Nokia launches OZO, a $60,000 camera for live, HD 360 streaming in virtual reality

Nokia's new OZO camera is a serious (and seriously expensive) piece of equipment for professional virtual reality content creation.

Image: Nokia

Nearly all of the buzz surrounding virtual reality in 2016 focuses on headmounted displays (HMDs). However, one of the most important factors in the success or failure of virtual reality is content -- after all, once a consumer puts on an HMD, they need something compelling to make them put it on again, and again, and again.

Handset maker Nokia officially launched its OZO virtual reality camera at an event Monday night in Los Angeles, California.

"We're at the dawn of an exciting new medium that will transform the way people connect to stories, events, and the world around them," said Ramzi Haidamus, president of Nokia Technologies, in a statement.

The OZO is capable of full 3D 360 audio and video broadcasting. It offers real-time monitoring, wireless controls, a live virtual reality preview function, integrated power, and memory -- the memory is a digital cartridge that's able to store up to 45 minutes of video. Each of the eight 2K x 2K resolution cameras has a 195-degree field of view.

At the event, Nokia used an OZO to live stream a concert by California surf-rock band Best Coast, atop the Capitol Records building.

Live streaming in VR is becoming of increasing interest -- in October, those with a Samsung Gear VR were able to watch the first Democratic debate live in VR, and the Golden State Warrios' opening game. NextVR, a VR live streaming platform, was able to raise $30.5 million in series A funding this November. It's not an easy feat.

"You've got to stitch together all of those cameras, all the sound, put it together, and send it out in milliseconds," Li said. So, the idea that one of the OZO's primary uses cases is exactly that is notable, said Altimeter's Charlene Li. That capability is also partly why the camera is so expensive -- $60,000.

But to the point about the price -- Li compared it to early digital cameras, which cost thousands of dollars. The price will drop eventually.

Nokia is billing OZO as the first VR camera designed for professional content creators. The price tag essentially places the camera out of reach of average consumers, and even professionals beyond production companies and studios, said Gartner analyst Brian Blau. The docking station is $1,500, and the digital cartridge is $5,000.

The OZO has competition in the field. Lytro recently announced its Immerge VR camera, which in prototype form, but promises to allow for movement within VR, unlike the current flock of 360 videos that revolve around the viewer as a static point.

There's also the Google Jump camera array which was announced at 2015's IO conference. It's 16 GoPros in a circle that will cost about $15,000.

"It's still very early though, VR has yet to become mainstream, and the cameras available today and into 2016 are the first of integrated systems of their kind and will give aspiring immersive video producers a very different type of user interface and content experience to experiment with," Blau said.

As Nokia's entrance in the field, Li said the company could have an advantage because it has experience with the mix of hardware, software, video, and audio, unlike traditional camera manufacturers, that might not have that same background in software.

"VR does need to be a combination of all of these," Li said.

The OZO will ship in Q1 of 2016.

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