Thanks to the crystal clear clarity of high-definition video, as well as advances in where cameras can go, we've likely all witnessed a nature documentary that at one point or another took our breath away. What we see, however, is still stuck on a rectangular screen with a static image. Instead imagine that wherever your head turned, the image followed. The narrator described the scene, but you were free to move about within it.
That's the idea behind the new crop of 3-D, 360-degree videos that are showing up on Google's new Jump platform. While the experiences are being primed for the upcoming wave of virtual reality headsets, you can get an example of what to expect based on some of videos already flooding the service. Here's a great one from the Discovery Channel's "Mythbusters" gang of a 360-degree dive on a shark-infested shipwreck. (Place your mouse over the video and hold down the left button to move the video in any direction.)
As you would expect, capturing these experiences requires something a bit more robust than your ordinary camera. There are a couple of options coming down the pipe, but the most robust one by far is GoPro's new Odyssey — a 16-camera, 360-degree rig that uses some special Google hardware and software to create 3-D VR recordings. Right now, Google and GoPro are only offering these systems to a select few (i.e. professional content creators); a strategy reflected by the unit's $15,000 price tag.
"Virtual reality is a promising new innovation with incredible potential for commercial and artistic applications. With Odyssey and Jump, GoPro is encouraging content creators to pioneer the new technology – to capture, edit and share immersive content," said Tony Bates, president of GoPro, in a statement.
Where things will get really interesting is when VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and SONY Morpheus hit the market in a couple months. Until then, you can go the simple route with a cardboard VR cutout that uses your smartphone to "immerse" you in the action.
Below are some additional VR 360 videos to get you pumped for what's coming.