360-degree consumer cameras from a user’s viewpoint – Electronic design services with Argon Design Ltd.

360-degree consumer cameras from a user’s viewpoint

As a part of the development work for our real-time video stitching IP, Argon360, we have been looking at state of the art 360-degree camera products. Most of our development work to date has been based on what has become a de-facto standard for professionals capturing 360-degree content in the field – six GoPros mounted in a cube formation. This rig can produce great results, but it’s expensive, physically cumbersome and difficult to operate. I recently took advantage of the opportunity to use three very different products, all aimed at the consumer market.

My test was based on a realistic use-case for a keen amateur – capturing 360-degree video from a motorcycle for upload to YouTube.

The conclusion

Actually using the cameras in a real-life situation reminded me that any camera which requires lengthy processing before its content can be used will remain a niche product for early adopters. As people discard their PCs and do more and more on mobile devices and tablets, products aimed at the mass consumer market cannot rely on a PC for essential functionality. Of these three cameras, only the Giroptic even begins to meet these “instant gratification” objectives. Its secret weapon is real-time video stitching and reprojection in the camera, meaning the video file it outputs is immediately usable on YouTube (and Facebook).

A lot of product reviews dwell on video quality. At the moment, while there are quality differences in the video generated by each camera, by the time it’s been processed, uploaded to the cloud and then delivered back over the internet for viewing, it’s difficult to tell the difference between them – in truth they’re all pretty dire if you look too closely.

Which one would I buy? I answer that at the end of this article - but read on for more detail….

The cameras


Kodak SP360Kodak PIXPRO SP360 4K (around £350)

This has a single lens with 235-degree field of view which, with the lens pointing upwards, provides all-round 360-degree coverage. It is possible to use two of these back-to-back for a full spherical view, but I chose to use a single camera, which leaves a big blind spot at the bottom.




Ricoh Theta S (around £300)

This uses dual fish-eye lenses back-to-back to provide genuine full 360-degree spherical coverage. The light from the lenses is reflected through 90 degrees on to the sensors, an arrangement that allows the lenses to be very close together, to minimise parallax problems.



Giroptic 360Cam (around £430)

This was originally launched as a Kickstarter campaign in 2014, with first products shipping in 2016. It uses three lenses which deliver a 360-degree view but not a full sphere, since there is a significant blind spot looking down.

In use

All of the cameras passed the test of being easily usable without reading the instructions – simply turn on, select video mode and press the “go” button. All happily connected to my laptop via USB and made their content readily accessible. For the Giroptic that content could be directly uploaded to YouTube, which recognised it as 360-degree content but for the Kodak and the Ricoh there was a further step to produce the equirectangular video required. This re-projection (and for the Ricoh, stitching) was handled by the special Windows app for each of the cameras – and for both of them, on my modest laptop, the process literally took hours for a 10 minute clip.

Physically, the Ricoh and the Kodak are the neatest packages, but inexplicably the tripod mount for the Kodak is not underneath in its big blind spot, but on the side, in full view in the video (there is a special mount for the Kodak, with GoPro-like fixing which would address this problem, but I didn’t have the required parts to use it). In my particular test the Ricoh and the Giroptic both mounted neatly and conveniently, with the attachment visually unobtrusive.

The screenshots below link to the YouTube videos for each camera:

Kodak SP360

SP360 Screenshot

Ricoh Theta S

Theta Screenshot

Giroptic

Giroptic Screenshot

Which one would I buy?

For general use I’d want the physical compactness and aesthetic quality of the Ricoh. On the other hand, if I wanted an action camera for something like mountain biking or skiing, the Kodak would be a better package. But neither of those has the on-board stitching offered by the Giroptic, which is a real plus point….

….so perhaps I’m waiting for the first product on the market using Argon360.

Argon360 real-time video stitching technology

Argon360 technology provides the capability for real-time high quality video stitching, and is available as an IP block for incorporation into an ASIC for use in 360-degree camera systems. It can also be used on an FPGA platform for lower volume products. To read more about Argon360 take a look at the product page.