This is a “what if” scenario. I have no proof. But I think it’s pretty damn likely that GoPro is building a virtual reality camera. A GoPro that captures your adventures in 360 degrees — and lets people experience them as if they were right there with you.
Why do I bring this up? Because GoPro just purchased a company called Kolor. And until just last month, Kolor was the only company that had figured how to convincingly stream a virtual reality video to any browser or mobile phone.
Now GoPro is explicitly advertising that, with Kolor’s help, GoPro videos will soon be available on VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR as well.
But remember, GoPro isn’t a video production company. GoPro sells cameras for people to capture video themselves. Where’s the hardware? I think it’s coming soon.
Right now, there are just a handful of ways to actually create such a video, and even fewer that normal people could go out and buy. The Ricoh Theta M15 is the best I’ve tried — a tiny handheld stick of a spherical camcorder with two lenses on either side. But the quality is pretty shit, as you can see in this 360-degree video I captured below.
Use the Chrome browser or YouTube on Android if you want to experience it for yourself.
GoPro footage looks way, way better, but who’s going to go to all the trouble? Existing GoPro cameras only face one direction, so you need to mount a whole bunch of them in a fancy rig and digitally stitch all those videos together to create compelling content.
And sure, in the short term, perhaps that’s what GoPro wants. Perhaps GoPro is hoping it can sell dozens of cameras to small production houses, instead of just a couple. It can offer Kolor’s software to help budding VR directors stitch their masterpieces together, and stream them on the web.
But I think it’s inevitable that GoPro will release its own consumer-grade virtual reality camera. Sooner or later, the company will want to bring everyone else into the fold, to let them capture moments in their lives to share with family, friends, and the world. If it hasn’t already, GoPro will realise that it won’t just be adventurers and adrenaline junkies buying these cameras, but people experiencing the simple pleasures of a picnic, a sunset, or bringing a child into the world. They will want to relive these moments, and they will buy a camera that lets them capture ’em in full. If the company moves fast, a lot of them will carry a GoPro label.
I bet this isn’t something that GoPro is only realising now. The company’s always been about building cameras that show us the world from a new angle, and with an ever wider field of view. What could be wider and more immersive than spherical videos that let you see all the way around, and let you pick the angle you want? That’s the kind of thing that could hurt GoPro’s business if some other giant company got to it first.
But they won’t. At least I don’t think so. Let me know if you’ve got proof.
Update: “I think we’re well poised to be a leader in that area,” said a GoPro executive on today’s earnings call, when asked about the possibility of consumer-grade VR cameras.