Saturday, July 23, 2016

Review: CastleStorm VR for Samsung Gear VR

One of the new releases for the Samsung Gear VR (reviewed here) is the VR version of the popular action strategy game, CastleStorm.  It's available both for the Samsung Gear VR and the Oculus Rift.  I tried the version for the Gear VR.

CastleStorm is a realtime strategy game with action elements.  Your objective is to destroy the opponent's castle using your weapons, your army, and even your magic.  At the same time, you're doing your best to survive the opponent's onslaught as well.  It is somewhat like a mix of Angry Birds with realtime strategy elements.

As you increase levels, you add different weapons, troops and magical abilities, powering them up using the gold that you win from battles.

The VR version has almost identical gameplay with the versions for iOS (there are also versions for other platforms).  The difference is that in the VR version, you have a "god view" of the battlefield.  (Another difference is that it's NOT free to play; on the other hand, there are no in-app purchases.)

Some have criticized this as a "lazy" implementation of VR, but for me it works.  I find it much more enjoyable than the non-VR version.  Here's an experiment: you can download Herobound: First Adventure, an action adventure game that shows a similar point of view.  If you enjoy Herobound much more than a similar non-VR game, then there's a good chance you'll prefer CastleStorm VR over the non-VR version.

One criticism I have is that when aiming your weapons with the ballista, the controls are ridiculously sensitive. A 1mm movement might correspond to 1/8th of the battlefield. It's almost requires the precision of a brain surgeon.

Otherwise, the game is fun and is one of my current favorites for the Samsung Gear VR.

CastleStorm VR requires a Bluetooth controller to play.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Ricoh Theta S lens caps and protective covers

​One of the things I always worry about with the Ricoh Theta S is damaging its lenses.  Here are some lens caps and protective covers for the Theta.

1. Plastic lens cap

One vendor describes it as "shock resistant, scratch-resistant and anti-bump for extra protection." It slides on and off the Theta.  The cheapest one I've seen so far is this one (as of the time of this writing):

Here's another one that costs a few dollars more but includes a lens cleaning pen and cleaning cloth.

2. Silicone cover and lens cap
This one includes a silicone cover for the Theta as well as a separate silicone lens cap, and includes a lens cleaning pen and cleaning cloth.

Here's the black version (there's also a bright yellow and bright blue version):

If you prefer, there's another kit that includes a wrist strap and connector instead of a lens pen and cloth.

3. Myking lens cap
This is a thick solid plastic cover for the Ricoh Theta.  Looks really sturdy.

If you would like to purchase these covers, please consider purchasing them through the links above, which would be a very welcome way of supporting 360rumors at no additional cost to you.  Thank you very much!

Live Planet: a 3D 360 degree camera with 4k live streaming

Live Planet is a 3D-360 degree camera with live streaming in 4k.  Previously called the Quantum Leap Pro, it was first announced in April and now more details are becoming available for the retail version.

The Live Planet camera uses sixteen DSL217C lenses, each with a 180 degree field of view, thus creating a fully spherical field of view without the need for a separate lens for the nadir or zenith.

It can live stream at 4k at 30 fps (4096 x 4096 top-bottom 3D 360 format).  Alternatively, it can record at 4k at 60 fps at the same resolution.  It can also take 3D 360 stills at 8192 x 8192 (67 megapixels).

The Live Planet camera is remarkably compact compared to some 3D 360 camera rigs, at only about 4 inches length and 3.5 inches height, and 1.5 lbs. weight.
One technical problem with 3D 360 cameras, is the parallax stitching issue.  To create a 3D effect, the lenses have to be further apart.  If they are not sufficiently far apart, then the 3D effect will be diminished.  On the other hand, if lenses are farther apart, the parallax stitching error will be more noticeable (near objects will appear split in half).  The Live Planet camera ingeniously overcomes both issues by pairing every 4th lens (instead of the lenses next to each other).  The lenses would be farther apart (in this case, 70mm interpupillary distance) for a sufficiently 3D effect.  At the same time, the distances between the respective centers of each pair would be closer than the physical diameter of the camera.
a diagram showing Live Planet's solution to the IPD issue
In the diagram above, the blue octagon represents the "left eye" view.  The right octagon represents the "right eye" view.  Instead of pairing the lenses that are next to each other, the lenses are offset by 3 lenses (the blue arrow is paired with the red arrow).  This creates a greater IPD (compare the green brace with the blue brace) for greater 3D effect.  At the same time, the distance between the lens becomes smaller (the green arrow is shorter than the black arrow).

The Live Planet camera will be released in Q4 2016 at an MSRP of $9,995.  However, it can be preordered at $4,995, the same price as the GoPro Omni rig.

Here is a video from CNET about the Live Planet camera, showing a prototype:

Live Planet's tagline is "15 minutes to fame."  This refers to Live Planet's goal of simplifying the live streaming or recording process so that users can start live streaming to all major VR platforms in just 15 minutes:

"We take care of the hard technical challenges so that in 15 minutes, creators can setup the Live Planet™ camera, register on the Live Planet™ cloud platform, and start live streaming or storing (or on-demand playback) amazing stereoscopic virtual reality video of the highest quality, delivered to literally every headset your audience uses. This is the Live Planet 15 Minute Promise."

Here is the official website.

Orb VR, a 3D 360 camera with live streaming
Vuze Camera, an affordable, fully spherical 3D 360 4k camera for consumers
Lucid camera, a hemispherical 3D 360 4k camera

DEALS: 360fly HD on sale at $299

The original 360fly HD, a hemispherical 360-degree action camera, is normally $399 but for a limited time, is just $299! 

The 360fly was one of the first 360 cameras to be dustproof and waterproof. A 4k version became available in May.

This 25% discount on the original HD version is good until August 1. Here is the link:

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Ricoh Theta adds 3D butterfly effect!

Just in time for summer, Ricoh added a charming new 3D butterfly effect for Ricoh Theta photos uploaded to!  The effect is 3D, changing based on the viewers chosen viewpoint.

Here is a sample by Katsunori Takamatsu:
な〜の〜は〜に〜と〜ま〜れ〜♪ #butterfly3d #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

To add the effect, simply add the hashtag #butterfly3d in the description when you upload it to

Other effects that Ricoh has enabled include fireflies (#firefly3d), cherry blossom petals (#sakura3d), and rain (#rain3d).

New video sample from the Nikon Keymission 360!

There's a new video sample from the Nikon Keymission 360, Nikon's long-awaited fully spherical 360-degree action camera.  The video shows a unique 360-degree perspective atop a wind turbine in Lubbock, Texas.  Here is a link to the post on Facebook.​

Here is the sample on YouTube:

Nikon also posted an article by marine biologist Dr. Gregory Skomal about how the Nikon Keymission 360 could be used to study sharks.

Thank you very much to Nikon photographer Marcello Geerts for letting me know about this information!

Insta360 Nano: 8 Tips and Tricks to get better shots

I got the Insta360 Nano, a 360-degree camera for the iPhone (first impressions here).  I've been experimenting with it, and I've found several tips and tricks for it:

Update: February 5, 2017

Reminder: Kickstarter for Andromium Superbook begins today at 830AM PT

Just a friendly reminder that the Kickstarter campaign for the Superbook begins today at 830AM Pacific Time.  UPDATE: it started early. Here is the link.

Superbook (previewed here) is a laptop shell for your Android smartphone, allowing your phone to act much like a Windows laptop.  Superbook will also recharge your phone.

Because Superbook has no processor of its own and relies completely on your smartphone, it will be as low as $99 (plus shipping), which includes a Micro USB to USB cord and a charger.  There's also a higher-end package with Type C cord.

UPDATE:  Superbook's Kickstarter campaign is a success!  Within the first hour, it was 300% funded (i.e., 3x its funding goal) and still going strong.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Orb VR: a 3D 360 video camera with on-board stitching and live streaming

There's an intriguing new 360 camera on the horizon called Orb VR.  It's still in prototype stage so there's not a lot of info about it yet, except that it will be a 3D 360-degree camera with on-camera stitching in real time and live streaming capability.  By comparison, the Vuze Camera, which is scheduled for release in October, is a 4k 3D 360 camera, but it requires stitching after capture, and has no live streaming capability.

Here's a render of the current Orb prototype:

Founder John Ballentine said that it will be a 'prosumer' camera and gives an idea of the range of image quality and price that we would expect.  They are planning to have 4k per eye, streaming in realtime.  They're targeting "the 360heros price range."

John says the secret to Orb VR's remarkable in-camera stitching capability is that the stitching is being done by an ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) - in other words, a processor designed specifically to stitch efficiently "at hundreds of times less power than a GPU rig."

There's no established ETA yet, but they are hoping to release it late 2017.  A prototype might be shown at NAB 2017 (April 24-27, 2017).  Here is the official Orb website where you can be on their mailing list.  This will definitely be on my radar.

Vuze 3D 360 camera giveaway

Vuze Camera, the first fully spherical 3D 360-degree camera for consumers, is giving away one Vuze VR kit, which includes a camera, specially designed tripod/handle, headset, and video editing software. To be entered into the contest, you just have to register for an account on their website.

Details of the contest:

VR-Ready NVidia GTX 1060 Now Available

The NVidia GTX 1060 is a VR-ready graphics card that offers performance similar to the NVidia GTX 980, but at a lower price of $249 MSRP compared to the approximately $400 current street price of the GTX 980.

The regular version of the GTX 1060 is available for preorder from retailers such as B&H Photo, however the GTX 1060 Founders Edition is now available direct from NVidia for $299 (see here).

Compared to the regular version of the GTX 1060, the Founders Edition has premium construction and has cooling enhancements (see here - this one is for the GTX 1080 but the same enhancements are in the Founders Edition of the GTX 1060).

Moreover, although the GTX 1060 has an MSRP of $249, the price of the regular GTX 1060 on B&H Photo is also $299, like the Founders Edition.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Maximizing Samsung Gear 360's video quality; direct comparison with Kodak SP360 4k

Apparently, the image quality of the Samsung Gear 360's output is partly dependent on which method you use to stitch it, as discovered by Markr041.  Mark also uploaded a comparison between the Gear 360 and the Kodak SP360 4k.  Hit the jump to check it out!

Insta360 responds instantly; new accessories coming for Nano!

How's this for being responsive?  I just posted a preliminary review of the Insta360 Nano a couple of hours ago, complementing the image quality but complaining about the lack of self-timer and lamenting the watermark. 

Here's Insta360 response:


Amazing!  That's the kind of responsiveness that could put Insta360 on the map.  Thanks for listening to your customers, Insta360!

Insta360 Nano preliminary review: almost there

I finally got the Insta360 Nano, a 360-degree camera for the iPhone.  I haven't tested it yet but here are my first impressions.  (I'll post a more detailed review after tests.)  Please see the update after the Summary.

Update 2: Don't miss these 8 tips and tricks for the Insta360 Nano!
Update 7/25/16: the app has been updated to make the logo removable.
Update 7/29/16: the review is now here and includes the version 1.20 app update.

Camera firmware version: v1.43_0160
App version: 1.1.0

Monday, July 18, 2016

Insta360 Nano almost sold out at Amazon!

The Insta360 Nano (previewed here), a 360-degree camera for the iPhone, appears to be selling pretty well on Amazon, even before it has become generally available (today is the first day it's shipping).  Apparently, there are only 2 left in stock!

TBH, I'm not that surprised - the concept seems to work, and it has innovative features such as livestreaming.  It doesn't hurt that it's competitively priced.  Of course, I don't know yet how it performs in the real world, although the photo and video samples have been encouraging.

Anyway, I'm supposed to receive my order today (not a review copy).  Will post first impressions ASAP.  If you'd like to order one, pls. consider using this link to support 360rumors at no additional cost to you!

YouTube 360 Livestream of Republican National Convention and Democratic National Convention

For the first time, the respective conventions of the two major political parties in the US will be livestreamed in 360.

The Republican National Convention is being livestreamed in 360 now on YouTube.  Here is the link.
The Democratic National Convention next week will also have a 360 livestream on YouTube.  Here is the link.

Please note these links do not imply any political endorsement of either party.

Custom Camera Case for the Samsung Gear 360

The Samsung Gear 360 (reviewed here) is not yet available to the general public in the US, but there's already a custom camera case that is molded around the Gear 360's unique shape (including its tripod).  The case also has a pouch for cables.

If you would like to buy this case, please consider using the link below, which would be a welcome way of supporting 360rumors.  Thank you very much!

Teche high-resolution 360 cameras - samples and other info

Teche TE720 (previously called the Teche T2) and TE720 Pro are almost spherical 360-degree cameras with high resolution photos.  We now have some additional info, including some sample photos.

First of all, Teche has two models - the TE720 and TE720 Pro.  The entry-level model, the TE720, has 96 total megapixels (16 megapixels x 6 sensors) and is $2499.

The TE720 Pro has 72 total megapixels (12 megapixels x 6 sensors), is a little more compact, and is made for "harsh environments."   The price is not stated on the website.
Both have have five coplanar lenses and one lens for the zenith (there's a blind spot at the nadir).  Both cameras use lenses with a bright f/2.8 aperture.

Here is a sample from the TE720:

Here is a sample from the TE720 Pro:

For more information, here is the official website for the Teche TE720 and TE720 Pro.

Thank you very much to Peter Murphy for finding this information!

Will Vico VR be the first to make positional tracking available for mobile VR?

Positional tracking is the holy grail of mobile VR because it is currently the biggest difference between mobile VR and desktop VR.  There have been many efforts to add positional tracking to mobile VR, such as the Stereolabs Zed system, and the Baofeng Mojing 5.

Vico VR is racing to be one of the first to make mobile VR positional tracking available to consumers.  Vico VR uses an external sensor but doesn't need a PC to control it.  Instead the sensor has its own processor that sends the 3D depth data wirelessly via Bluetooth to your smartphone.

Here are some demos from Vico VR:

Although the demos above show the VicoVR being used with a Samsung Gear VR (reviewed here), VicoVR is also compatible with Cardboard, as well as any Bluetooth-enabled gaming platform such as AndroidTV or Apple TV.

Vico VR is moving to market fairly quickly.  Theyv'e successfully completed a crowdfunding campaign recently.  The dev kit as available now, and thus far they are still showing a scheduled release date of December 2016 for the consumer version.  Hopefully, they are indeed able to deliver positional tracking for mobile VR.

Thanks to David Grass for bringing this to my attention!

Using the Insta360 Nano with a smartphone case?

The Insta360 Nano, a 360-degree camera for the iPhone, is being released tomorrow.  I'll post my first impressions as soon as I receive it, hopefully by the end of the day.

One concern that I have is that the Nano attaches directly to the lightning port, and I'm wondering whether I can use it with my smartphone case.

I got a lightning extender, which I'm hoping will allow me to do so:

I have doubts because the extender isn't Apple-certified and I got a popup warning saying that it might not be fully compatible with the iPhone.

Anyway, I'll let you guys know either way.

UPDATE 2: Here is an adapter that works and enables you to use the Nano without removing your smartphone case.

UPDATE: Good news and bad news.  Bad news is that the lightning extender that I got doesn't work.  However, reader Nao Nabe was able to use a certified lightning extension cable to work (he reports that his cheaper cables did not work).  Meanwhile, Insta360 told me that they will have a lightning adapter in August to enable the Nano to connect to iPhones other than the iPhone 6 series.  I'm hoping the same adapter will enable me to use the Nano with my case.