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Ricoh Theta V gives 360-degree video the audio it deserves

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Ricoh's Theta V, the imaging company's new 360-degree camera announced at IFA 2017, might look like its predecessor, the Theta S, but inside just about everything is new.

The lens system remains unchanged, but behind the twin fish-eye f2.0 lenses are new 1/2.3-inch 12-megapixel sensors that produce less image noise and have a far faster shutter speed of 1/25,000 second (up from 1/6,400 second). That means its low-light shots will be a little cleaner and sharper and shooting on a sunny day won't result in lost details from blown-out highlights. 

Speaking of lost details, the Theta S's low resolution, low bit-rate video has been replaced with 3,840x1,920-pixel resolution video that records at 29.97fps with a bit rate of 56Mbps. Lower resolutions might be passable on small phone screens, but when viewed in a VR headset you end up with mushy scenes with few discernible details. The increased resolution and improved image processing (courtesy of a new Qualcomm processor) greatly improves detail and it can store up to 40 minutes to its 19GB of internal memory. 

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The Theta V's controls remain simple and straightforward. 

Joshua Goldman/CNET

The processor also allowed Ricoh to speed up stitching to the point where it now happens as you record instead of when you transfer. That means when you go to move a clip you want to share to your phone, it happens far faster than before. Significantly faster Wi-Fi helps here, too, and the addition of Bluetooth LE (Low Energy) keeps a persistent connection between your phone and the camera, so when you want to fire up the mobile app to see what you're shooting or change settings, it takes just a few seconds to connect.

Increasing the immersive effect of its spherical video are the camera's four mics for omnidirectional audio recording for 360-degree audio. For example, Ricoh played a clip of a string quintet performance for me shot with the Theta V at the center between the musicians. With headphones on, you could pan around the scene from performer to performer and could hear the individual instruments move from one ear to the other. Also, if you zoomed in on one specific performer in the video, their instrument would be more pronounced while the others fell back to the rear.

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Ricoh's add-on spatial mic greatly improves audio quality. 

Joshua Goldman/CNET

While the camera can produce the spatial audio with its built-in mics, Ricoh developed the TA-1 3D microphone that plugs into a 3.5mm jack on the Theta V's bottom and screws into the camera's tripod mount. 

The mic, which comes with a foam wind cover, has its own tripod mount as well as a channel down the side that lets you run a Micro-USB cable to the camera for power. That's important if you're going to be livestreaming since under regular conditions, the camera's built-in battery only lasts for about 80 minutes and requires more than two hours to fully charge. 

Along with the mic, Ricoh will also have a regularly requested accessory: an underwater housing with control access. The TW-1 case helps protect the lenses without adding distortion or chromatic aberrations and can be used underwater to depths up to nearly 100 feet (30 meters).

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The new waterproof housing is backward compatible with the Theta S and SC. 

Joshua Goldman/CNET

One last thing worth mentioning is that the camera is running on Android and because of that, Ricoh is able to create software plug-ins for it. The first plug-in, which will be on the camera at launch, will let you stream your 360 shots to any device, display or TV that supports Miracast. Not only can you mirror playback of whatever's on the camera, you can actually use the camera like a Wii remote to wirelessly navigate and playback your photos and video.

The Ricoh Theta V is available now to order for $430 along with the TA-1 3D microphone for $270. That converts to about £330 and AU$545 for the camera and £210 and AU$340 for the mic. The TW-1 Underwater Case arrives in October for $200, which is about £155 and AU$250.

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Quick Specifications

  • Digital Camera Type 360 Degree camera