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360-degree video lets you play your movies like a video game

With new cameras, you may soon be able to immerse yourself in video. The impact on virtual reality and extreme-sports footage could be huge.

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    360fly's camera claims to take high quality footage from all angles. The company claims that these features could be the next stage in VR visualization.
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Grown out of Carnegie Mellon University, the start-up 360fly has been developing a portable “action cam” that can record video in an interactive 360 degrees. While GoPro had been the leader in action cameras for some time, 360fly chief executive Peter Adderton tells Mashable that capturing a fuller view of extreme sports or events may change the way people view videos. 

“GoPro's done a good job,” says Mr. Adderton, who founded Boost Mobile and joined 360Fly in May as its CEO. “No one owns the 360-degree video space.”

That’s what 360Fly focuses on: 360-degree video that allows a viewer to interact and explore the area around the camera (you can see one of their videos here). Many see this as a way to build the developing market of virtual reality (VR), or to better immerse an audience in videos.

But 360-degree video isn’t new. Companies such as Google, Rico, and Giroptic have been developing cameras that capture full-range visuals. Some of these, such as Google Jump, use a series of wide-lens cameras, while others have adopted spherical lenses. In both cases, this “omniview” approach may be the key to launching development for VR devices.

Many companies are getting into virtual reality gaming and video. Facebook bought VR goggle company Oculus Rift last year, and Google unveiled its Google Cardboard VR set at its 2014 Google I/O conference. And though many headsets now exist, there's still a dearth of videos and games that take advantage of virtual reality.

In March, YouTube announced that it would support 360-degree video uploads, allowing users to interact with content created in new, experimental, and innovative ways. In May, YouTube announced the 360-degree feature would also work on mobile devices, allowing people to use their Android or iOS device in the Google Cardboard VR system.

But the technology to produce immersive, 360-degree video can be expensive and has its problems. Sifting through hours of footage can be daunting, and not every camera features the same quality, range of controls, or affordability. Google, Facebook, and GoPro have been developing high-quality rigs composed of multiple cameras, costing several thousands of dollars per system. Even lower quality 360 cameras can cost upward of $1,000.

To Adderton, companies must make it easier for consumers to gain hold of this technology if they want it to catch on. Without producers, there isn’t content to consume, and without consumers, there isn’t anywhere to grow. With that ideology in mind, 360fly is selling its camera for $399 when it launches in August.

"The nearest virtual reality experience today would be six GoPros together and an Oculus Rift headset, which would roughly be around $4,000," Adderton told Mashable. "For $399 you get the same experience and you can actually make your own content."

Adderton’s team is also looking into other applications for the technology. In addition to VR, the team notes that the machine-learning capabilities of the camera can be used to improve the safety of the average person, not just the adrenaline junkie or gaming geek. With time, the tennis ball-sized spherical camera could be mounted on helmets to alert cyclists of oncoming danger, or to track criminals through crowded areas.

And though they see GoPro as a competitor, 360fly is “playing nice” and fitting all of their cameras with adapters to make adoption easier.

“In order for us to really break down the barrier to entry of buying our camera, we've added an adapter that allows you to use all of your accessories from your GoPro, so you don't need to go out and buy a bunch of new accessories,” Adderton says. “You can literally just snap them on and [you're] off and running.”

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