By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)
With GoPro set to release their new Fusion VR 360 camera next year, we thought it would be a good time to review the once and future king of VR, the GoPro Omni, a six camera cube that syncs automatically to make stitching your 360 8K videos a heck of a lot easier. Yes. I said 8K. Gotta love the math.
But where Omni separates itself from the pack, is that GoPro has added circuitry in the center of the Omni cage which connects and syncs all six Hero’s in a genlock configuration to make it far easier to stitch all six video clips together.
First, a literal walk around. Based loosely on the cubed design of the freedom360 camera cage, the GoPro Omni housing is the home of six different GoPro Hero 4 Black action cameras to capture the entire spherical spectrum.
Omni comes in two different configurations. For those who already have up to six GoPro Hero 4 Black cameras, there’s the basic Omni package, which comes with the rig itself, a waterproof shipping case, microfiber bag, hex key to unlock the Omni to insert your cameras, and a pair of plastic tweezers. The Tweezers are there so that you can insert and remove the microSD cards so you don’t have to disassemble Omni every time you want to change out the cards. Very convenient.
The full package comes with not only the Omni, but also six GoPro Hero 4 cameras, microSD cards, a seven port USB hub, six microSD card readers, smart remote (as if you needed another), a huge Core SWX HyperCore V-Mount battery and D-tap cable, a charger and plate for the battery, cables, microfiber bag, hex key, the plastic tweezers and a pelican style case to house and transport it all.
At this point, once you’re set up and ready to go, you can operate the OMNI manually simply by hitting the power on button for Camera one. Camera one works as the master camera, which will then seed any changes to the other five. So if you change camera settings on camera one, it changes it for all the rest. Hit record on one, and you’re recording on all six. That’s the beauty of the genlocked design.
The other option is to connect camera one to your wifi remote and operate it that way. I’m sure it works, but I could never get mine to connect to it, so I went with the manual option for my test. It worked fine. Unfortunately, Omni doesn’t work with your GoPro app on your mobile device.
For shooting, if you’re a mobile action kinda shooter, the GoPro Omni may bog you down a bit. This camera is designed to be locked down so it can capture the spherical spectrum from a still perspective. You’ll also want to try your best to think spherically when you’re framing your shot. If you’re dealing with an interview like setting, always try and set your other subject within the main frame of another camera, so that their face isn’t caught up in the overlapping from one camera to another.
The easiest part of the 360 video experience for me was shooting with Omni. Even though I couldn’t get the remote to work, the genlocked capability of the Omni still made it simple, since I was only dealing with one camera. So I can turn it one, record, and stop with one button and I never had to worry about whether the other cameras were responding in kind.
Also, while the batteries in the Hero 4 Black only give you a set amount of time, the large Hypercore battery that comes with OMNI lasts an INSANE amount of time. I recorded for several hours using it and it barely made a dent into it’s battery life. I even thought I’ll just leave the battery on and see how long it will last, and after three days, it was at 86%. So there’s some serious power management secret sauce going on there.
Multiple SD card adapter. Here’s where I ran into my second speed bump (after issues with the remote control). Being used to just importing my footage directly, I tried to manually import each card separately, and that wouldn’t allow me to stitch it together. Then I realized that’s what the USB hub was for, and in concert with the GoPro Importer, you can import and stitch all your video content together. This is where reading the manual can come in handy, but my one pet peeve with GoPro is that the manuals they include with their gear has such TINY print, it’s practically useless to try and read them especially if you have to wear glasses like I do. Go Pro should just save themselves a little money and simply have the manual on an SD card for us to read on a computer so we can make the text as large as we need.
The GOPro Omni importer will pull off all the footage from the SD cards plugged into the USB hub and then give you a prestitch. If you’re happy with that, you’re off to the races. The stitch, however, isn’t always perfect, and so you’re not too thrilled with the overlapping from one camera angle to another, you can then import the stitch into Kolor’s AutoPano software to adjust it. You can then do any necessary stabilization, color correcting, and editing. GoPro has also added plugins for Adobe Premiere, so you can do your 360 workflow on familiar ground.
Once I got the footage imported and installed, this is where I realized that if 360 video was for me, it would be using a simpler setup like the new GoPro Fusion or Samsung Galaxy VR camera, which will autostich for you. Not that Omni doens’t simplify the work flow. The genlock capability most certainly does. But the AutoPano Video Pro and Giga is simply more complicated for what I need. I’m not going to make my living doing 360 videos, so there’s plenty of features built into the AutoPano software that while beneficial, are lost on me. I found myself more inclined to just settle for the basic stitch that the GoPro importer will provide and call it a day.
But for the more complex productions that will want that 8K spherical workflow that they can then adjust down to the millimeter, color correct, and output to a VR experience, I don’t think you can get any better than the Omni. GoPro gives the post production workflow every conceivable advantage to organize and streamline it, setting you up for a minimal amount of post production, focusing on the important things like story telling.
All in all, it’s a very well designed and thought out system. Over engineered for something like capturing the moment on the slopes, but ideal for creating an experience at a game or special event. It’s definitely the next level for virtual reality without having to break the bank on a 15 camera rig that only captures in the round.
And if you’re looking to get into VR by diving into the deep end of the pool, you can’t argue the price. If you have to get cameras, the Full package gives you six Hero 4 Blacks. That alone is a $2500 value. Then comes the Omni Rig itself, which sells for around $1500. Plus the software. But you also get the great power supply options, the hard shell case, and mounting brackets. It’s an all in one solution, that even if you have cameras already, you’re going to want to use all that stuff anyway. So go for the full package.
Are there cheaper solutions out there for shooting spherical? Maybe. Sure. But they wont’ have that genlocked capability that will pay off in post. If I was in the market for a primary 360 rig, I think I’d choose the Omni hands down.