So recently all the tech talk has been about Virtual Reality and VR cam builds, and the future of the entertainment really is VR. The idea of virtual reality isn’t anything new, it’s actually a concept that has been referenced in science fiction since as early as 1935, but only now is it becoming, well, reality.
Initially, the thought of owning your own VR cam was as much of a dream as experiencing a virtual reality world was sixty years ago, but that’s all changing.
There’s already been a few releases of VR cameras on to the market, for both the industry professionals and amateur videographers, but at a price. The Nokia Ozo was first released with the price tag of $60,000, while the LG 360 Cam is only $199.99. But that’s not the reason you’re here, you’re here because you actually want to build your own 360 camera, though a project like this also comes at a price, but just how much that price is, all depends on how much you’re willing to spend.
Step One: The camera(s)
So first off you’re going to need to buy the cameras, this is the expensive part. Most VR cams on the market are fairly stiff and can withstand reasonably rough conditions, as well you’re going to want cameras with a wide angle lens. So, an action camera is ideal, and probably necessary if you don’t want a huge, awkward rig to carry around. There are a number of high quality action cameras available in most camera stores, most can shoot in 4K video quality and withstand knocks, bumps and drops. However, they can be expensive, and you’re going to need a few of them.
I used the YI 4K Action Camera which is the best budget action camera there is in the market today. It can shoot in 4K quality for up to 120 minutes, and it’s $150 cheaper than the popular GoPro Hero 5 Black, so when buying six, it’s a big saving!
Step Two: The Rig
This can be the tricky part. I say “can be” because there are numerous ways to make your rig, but I will just cover two ways. Alternatively, you can buy one or ask someone to make one, but it’s not guaranteed to be compatible with your action cameras.
If you fancy yourself to be a bit of a product designer then you could opt to design your own VR cam rig using a 3D design software. Blender (www.blender.org) is completely free, or you could try ZBrush (www.pixologic.com), which is going to be a bit easier if you’re new to 3D design but you’ll have to pay for full access to its services. After you’ve designed your rig you can send it to a 3D printer who can print it for a relatively low price, or buy (or use) your own 3D printer.
Another option is to go old school and build it by hand; the materials you choose to build it with are entirely down to you and your skill set, but you’ll want the end design to look something like this:
If you don’t build the perfect rig first time around, don’t give up, and keep in mind you’ll need some space in the center of the rig for the next step.
Step Three: The Cables
You’ll need a multi-end point cable to attach all the cameras. One camera will be used as the controlling camera and this will send the commands to the other cameras. Each endpoint is a 7-pin micro USB. Depending on how many cameras you have will determine the amount of endpoints you need. Here’s a guide for six endpoints:
Step Four: The Firmware
This is the boring part, but also the most important.
I should mention that I don’t know if this is going to work for all action cameras on the market. I did it using six YI 4K Action Cameras, if you’re using different brands or models you will have to download some different firmware for all the cameras to simultaneously start/stop recording. You can download the YI firmware here.
Next, you’ll need to get it onto your camera. To do this, first choose one camera to be the controller camera. Rename firmware_first.bin to firmware.bin and then copy it to the root folder of the camera’s microSD card. After inserting your SD card to the camera, turn it on and follow the on-screen instructions to update.
For the other non-controller cameras you’ll need the firmware-others.bin file. Rename it firmware.bin and then copy it to the root folder of the other cameras’ microSD cards, and update as before.
Make sure you configure all the cameras with the same mode, i.e. all set to 12MP photo, or all set to 2.5K video.
Step Five: The Bluetooth Controller
This step is optional, but it will make things a lot easier. If your action camera offers a Bluetooth remote control then I recommend you buy it, and pair it with the controlling camera. It will give you more freedom and control when filming and taking pictures on your 360 camera.
Step Six: The Final Step(s) for the VR cam project
Once you’ve turned on the cameras and checked the settings on your cameras match, you can put them into your rig, which by now should look something like this:
If you’re using a Bluetooth control you can position your VR camera, and push the button to start recording. I recommend limiting your footage to 30 minutes so the clock doesn’t drift out of sync, but record as many shots as the camera’s SD card and battery can take.
Then, change all the cameras to photo mode and take a picture (using your Bluetooth remote).
Finally, you’ll need to stitch all your footage together. There’s lots of software you can download to do this, free and subscription based.
Once you’ve recorded, edited and stitched your footage, the only thing left to do is watch it! You can have the whole VR cam experience by viewing it on a headset. Just make sure you don’t get too lost in virtual reality! Good luck!