part of the overall sphere.
Nicely designed, this isn’t a cheap little product. Out of the box it feels like quality has gone into the design, construction and packaging of the device.
At the bottom of the sphere is a very small metal connector which allows you to twist and snap the 360fly onto a mount. It also magnetically sits into its own charging dock.
What the heck is it for? Recording video. But this is not just any other action camera. This thing records a 360 degree video which if the theory works out correctly can allow the viewer to jump into a Virtual Reality experience.
There are mounts for your helmet, as well as standard attachments for all the other clips, clamps and suction caps on the market for action cameras.
Paired with the 360fly app you can configure passwords as well as get a live view experience from the camera. Importantly this app is where you can download and share videos with your friends or social media.
My first test was to place the camera on the roof of my car and drive a bit. When downloaded this was just a normal video – except that because it was a 360 degree view, as I turn my body and thus the phone I am watching the video on to the left – my view turns left.
So imagine you’re watching a video of a car driving along the freeway. You are “sitting on the roof” looking forward. With an action cam – that’s it. That’s your view. With a 360fly you’re looking forward, but as you turn left you actually see what’s to the left. Look backward and you see what’s behind you.
I guess the real test came when I took the 360fly out on Sydney Harbour, on-board my brother-in-law’s charter boat the MV Silver Spirit.
Using a Joby clip mount, I clipped the mount to the railing at the very front of the boat (yes, the Bow). Checking that it was broadly level, I powered it on, and hit record.
30 minutes later, I connected my smartphone to the camera via WiFi and could see several videos on the camera. Any recording more than 10 minutes is split into parts of 10 mins each at most.
Only using a smartphone, I was able to view the video, find a short 2 minute clip which I wanted to share, and upload it directly to Facebook or YouTube.
Unfortunately taking a video file off the camera and onto your computer and trying to upload is less successful Facebook allows you to upload 360 degree videos but you need to put a lot of settings and info into the upload to make it work.
From the phone though I could upload to my personal Facebook profile and to my YouTube channel.
(To view this video, you need to launch into the YouTube app or be using Google Chrome Browser on your PC and “dragging” the picture around)
Uploading to a Facebook page wasn’t possible, so corporate users might have to dig much deeper into the PC based 360fly director software.
Anyone using the Facebook app on Android or iPhone can immediately view the 360 degree videos as they are intended. Likewise, using the YouTube app will allow you to watch 360 videos on YouTube via your phone.
Problematically only some browsers are compatible on both those platforms. Chrome is the best go-to for 360 videos, Safari would give me a message to say it couldn’t show 360 videos, while other users will see a strange long width video if their phone or device is not compatible.
Putting aside the newness of compatibility, when you get it working, it’s amazing.
Using Virtual Reality headsets like Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR take it to a more immersive level with both the 360fly app and YouTube allowing you to switch to a VR viewing mode.
The quality is not “great”. Its good, but not amazing. Your mind is simply compensating for the poor quality with the amazing concept of being able to turn and twist 360 degrees and “look around”.
At $650 it certainly carries the “early adopter tax”, and without question 360fly will release better versions as the camera and lens technology improves, as well as competition from any number of other companies – not the least GoPro who are allowing this kind of technology with multiple of their own cameras mounted in a 360 degree configuration – at that level, the price of the 360fly becomes a comparative steal.
I get to play with a lot of great new technology – this, like the Drones of the last 18 months gets the kind of reactions in social circles that shows me that this is going to be great, if the quality can improve it’s really going to kick some goals.
Until then, it’s certainly going to draw in a bunch of early adopters who just wanna show what technology can achieve.