Why Nokia's OZO camera ball is better for VR than yet another headset

Nokia's spherical camera for VR directors is now finally up for grabs
Nokia's OZO camera is a smart move

Nokia decided it wasn't going to join the VR headset party and so in 2015 it built the OZO, a 360 degree, spherical camera for VR filmmakers.

Headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are getting all the VR attention and they are both just about to drop.

What Nokia has done with its professional, 360 degree camera is sidestep what is becoming a very crowded playing field - with VR headsets prepped to launch from all corners including LG and plenty of speculation that new Google Cardboard viewers are on the way too.

For VR to succeed this time round, we need headsets that can immerse us in other worlds and games, movies and experiences to create those worlds, whether it's an alien planet, the beginnings of life on earth or a part of London you haven't been to yet.

OZO, which is available to own now, won't make as many headlines as a new headset but it's more useful to both the industry and fans impatiently waiting to get into VR themselves.

It's bringing VR and Hollywood together

And that can only be a good thing. The camera, which captures stereoscopic 3D through eight synchronised, optical image sensors and spatial audio via eight microphones, was launched in Los Angeles in November last year where Nokia invited big Hollywood studios and production houses to try out its expensive new toy.

OZO is aimed at 'professional content creators' and that means directors and producers with the cash to create Hollywood-level movies, series and interactive experiences. If you want one, it's available on the OZO website for a cool $60,000.

We recently spoke to Rashpal Bhati, marketing communications manager at Nokia Technologies and he gave us the lowdown on getting the OZO into the hands of Hollywood's elite but only when it's ready.

"The Cameron people, we've spoken to them," Bhati tells us. "We've spoken to the Disney guys as well, pretty much all of the studios. The Hunger Games people wanted to do a shoot with us way back before the last film. They decided to go with another solution in the end. We didn't want them to have Ozo because it wasn't production quality. We would rather say no until it's ready."

We need more live action VR

Nokia is trying to make it easier for filmmakers to shoot live action VR. It can be a costly and time consuming process and though creating CG animation for VR is also expensive and takes longer to produce than for standard formats, we've seen a lot more CG demos and experiences than live action so far, across all the main platforms.

Nokia has equipped the OZO with the tech to make it quicker to get VR footage to broadcasters to transmit live and is already equipped to handle 4K resolution feeds.

Read this: Oculus makes a push for live action VR

If VR headsets' most impressive ability is to trick your brain into thinking you are somewhere else, it's no wonder that live action footage has a big part to play in entertaining and thrilling us.

Nokia says that content filmed on OZO can be published for commercially available headsets and that it integrates into industry workflows and third party tools. That part isn't sexy but it could well be the difference between a studio deciding to get into VR in 2015/16 or choosing to wait.

How long will those live VR clips be? That's entirely up to the creator but Nokia Technologies has an idea of what currently works best. "VR is not something you can watch for 90 minutes," says Bhati. "Short clips that are engaging really works best. I don't think your brain is ready for 20-30 minutes VR videos. We think short clips of 3-4 minutes is what your brain can handle. Right now, clips of this length work."

OZO has real time 3D playback and Nokia wants more ideas

One of the interesting features of Nokia's new camera ball is that it allows the filmmaker to monitor the footage in real time to a VR headset and also play back low-res footage in a matter of minutes. Nokia points out that existing, professional 360 degree cameras rely on a slower method of stitching the panoramic image from different sensors which takes hours.

All the evidence points to Nokia aiming to work with the industry to build the ultimate 360 degree camera for filming cinematic VR. It has been busy testing and refining the device in collaboration with industry professionals before the OZO finally went on sale.

Jaunt will use OZO to shoot VR

Nokia knows exactly who it needs to target in the VR space - the studios producing high quality, 'cinematic' VR films and experiences. Jaunt Studios has already signed up to use the camera and support work filmed on OZO in post-production. That's a good sign that OZO is providing something that the industry was missing.

Read this: The best VR apps for iPhone and Android

Jaunt makes hardware and software for VR as well as running the studio behind high profile VR shorts like the Paul McCartney concert app, The Hobbit experience and fashion films for Elle magazine and is one of a few production companies making an early mark on the VR landscape. If rivals such as VRSE, Felix and Paul Studios and ReelFX get involved with OZO, Nokia will be on to a winner.

Shoot now, watch on a 2016 headset

The timing is right, too. Well if Nokia could have launched this earlier, that would have been ideal. It's already given attendees at the Sundance festival a peek earlier this year and Nokia has told us that it has some projects it's been working with filmmakers on that we can expect to see before the end of 2016.

All of the big VR headsets are due to be released in the coming months making this the year that VR takes off in a real way. Gamers and movie fans sitting in their homes, not trade shows, wearing headsets and experiencing well-made, boundary pushing games, films and shows.

It's all about making sure we have something to download when the VR headsets are ready and hopefully Nokia will deliver when Oculus Rift and company lands.

Will the amateur VR moviemaker ever be able to get hold of a more affordable OZO? For now, no. But that doesn't mean it won't happen further down the line. "We're focused on creating the OZO for capture for the Hollywood filmmakers," says Bhati. "Down the line that will be for the prosumers and then eventually the consumer."

Additional reporting by Michael Sawh.

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