360 Video Camera Comparisons: GoPro, Ricoh Theta, Gear 360, Kodak PixPro SP360 4k

At Foundry 45, many of the Virtual Reality apps we develop rely on 360 video. While we directly shoot 360 footage for some projects, other clients ask for suggestions on 360 video cameras they can use to shoot video themselves. This blog post compares 4 popular 360 rigs, on the cheaper end of the spectrum, capable of recording spherical 360 video (both vertical and horizontal).

The video below shows camera output comparisons as well as a lot of our learnings from using the different rigs. You can also directly download the 4k 360 comparison mp4 (2.5 GB!) to view the video on Gear VR headsets.

Overall, the GoPro ball provides the best output resolution, but it comes at the expense of time and money. The GoPro rig not only costs the most, but also requires a lot of extra hardware, a decent computer, expensive stitching software, and time to learn the more sophisticated stitching. Also, with seven independent cameras, there are more things that can go wrong, like a single battery dying early, an error on one of the SD cards, or one of the cameras overheating.

While certain specific use cases will alter this advice, our general recommendation is the Kodak SP360 4ks. These have better image quality than the Gear 360, especially in lower light (not outside). However, the Gear 360 has a lot of advantages over the Kodaks. It’s less than half the price, nearly 4k, incredibly easy to use (just hit “save” in the phone app), and lets you preview a full 360 from the app. And since the cameras are perfectly sync’d, you don’t run into stitching issues with moving scenes.

With either the Gear360 or Kodaks, it’s easy to orient the stitch line away from the action, avoiding some of the more difficult stitching issues entirely.

360 Video Camera Comparison Chart

360_video_cameras_GoPro_Kodak_pixpro_sp360_gear360_ricoh_theta

Overheating and Battery Life

Sadly, we’ve had the GoPro rig, Kodak PixPros and even the Gear 360 overheat during shoots. In this regard, the Ricoh Theta seems the most reliable in our experience. If shooting with any of these rigs, we highly recommend at least one backup camera if the shoot is important. And, if at all possible, plan to only record for 5 min at a time so the cameras have time to cool off between takes. While these rigs theoretically have enough battery life for almost an hour of shooting, we’ve had fully charged GoPro batteries die in 15-20 minutes.

Parallax and Stitch Lines

Parallax is when the scene looks different from one camera to the next due to the cameras being at different locations. There is no way the differences can be blended together to recover from this, and the effect gets worse as objects get closer to the cameras.

Parallax effect causes differences between cameras. Credit bucknell.edu

There are parallax effects at 8-10 ft for the GoPros, Kodak PixPros and Gear 360, but there is only one line to worry about with the Kodaks and Gear 360. Even if you have issues with the one line, you can usually position the camera so that nothing important is on that line. For instance, have one camera face the performer, and the other face the audience.

The small parallax issues on the Ricoh Theta are its best feature. There are almost no issues beyond 3 feet away since the cameras are so close to each other.

You’ll see stitch lines from this parallax effect, and also from a lack of synchronization in the source files. The GoPro and Kodak remotes don’t start the cameras at exactly the same time, and there’s no electronic syncing of the start of each frame. Stitching software can line up the footage based on audio or visual motion, and is usually pretty good. But if you have lots of motion, it’s sometimes extraordinarily difficult to get rid of the lines. We just did a test shoot with the Kodak PixPros mounted underneath the wing of a plane, and one of the cameras was vibrating slightly more than the other. This led to a very obvious stitch line that would take a lot of post production to clean up. Since the Gear 360 and Ricoh Theta S are electronically synchronized at the hardware level, there’s no need to do an imperfect sync of the resulting footage in software.

How to Take Screenshots in Gear VR

What good is revolutionary technology if you can’t show it off to your friends? As kindergarten taught me, the more you share your new toy, the more fun you’ll have with it. So if you’ve recently purchased a cutting-edge Gear VR headset, you too may wish to share your experience by capturing screenshots to distribute digitally. You’ll also need screenshots to submit apps to the Oculus Store. We at Foundry 45 have uncovered many different methods of acquiring screenshots, each with their own strengths and limitations.

Method 1: Bluetooth Keyboard Option

The most optimal option is quite self-explanatory. Connecting your phone to any Bluetooth Keyboard and pressing the Print Screen Key (or Function + Print Screen in our case) while the phone is in the VR headset will snap a screenshot. Pictures will be placed in your phone’s gallery and accessible via USB. At Foundry 45, we recently purchased this Bluetooth keyboard from Amazon, and have discovered this to be the most user-friendly method available for obtaining screenshots. The high resolution pictured quality combined with the ease of the process dignify this method over any other current solution. We officially give this option the Foundry 45 Seal of Approval.

keyboard

Limitations:

After buying a Gear VR headset and a VR compatible phone, you might not want to rush to purchase another gadget. Especially when the same quality screenshots can be captured through free, albeit more difficult methods.  If you do buy one, make sure that the keyboard you purchase has a Print Screen button! If it doesn’t, you might end up hating your keyboard more than this guy.

keyboard gifVideo Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BugexqConq8

(Note: You may be able to use a regular keyboard with a USB adapter. Though we have not tested this method, we did come across this tweet that details the process. Looks like this method requires a cable with a male USB end and a female USB end.)

Method 2: Native Video Recording / Screenshot function.

Oculus responded to their users’ communal requests by launching an update to all Android 5.0 phones which enables them to record and screenshot within the Gear VR headset.
In order take screenshots using this method:

1. While viewing inside the headset, hold the back button to bring up the Universal Menu.

2. Select Utilities from the Menu (seen below)

mhm

3. Select the Screenshot option.

4. You will return to whatever application or menu you previously using.

5. You are given 5 seconds to set up the shot. A small red dot on the screen indicates when the picture will be taken.

screen7 edited

6. After you channel your inner photographer, you should hear a shutter flash. The screenshot will be stored in your phone’s gallery and the Oculus folder in your phone’s internal storage.

Final Product

com.oculus.home-20160607-143826Sooooo prrrreeeeeettttyy

Limitations
The screenshots from this method are unfortunately low resolution (1024x1024px). Also, while this method works great for snapping pictures of apps run through the Gear VR Menu, some VR experiences don’t accommodate this function as the Universal Menu is not accessible while the app is running.

On the video side of things, there are also a few hindrances that keep the process from being entirely intuitive.

  • This function only records video, not audio!
  • Unlike the red dot from the screenshot option, there is no recording indicator when capturing video in this method.
  • Video recording will stop any time an app is exited, opened, or when the Universal Menu is opened.
  • Any streaming service like Netflix will completely negate any recording function from the VR headset. Pirates be warned!

painty vr lolARGH!

Method 3: Android SDK tools/ Adb route.
Despite its moderate learning curve, this process has proven to be the most effective way for us to capture screenshots from the phone within the Gear VR headset without the purchase of additional hardware. If you’re not afraid of the command prompt, prepare to have your mind blown.

vertigo finalVideo source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WAxDlUOw-w

Step 1) Download the Android SDK Toolkit on your PC/Mac
https://developer.android.com/studio/index.html

Install using these instructions!

Step 2) Enable USB Debugging on your Android
a.) Select the Settings Cog from the top swipe-down menu

b.) Select About Device

c.) Tap “Build Number” 7 times to enable Developer Mode

d.) Go back to the previous menu

e.) Select Developer Options

f.) Enable USB Debugging

Step 3) Connect to your Android through Wifi
a.) Connect Android to PC via USB

b.) Open Command Prompt on the PC

c.) Ensure Device is connected by typing: adb devices

d.) Should see Phone serial listed

e.) Turn on Phone Wifi

f.) Find Out Phone IP address by typing in PC: adb shell ip addr show wlan0

g.) Among all the information, locate the IP address.

h.) Should be in format: 192.168.1.111

i.) Type in: adb tcpip 5555

j). Disconnect the USB cable

k.) Type in this sequence with your IP address: adb connect 192.168.1.111

l.) Ensure Device is connected by typing: adb device

Step 4) Snap Some Shots Baby!
Dancing Wedding Photographer

Video Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PiccRcnjPtE

a.) Place the Phone in the VR Headset and run any app you want.

b.) Record your first screenshot by typing and entering in the PC: adb shell screencap /sdcard/screen1.png

c.) Record your second screenshot by typing and entering in the PC: adb shell screencap /sdcard/screen2.png

d.) Continue this process until your heart’s content.

e.) To access these files, simply reconnect your Phone to Computer via USB! They’ll be in DCIM/Screenshots

f.) To disconnect Phone from Wifi, type: adb disconnect

Limitations:
Obviously, technical expertise will benefit you while accomplishing this task, but if you stick closely to this guide, you can complete every step without any prior knowledge. Though being user friendly isn’t this method’s strong suit, learning something never hurt anyone (Except maybe Oedipus). Be conscious of how your headset is tilted while you enter the screenshot function because it will affect the picture. Because this process isn’t optimized for VR quite yet, screenshots will be doubled (like below) as this is what the actual phone screen is displaying. The same is the case for the Bluetooth Keyboard method, but simply cropping the image can solve this problem!

screen1
Feel free to come to us for all questions and needs related to this cool Virtual Reality tech!

Oracle Pictures   You can call us the Ora-cool

If you’re interested in creating your own Virtual Reality application for your trade show or recruiting efforts, be sure to contact Foundry 45 for premiere content!

Article Sources + Related Reading
https://twitter.com/AndrewDickerson/status/618842069734305792

http://uploadvr.com/take-screenshot-gear-vr/

http://www.sammobile.com/2016/01/06/samsung-gear-vr-screenshot/

http://www.roadtovr.com/natively-record-video-take-screenshots-gear-vr/