Lenovo is launching a point-and-shoot camera designed to live stream 180-degree VR video. The Lenovo Mirage Camera, as it’s called, has two fisheye cameras that record super-wide-angle 3D footage. It can store images and video locally, but Google and Lenovo collaborated to connect it with Google Photos and YouTube — where people can watch on either a flat screen or a VR headset. It starts at $299 and is supposed to launch in the second quarter of 2018, alongside Lenovo and Google’s Mirage Solo VR headset.
The Mirage Camera uses two 13-megapixel cameras that capture stereoscopic images. It shoots 4K video at 30 frames per second, and users can stream them to YouTube over a Wi-Fi network. (Lenovo says there’s also a version that can stream over LTE.) The stripped-down hardware includes a 1/4-inch camera screw for tripods, a power button, a shutter button, and a function button — which toggles between photo, video, and live streaming.
You can watch your footage in an Android or iOS companion app, but the camera works independently of a smartphone, after basic setup is done. If you’re recording locally, you’ve got 16GB of space, or more with an optional microSD card. You can edit the videos later in Adobe Premiere Pro, or other “familiar and popular video editing software.” The removable camera battery charges over USB-C, and is supposed to last for two hours at a time.
“VR video” usually refers to 360-degree video, where viewers can turn all the way around. The Mirage Camera uses Google’s VR180 format, which it announced last year. We’ve seen 180-degree video from VR companies like NextVR, but so far, Lenovo — a longtime partner of Google’s AR and VR divisions — is the only company with a VR180 camera.
Lenovo and Google decided that filming with a 360-degree camera would be unintuitive and inconvenient for casual users, and that the stream quality would be lower than with a more compact 180-degree image. “People pick up a 360 camera and ask, ‘Where do I point it?’ And you tell them ‘You don’t have to point at anything,’ and then they’re confused,” says Google’s AR and VR head Clay Bavor. “People pay attention to what’s in front of them. They’re not really circling their head around all the time to check to see what’s behind,” adds Jeff Meredith, head of Lenovo’s Android and Chrome computing business.
Google already has a high-end 360-degree video system called Jump, and you can buy 360-degree consumer cameras in a price range similar to the Mirage Camera. Google and Lenovo are pitching the Mirage Camera as a solid compromise between sophistication and ease of use. “The vision from the beginning was, life has a lot of moments that we can’t be there for,” says Meredith. “But there could be ways to share the real experience.”