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360-degree video, the homemade way

When most of us think of digital video devices, we think camcorders--handheld, convenient and off-the-shelf. Clifford Ross envisions something homemade and much bigger than a breadbox, leading him on "a Fitzcarraldo kind of adventure."

If you've forgotten your modern German cinema, "Fitzcarraldo" is Werner Herzog's 1982 film depicting one man's obsessive, back-breaking effort to move a riverboat over a jungle-clogged Peruvian mountain. Likewise, Ross is headed to South America--in this case, Brazil--and he's bringing with him a high-resolution digital video contraption that can film 360 degrees.

An item titled "Bad-ass camera" in a recent issue of The New Yorker describes the device, the R2, this way: "It is a bouquet of nine cameras, nine mirrors, and nine microphones, arrayed in a circle and mounted on a tripod; it resembles a lunar module, or an apocalyptic explosive device." It captures 9GB of data per minute. In the system's test run in New York's Central Park, a few days ahead of the Brazil trip, Ross and his compatriots needed an hour or more to download one set of video images and then prepare for the next set.

That article is about all there is at the moment for information on the R2. (The print version also offers a small and somewhat fanciful sketch of the camera on the back of a pickup truck.) Ross' own site doesn't yet offer any details, though it does serve up a 2004 New York Times story about Ross and his R1, a self-assembled film camera that takes pictures of extraordinary resolution.