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CES 2018: Hands-on with Yi Horizon 5.7K Google VR180 camera with flip-up touchscreen (now with SAMPLE)

CES 2018: hands-on with Yi Horizon Google VR180 camera
CES 2018: hands-on with Yi Horizon Google VR180 camera

Everyone now knows what VR is but it hasn’t become mainstream yet.  Few casual users have 360 cameras or VR headsets, and fewer still have both.  Google’s VR180 could be the one of the key devices to bring VR to the mainstream, which is why I’m excited about the Yi Horizon, Yi Technology’s 5.7K Google VR180 camera, launched at CES 2018.  Here’s a hands-on report.

Part 1: What is Google VR180? It’s NOT just a hemispherical 360 video!
Part 2: Hands-on with Yi Horizon  (update: now with a sample)


What is Google VR180 and why is it important?

Everyone has seen 360 photos and videos on their smartphone but only a small fraction have used a VR headset (for this purpose, I’m including Google Cardboard).  In fact, I was at CES with Veer’s CEO Ayden Ye and he gave some cardboard viewers to some staff at a booth for a 360 camera.  Shockingly, they had never tried one before.  Again — these are employees of a 360 camera company.  I was astounded.

One possible reason people aren’t using even a cardboard viewer is because they don’t see a sufficient difference between swiping a 360 photo or video on a screen, as opposed to watching on a VR headset.  And I think that’s because most 360 photos and videos they’ve seen are 2D, so looking at it in a VR headset is like looking at wallpaper inside a ball — you can look around but it’s not really so immersive.

Further compounding the problem is that when a viewer looks at a 360 video on a smartphone, they see a cropped version of the video, which therefore has less resolution than what they initially expect.  A 4K 360 video looks theoretically as detailed as a conventional 720p video.  Even 8K 360 video looks “only” as detailed as a conventional 1080p video.

Google’s VR180 is a new format that addresses several issues at the same time:
– When people are viewing it on a regular screen, it shows a static (non-VR) high-resolution 4K video. This means that in a non-VR view, the video quality will be as good as a 4K camera such as a GoPro or a 4K smartphone camera, so it will not be at a disadvantage in image quality compared to a non-360 camera.
– When people view it on a VR headset, they see a 3D VR view (front-facing hemispherical). Because it’s 3D, it will be much more immersive and will be a more powerful use of a VR headset. At the same time, there will be a bigger contrast between the VR view and the non-VR view, which gives people a reason to use a headset and not just swipe on their screen.
– Because the VR view is hemispherical, it is much easier to compose for it. With a fully spherical 360 camera, you have to re-think composition and place the camera with the entire 360 view in mind. With Google VR180’s hemispherical view, they can compose for it as easily as they can with a typical action camera such as a GoPro.

Here is a playlist of sample Google VR180 videos from prototype cameras (to see them in 3D, you’ll need to view them with a Google Cardboard or similar viewer):

Yi Horizon – a 5.7K VR180 camera with flip-up touchscreen

There will be several VR180 cameras but one of the most attractive ones is Yi Horizon, a 5.7K Google VR180 camera that features a flip-up touchscreen LCD.  Here’s a video of the Yi Horizon from CES 2018.

Here are the key specifications:

Sensorstwo Sony 4K sensors
Video resolution (VR view)5760 x 2880 30fps
(2880 x 2880 per eye)
Video resolution (non-VR view)3840 x 1920 30fps
Photo resolution (VR view mode)5760 x 2880
Live streaming resolution4K
Other featuresFlip-up touchscreen LCD

It uses the same sensors as the Yi 360 VR, which has one of the highest video quality among consumer 360 cameras.  Here is a sample from a prototype of the Yi Horizon.  Check it out! (Again, you’ll need your smartphone and a Cardboard viewer to see it in 3D.)

You can see that it is significantly more detailed than most 360 cameras.  The dynamic range is excellent as well.  If you look at the white top of the tom tom drums, the highlights are preserved despite being under the spotlight and at the same time, the shaded part of the black speakers on the floor still have detail.

Yi Horizon dynamic range
Yi Horizon dynamic range

BTW the sound in this sample was with an external recorder.

Besides the 5.7K resolution, the flip-up touchscreen is one of its key features. Other Google VR180 cameras use a smartphone to control the camera. The Yi Horizon can be controlled by a smartphone too but in addition, you can control it directly using the touchscreen. And for selfies and vlogging, the screen can flip up and autorotate so you can see what it will capture. I have a Samsung NX500 and Panasonic FZ1000 both with flip-out LCD screens and for me, this feature is extremely useful.

Yi Horizon will be available by summer 2018 for around $400.  Its closest competitor is the Lenovo Mirage camera, which has a 4K resolution and has no LCD screen (price TBD).  Meanwhile, Lucidcam, one of the first 3D 180 cameras for consumers, is $499. Z Cam K1 Pro, a professional 5.7K Google VR180 camera with large Micro Four Thirds sensors, is $2,995.  Among these options, Yi Horizon looks like a very attractive balance of value and performance. I’m really excited about the Yi Horizon and very much looking forward to its release. You can sign up to be notified here.

About the author

Mic Ty

16 Comments

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  • Thank you! With all of the attention being around the Lenovo Mirage Camera I was looking for more details on the YI Horizon. It does look to be the better of the two. I now hope I can add both to my kit this year!

  • I really like YI guys. Pricing is reasonable quality I believe will be good too. LucidCam have terrible samples on their website. And Z Cam K1 has great image but too expensive. So I would buy this camera or Kodak’s foldable one if it will have same quality and price tag.

    About 360 video resolution. I would say 4K 360 video looks like 480p when you watch it in GearVR . I hope 5.7K from YI 360 VR will look close to 720p.

    • the problem in gear vr and smartphone as a viewer in general is the phone display itself. you only get half the resolution because they split it for each eye. Also there is no smartphone player that can play 5k7 at the moment.

  • I was just itching for your comments on this camera. I too feel like it is the best compromise so far. I was aiming for the K1, but when I saw the price, I was disillusioned. Anyone contemplating a camera in the K1’s price range might as well get an Insta360 Pro for about the same price and get full 3D and not partial 3D.

    About that last point, let me just point out again what VR 3D 180 proponents aren’t telling you: Twin lens VT 180 cameras only record in full 3D what is in front of them – not over 180 degrees. That’s because the parallax of subjects at the sides is progressively reduced to zero. This means that when you look at a VR 180 image in a headset, it recreates a natural view only when you are looking straight ahead. if you look left and right, then you see what would be picked up by your eyes when you are looking ahead – not what you would see if you would turn your head in real life. Only a 3D 360 camera records full 3D and allows you to look around while maintaining full 3D effect.

    This may not matter so much since people using VR 180 cameras may be inclined to compose so as to place the main subject at the front. But if there are people at the sides in a picture, it will make them look like giants next to the people at the center.

    A few other points about 3D and wide angle: It’s true that 3D adds realism. But that is only the case at close range and when the camera is static. If most of the subject matter is about twenty feet away and that the camera is in motion on a gimbal, the motion parallax will convey a sense of depth which is indistinguishable from twin lens 3D.

    Now getting back to the Yi Horizon, I was amused by the person saying that it features “in camera stitching”, There is actually no stitching involved since each lens records two independent full 180 images. I gather he meant that the camera places the left and right images together on a single frame. But the thing that mystifies me is what appears on the display. If the camera records two full hemispheres, how can this act as a framing viewfinder since it only shows a partial wide rectangular image ?

    • Hi Francois. Yes 3D effect diminishes as you move to the sides but to the target market of VR180, that doesn’t matter.

      Yes 3D effect is less noticeable with distance.

      Re in-camera stitching, i interpret it to mean converting the two circular fisheye videos into a top-bottom equirectangular video.

      Re viewfinder i believe they only show a crop of the middle that simulates what you’d see in non-VR view.

      Best regards,
      Mic

  • I might be wrong, but there used to be one crowdfunded project that supposed to create 180 3D camera which could be easily connected with the other one or two cameras of the same type to get 360 3D rig?

      • Hi Mic, yes it is Lucidcam but seems like that feature is not being pushed at all…I don’t know why. Theoretically, 3 Lucidcams for 1500$ looks like promising rig with really decent resolution. Do you have to stitch those three by yourself?

        Best

        • Hi Bruno yes you have to stitch with a third party program. I think lucidcam wants to target consumers primarily and that’s why they haven’t talked much about the 360 rig. A second reason is that the stitching between the 3 cameras would be harsh. so for professionals who are willing to spend $1500 for a rig, they would probably not be satisfied with the stitching. That’s my guess. Best regards, Mic

          • Hi Mic, I believe you are right about their strategy. I guess Mistika could stitich it perfectly, though. Insta 360 pro is really great camera but I can’t afford it at this moment so I am looking at the alternatives. This 3 Lucidcams rig looks *promising* but I will have to dig a bit deeper to find out what the actual result would be like. I wonder what this Vuze+ is like. There was also Hubblo 3D camera that is silent for some time now. Kendao obsidian Go looks ok but also seems a little bit like underperformer compared to other 2D 360 cameras that go for 4K video. What do you think of 360 3D cameras available, would you consider writing some article that analyzes current situation? 😏

    • Even though Weeview call their cameras “VR180”, they do not cover 180 degrees. It’s more like about 90 degrees, so it’s closer to a 3D camera than to a VR camera. But their v2 design does look very promising as a 3D camera. It has a metal body and includes a large glasses-free touch screen.

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