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MWC 2016: Samsung Gear 360 camera, backed by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, reinvents the selfie

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In 2015, many tech companies unveiled affordable, consumer-grade virtual reality headsets for the first time.

Now 2016 is shaping up to be the year that virtual reality fans will become content creators, as more affordable 360 degree cameras come onto the market.

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Samsung is not the first in the game, and its Gear 360 – freshly unveiled at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona – is not the most sophisticated camera either (a Samsung executive admitted it produces "sub HD" footage).

But Samsung may just have the brand power and sheer economy of scale to get consumers hooked on the concept. Not to mention it also has Mark Zuckerberg.

Facebooking with your face

The Facebook co-founder himself made a surprise guest appearance at Samsung's Unpacked launch event, prompting hysterical audience members to flock to the stage for a quick photograph.

The irony was palpable as Zuckerberg, slightly off-put by the onslaught, outlined his vision for the future of selfies: it will be delivered in 360 degree video.


Anyone who owns one of these next generation cameras (there are many brands entering the space, not just Samsung), he mused, now has the tools to make their own VR content, and share it with friends and family with the click of a button. In Barcelona and want to send a virtual postcard? Now it's possible.

The Samsung partnership is not surprising: Facebook owns Oculus, the virtual reality company whose Rift technology powers Samsung's Gear VR, its smartphone-enabled version of a virtual reality headset.

To have the Facebook king declare Samsung the maker of "the best mobile technology", however, would have been a major blow to the Korean company's competitors.

The Gear 360 itself is an unassuming little thing: a white sphere of around 5 centimetres in diameter, with two googly eyes on either side and three rounded black legs which serve either as a stand or, when pushed together, a handle.

Cute it may be but the Gear 360 sees all — it records video or still photographs 360 degrees all around, which then can be played back in a 360 degree video player such as YouTube 360, or indeed on Facebook.

When viewed through a virtual reality headset, however, the experience becomes much more immersive.

Sharing VR experiences

The Gear 360 connects to your phone via Bluetooth and an app transforms it into a viewfinder and production studio. From the phone you can adjust settings such as white balance, and view what the camera is capturing in real time — scrolling all around the picture as you do. It's quite spooky.

Once recording is complete, the Gear 360 sends the file back to your smartphone and the app stitches it together into a 360 video or still. This will take about 50 per cent longer than the length of the footage.

Once it's rendered you can easily share your 360 video or still via the regular channels — such as email, YouTube and Facebook.

It's unclear at this stage whether the app will be compatible with anything other than newer models of Samsung's Galaxy smartphone at launch, but with Samsung announcing it will give away free Gear VR headsets with any pre-orders of its new Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge smartphones, there's a lot of incentive to get consumers hooked on its ecosystem.

In a few short years one can imagine 360 camera devices like this one improving exponentially, with "prosumers" able to create ultra-high definition 3D virtual reality content at the click of a button.

There are other more sophisticated cameras already on their way, like Nikon's Ultra 4K KeyMission 360, and the Vuze 3D camera, which is promised to sell for under $US1000 when it's released (pre-orders are due next month).

LG also unveiled its first 360 camera device, compatible with the new flagship G5 smartphone, at MWC.

But when it comes to consumer uptake, brands know that getting consumers hooked on their ecosystem is key, and it may be Samsung's overwhelming reach and sheer economy of scale that kickstart this product category in coming months.

Gear 360 specs

Price/availability: TBA/Q2 2016

Camera: 2 x 15MP fish-eye lenses

Size: 66.7mm x 56.2mm x 60mm

Weight: 153g (including battery)

Connectivity: Bluetooth, USB 2.0 port, Wi-Fi, NFC

Storage: MicroSD slot up to 128GB

Battery: 1350mAh

The writer travelled to Barcelona as a guest of Samsung Australia.


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