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Cameras

Facebook designs a $30,000 camera rig for 360-degree video

The social-networking giant wants to give filmmakers a hand with creating better immersive videos.

Facebook's Surround 360 camera might seem expensive and silly, but that's probably because you're not a filmmaker.

James Martin/CNET

Facebook wants to help you build a really expensive camera. And once you do, the company says, it'll be worth it.

The social-networking giant is offering filmmakers instructions for how to build a camera designed to capture 360-degree video. The project is called Surround 360, and the camera will cost about $30,000 to make.

That may seem like a lot, but for an aspiring 360 filmmaker it could make sense. Consider the competition. Nokia offers a camera setup called the Ozo, which costs $60,000. GoPro, a manufacturer of extreme-sports cameras, has partnered with Google to sell its own take for $15,000.

Facebook believes its 17-camera setup might be more appealing because it includes software that marries the images together, reducing the amount of time it takes to make a 360-degree video.

"We had to do a lot of math," said Chris Cox, Facebook's chief product officer, speaking at the company's F8 developer conference in San Francisco. "The eye is so sensitive, especially if you put it in an immersive environment."

Facebook has been pushing hard on video over the past couple of years. Around the time the Ice Bucket Challenge was all the rage, Facebook was expanding its video efforts. The company launched an ad campaign with McDonald's for the World Cup. Called "fry football," it reenacted the best soccer plays of the day using fried food. Facebook also started attracting advertisers like Lucasfilm, which was one of the first companies to offer a 360-degree video, in honor of the then-upcoming "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."

Now Facebook is pushing even further. With live video, it's encouraging users to broadcast life experiences directly to friends using the camera on a phone. The company's efforts in 360-degree video are the next step, and this is the first time Facebook has begun encouraging the use of a specific type of camera.

Facebook thinks that by offering the design to manufacturers and filmmakers, more companies will build the cameras, and they can drive down the cost of building it.

"The industry can grow with us," Brian Cabral, Facebook's director of engineering and head of the project, said in an interview. "The price of the parts will go down."

Facebook, which has 1.6 billion users worldwide, always talks about its mission to connect every person on the planet. Cabral thinks virtual reality is a crucial part of that.

He recalled first bringing the Gear VR, a virtual-reality headset made by Samsung and Facebook's Oculus, home to his father to try out. Cabral showed him a video he made at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California. After watching the video, Cabral's father couldn't stop asking questions about the company's campus and all of Cabral's friends.

"We'll eventually be able to give this to millions, and then hundreds of millions of people," he said. "This is how we will connect people."

Update, 2:57 p.m. PT: Adds comments from interview with Brian Cabral, head engineer for Surround 360.