Lytro first burst on the scene in Australia in 2012 pushing a small $200 camera that let you refocus pictures after you took them.
Advancing that idea a step, Lytro then released the Illum in 2014, a more robust take on the original Lytro with a zoom lens, bigger sensor, and more advanced features.
The core of these cameras is something called light field image sensing.
To risk oversimplifying a bit, this basically means the image sensor is capturing the colour, intensity, and direction of light beams (most camera sensors omit direction), letting it create 3D representations of whatever it’s receiving.
The new Immerge rig is built on the same idea but is a far cry from the original consumer Lytro cameras.
The spherical setup allows the Lytro Immerge to shoot true 360 degree video with depth.
The spherical setup allows the Lytro Immerge to shoot true 360 degree video with depth. Source: Lytro
When I saw the Lytro Immerge, the first thing that came to mind was the famous Tripod aliens from War of the Worlds. It’s downright crazy looking. The body is made of a spherical array of high-definition video cameras fitted into rings, then mounted on a three-legged base. It’s meant to simulate a human head, but one that’s looking in all possible directions at once. This means it sees 360 degrees around the center, as well as above and below the unit, still capturing color, intensity, and depth. Lytro calls the new capture method a “light field volume.”
I haven’t seen any footage taken with the Immerge, but Lytro suggests that the difference between this experience and what’s currently being shot with other 3D VR rigs is dramatic. When you expand the light field concept from 2D to 3D applications, it lets you get accurate parallax effects that mimic what you see when you make small movements with your head. These microadjustments in the footage should seriously amplify how realistic the VR experience feels.
There are some major caveats with the Immerge. The tripod you see here is only part of the actual camera rig. Coming out from between the legs will be a bundle of cables not seen in these renderings. That will have to be plugged into a proprietary server unit that can store an hour of footage before it needs to offload the data to a more permanent storage solution. From there, editors can work with the footage in whatever application they’re accustomed to using (Lytro opted for plug-ins instead of creating its own proprietary editor) and publish in formats that will work with any commercially VR headset, including Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR.
All this means the Immerge is much better suited to shooting in studio or urban settings, since power sources aren’t readily available for a setup like this in the middle of the desert (or anywhere to hide the server from the camera, for that matter). It’s also definitely not for hobbyists or someone looking to blow up on Vine. This is for Christopher Nolan to make his next epic film, not for creating a fun home video with your uncle Dennis.
Lytro says they should have working prototypes ready for user testing in early 2016, with final units ready soon after that.
Purchasing a full setup (camera, server, storage, software licenses, etc.) will likely run filmmakers between $250,000 and $500,000, but Lytro imagines most will want to rent instead.
This will cost a slightly more manageable $6,000 to $8,000 per day.