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Image via Facebook

Facebook knows video is king — with video now embedded in your timeline, new live video-streaming options, and even support for 360 degree video. But that last category is what Facebook really wants to see grow, and to do that, the social network wants more people to be able to build their own 360-degree-shooting camera rigs.

A tripod can hold the Surround 360 as eye level for more immersive playback.
A tripod can hold the Surround 360 as eye level for more immersive playback. Image via Facebook.

At the social network’s F8 developer conference today, the company unveiled plans for its Surround 360 camera. The social network will provide open source plans for the camera and the code to convert that footage into seamlessly stitched panoramic footage.

The company is open-sourcing the project to accelerate growth in the 360-degree video space. Along with more 360-degree videos in your news feed, Facebook hopes content creators will leverage the device to build content for Oculus virtual reality machines. Facebook purchased the Rift maker in 2014 for $2 billion, but is also partnered with Samsung for the Gear VR.

The Surround 360 camera consists of 14 cameras arranged in a ring with overlapping fields of view, along with another wider-angle fisheye lens camera on the top and two more on the bottom for a full sphere of coverage.

The spacing of the cameras, and the overlap between them, allows for 3D rendered footage, a must for the Oculus Rift and Gear VR headsets that Facebook wants the content to show up on.

The Surround 360 with its top off.
The Surround 360 with its top off. Image via Facebook.

The cameras sit in an aluminum chassis for rigid construction that doesn’t overheat. The metal structure was needed to allow for precise alignment of the cameras, but shooting for long periods can get hot. Aluminum allows the cameras to dissipate that heat for longer takes.

On the software side, Facebook’s open-source code converts the videos to standard 360-degree videos (like the ones you see in your news feed) or stereoscopic movies for playback in virtual reality headsets.

Output is available in 4K, 6K and 8K for each eye, the latter of which is double industry standard. However, Facebook’s streaming tech can still allow those videos to run on the Gear VR.

While Facebook’s rig looks impressive, the company is a little late to the game. Google open-sourced its GoPro-powered 360-degree rig last year. And Samsung announced a consumer-focused handheld rig earlier this year at the Mobile World Conference, which follows the Ricoh Theta that debuted in early 2015.

Facebook will release the hardware design and code on GitHub this summer. The company’s prototype models were built for about $30,000, but costs could come down with dedicated manufacturing lines.

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