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Disney invests $65 million to help make virtual-reality movies the next thing

With more than $100 million in total investment, Jaunt is among the cluster of startups trying to take VR mainstream.

If virtual-reality headsets catch on, Disney and other entertainment companies want to be ready. Ina Fassbender/Reuters/Corbis

The stream of cash flowing into virtual-reality startups just got a boost, and this time it's for a camera maker whose technology could help change the movie industry.

Jaunt, a Palo Alto, California, startup that makes cameras that can shoot video in 360 degrees, has received a $65 million investment by the Walt Disney Co. and other media-focused investors in Europe and China. All told, the startup, which makes hardware and software for virtual reality, has now raised more than $100 million since it was founded two years ago. The company says that makes it the best-funded player in the emerging field of "cinematic" virtual reality.

Jaunt will use the influx of cash to "greatly increase production" and advance its camera hardware and software tools, the company said in a press release.

The startup's ultimate goal is what makes Disney's investment on Monday significant: Jaunt wants to make virtual reality the next way we watch movies and television.

That might sound like a startup's pie-in-the-sky vision, but then again it's not every day companies get an eight-figure investment led by one of the world's largest media companies. Disney owns a media empire spanning ESPN, ABC, Pixar Animation Studios and LucasArts.

Jaunt isn't the only company attracting these types of investments. The amount of money flowing into virtual reality has exploded.

Virtual- and augmented-reality-focused startups worldwide have received more than $1 billion since the beginning of 2014 after collecting less than $250 million annually for years, according to startup research firm CB Insights.

Venture capitalists don't seem likely to stop the trend. The most active investor in virtual reality, Rothenberg Ventures, announced earlier this month that it planned to spend another $10 million on virtual-reality-focused startups. Other startups that have received funding include Magic Leap, which has raked in $592 million from investors including Google and Andreessen Horowitz for its headset that promises to marry computer-generated images with what we see in the real world.

Tech giants Sony, Google, Samsung and Facebook's Oculus all plan to release their own virtual-reality headsets within the next year. Their challenge now? Making sure that consumers have something to do with their new high-tech gadgets.

For its part, Jaunt is trying to position itself as the company that will help power the content that people might one day be watching in virtual reality.

The company already works with Disney-owned ABC News and, in addition to its Palo Alto headquarters, it opened a studio in Los Angeles to produce "live-action" virtual-reality experiences. It also makes a camera that can see in 360 degrees, potentially helping to spur a new range of live-action videos.