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:
|Sensors||two 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 resolution||4K|
|Other features||Flip-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.
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.
Excellent preview, Mic! You touched on all the VR180 advantages. Looking forward to this camera. Keep us advised.
THanks Bill yup will do. Best regards, Mic
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!
Hi Denzel. You’re going to get both yi horizon AND mirage? wow… why?
Oops, I was thinking the YI 360 in my head! I want to add both their 360 and 180 cameras 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 have sony xz premium, it’s 4k screen gives 2kx2k per eye the problem is the weight distribution that makes it frony heavy : after 20 minutes it feels really heavy on the nose
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.
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 Bruno. I think you’re talking about LucidCam. It’s already out since late last year. Here are my hands-on impressions https://360rumors.com/2017/08/eating-ghost-pepper-burger-lucidcam-3d-vr180-sample-video-first-impressions.html But yes you can combine three LucidCams to create a 3D 360 rig. Best regards, Mic
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?
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? 😏
I think VR180 might the right way for viewers, it gives more immersion.
And I also saw a similar camera which made by Weeview at CES.
Their demo videos are so interesting!! .
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.
I wonder when LG will announce their own VR180 camera…
I may have uncovered one serious shortcoming on the Yi Horizon: The lack of a replaceable battery. It’s true that it has become the norm for phones to have their batteries built in. But cameras often draw a lot of battery power and they can drain pretty rapidly. For that reason, I always carry spares when I am working on a serious project away from home or the studio.
Looking over several clips and pictures of the Lenovo Mirage and the Yi Horizon, I found that the Mirage has a sliding back that reveals a battery compartment, as it should. However, the Horizon has no such compartment anywhere on its body. Let’s hope that the final production version of the Horizon will have a user-accessible battery because I can’t imagine having such a camera, filming for a bit and then finding that the camera has become useless because the battery has drained ! For this reason, I am having second thoughts about choosing the Horizon over the Mirage.
For those wondering, the side door on the Yi Horizon is mainly for an HDMI port and a USB port. I assume there is also an SD card port but I I don’t see any space for a battery compartment.
Let’s hope that changes in the final production model.
I am wondering if there will be “in camera stitching” (or whatever is called for 180 3D images) for 5.7k resolution or only with PC software as happens with Yi VR 360.
Hi Pablo. I think one issue is whether phones can playback 6k video. I think it’s more likely that there will be stitching for mobile at 4K. but that’s just a guess.
I agree with Mic that the biggest issue with these high resolution cameras is how many users will actually have phones or headsets powerful enough to play 6K. My own All-in-One headset won’t play anything above 4K.
Hi. Thank you for your preview. I’m glad to find it. Yi has been very quiet about this and I’ve been waiting as there is no new higher action or stills model. Now I know not to buy it by your description. Is it really 2880 like picture per eye, not 4k capable per sensor, and a 3840×1930 4k 2D out?
I wanted to look at it for 3D shooting instead of a phone (I can modify the lens) with two+ together for multipoint 3D. But this looks substandard. The dynamic range in the clip is also phone like. Looking at the symbols or drums they get washed out of details. Great for consumer level, but not for an picture enthusiast. The price of below $400 doubled is below $800, where there would be multipoint phones coming.
In regards Yi being quiet, the latest news is that they will be showing the camera at NAB in a few days and will probably make an announcement as to release date then.
In regards resolution, 2880×2880 per eye is indeed 4K per eye. But you have to keep in mind that the pixels are spread over a square area rather than a 16:9 area as you would have with a UHD TV. Therefore, 2880×2880 equals 3840×2160 (UHD standard) in terms of the number of pixels. The effective resolution is in fact higher because, along the vertical axis, you have more pixels per mm. In other words, if your viewer display is 5cm high, the pixel count along the vertical will be 2880 instead of 2160.
In regards using it for 3D, you would be better off with a JEDEYE camera or wait for the announced SID2 from Weeview. Both of these are designed more for 3D than for VR. Cameras such as the Yi Horizon or Lenovo Mirage are really designed specifically for viewing in a VR headset.
Yes, those companies look promising.
Thanks Francois. Didn’t hear about anything about the yi camera at NAB. Heard about zcam e2 though. Been told they are using NVIDIA and around 1700mb/s h265 (which indicates the board that can use several intelligent vision cameras). Pretty interesting to see what they do.
The Yi was at the Google booth. From what it appears, they are pushing back the introduction date to next October. I hope they are doing this because I wrote them to say it was a mistake for them to release this camera with a built-in battery while the lower cost Mirage has a removable one !
.. or maybe it’s because of the really poor sample clips now appearing on YT !
As far as I am concerned, having a removable battery is more important than an LCD display.
Are you sure that the YI Horizon has a non-removable battery? The reason I ask is that the side door on the Horizon seems awfully big for just a micro SD card and a USB charge port. If it’s not removable I agree it should be.
Someone posted a clip on YT that he claims was taken with a Yi Horizon. I assume he must be a beta tester ?
One thing is clear, there is no in-camera image stabilization (well, not on the pre-production model anyhow) However, recent articles suggest it records motion metadata to stabilize the clip in editing. However, this means no stabilized live video.
I am not too impressed with the IQ. Comments on the page point to softness at the edges…
Choosing interesting scenes to shoot with such a camera is going to be a big challenge for most people. Surely, a car ride down the highway isn’t the best of subjects !
Apart from lack of overwhelming macro blocking, it has quality of an old less than 6 mb/s mpeg2 camera. That’s terrible. It’s hard to believe that really is a Yi.
I checked the guy’s YT page and he has a few more clips and even a picture of himself with a Yi Horizon.
So that isn’t too promising ! Given the indications Yi seriously pushing back the release date, let’s hope they have realized their current version has serious problems and correct these in the final production model.
It’s all very strange. No way it should look that bad. So I wonder if this is fake. The lenses look detachable, which is a good sign.
I think we’ll just have to wait for the final production model to be introduced and then have a look at the user reviews.
Wondering why you say it has 5.7K resolution when it has 4K sensors. The maker is seemingly misrepresenting the capability for marketing purposes, but a journalist should not just repeat that as if it is factual.
Hi Trebor. Yes the sensor is 4K but it has two of them. 😀 The combined video it produces is 5760 x 2880 which is why they call it 5.7K (in fact, technically it is 6K).
do you have a place/app to recommend for best quality 180 stereo photos and videos (4k minimum) ? thanks
i was not convinced by 180 stereo compared to 360 at first but i changed my mind 180 degree
0/ stereo is really adding a lot of immersion if you have near objects and far objects (there is no affordable 360 stereo camera, so we only have 180 as an affordable option )
1/ we are not sitting in a swiveling chair most of the time so 360 is hard to experience sited down
2/ we get 2x resolution improvement on today’s devices that cannot playback more than 4k videos
3/we have an “affordable” upgrade path to shoot 180 stereo on bigger sensors using 2 traditional cameras with fish-eye lenses
i have one big problem that is still not solved for 180 and 360 though : headsets are heavy and sweaty after only 20 minutes of usage
glad you like vr180 format! I agree it is much more immersive vs 2D 360. yes vr180 is more practical than 3d 360 for many people