Facebook launches tool for capturing 360 video inside VR

Users can grab 1080p or 4K video, without degrading performance

Facebook is giving virtual reality developers the ability to embed 360-degree photo and video capture into their experiences with a new software development kit made available Wednesday.

The 360 Capture SDK will let users capture the complete scene around them, for sharing to other platforms like Facebook. It's a tool that's designed to give people who don't have VR headsets a window into the action and also lets people with the right hardware replay moments in full VR.

A key detail about the capture tool is it's designed to work even on the minimum hardware necessary to run VR without degrading performance. The SDK can be used to capture 30 frames-per-second, 1080p video on less powerful hardware, while still maintaining 90fps frame rates for users who are in VR. On more powerful machines, it's possible to capture higher-resolution 4k content.

That performance is important for VR because a high framerate is critical to maintaining immersion and reducing disorientation for those people wearing headsets. It's made possible by using a technique called cube mapping, which captures a six-sided cube of the scene. The technique provides a significant performance improvement over trying to capture a large number of photos then stitching them together, similar to traditional 360 cameras.

Facebook's SDK works with the Unity and Unreal game engines out of the box and is also built to work with native engines. That means the tool will be useful for developers working with Facebook’s Oculus Rift headset, as well as competing hardware like the HTC Vive.

Right now, the photos and videos generated by the Capture SDK are saved to the user's hard drive. In the future, Facebook will look into what sharing mechanism makes the most sense. In the meantime, developers can choose to set up their own sharing capabilities.

Wednesday's news comes the same day Facebook announced two new camera arrays for capturing 360-degree content in the physical world. The Surround 360 x6 and x24 cameras will capture footage with six degrees of freedom (up and down, left and right, and forward and backward, with pitch, yaw, and roll).

The announcements also dovetail well with Tuesday's launch of Facebook Spaces. It's a virtual reality application the social networking company launched in beta that allows groups of up to four people to hang out with one another around a virtual table surrounded by a 360-degree photo or video.

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