Samsung just announced Project Beyond at its 2014 Developer Conference — it's a 360-degree camera module that captures everything around it in 3D. It captures a gigapixel of 3D footage every second, and can stream that footage back to someone wearing Samsung's Gear VR headset, essentially transporting them into that world. Essentially, Project Beyond continuously creates a virtual 3D environment of wherever it is placed — Samsung said people would be able to tune in live or record footage to be viewed at any time. In a lot of ways it feels like the cameras seen on a Google Street View backpack, but much smaller and more portable. It's otherwise a pretty unique (and surely expensive) piece of hardware.
Samsung has already taken the camera all around San Francisco and other locations in California to record footage that can be viewed within the Gear VR, and the company should be showing it off at the Developer Conference today — visitors should be able to put on a Gear VR headset and experience some of the footage that's been recorded with this camera. Details were minimal, but we'll be going to check out Project Beyond as soon as Samsung's keynote presentation is finished.
Update: Down on the show floor, Samsung is letting attendees put on a Gear VR headset and see some pre-recorded footage gathered from Project Beyond — and it's definitely a wildly immersive experience, if not quite as impressive as you'd hope for. You truly can experience the setting in full 360 degrees — I rotated all the way around, looked up and down, and never lost track of the virtual world I was inhabiting.
Even though we were watching pre-recorded footage, it truly felt like you were seeing a live feed of everything happening around you — but there were a few times the illusion broke down. Naturally, your instinct is to step forward and explore the world, but Project Beyond is a stationary camera. You can see what the camera sees from the place it was set down, and no more.
The quality of the video itself wasn't quite as impressive as I was hoping for, either — it's noisier and grainer than I expected, given the relatively high resolution output of the Gear VR headset. (That said, I haven't used the Gear VR in any other setting yet, so these issues might not be unique to the Project Beyond footage). Also, the lack of audio definitely kept me from forgetting where I was — hearing the crowded trade show hall around me just didn't match up with the video.
Regardless, there's little question that Samsung will be able to create some compelling virtual environments with Project Beyond — and while there's no word on when the camera might make its way into the hands of the average consumer (if it ever does), it could be a big step forward to solving the problem of where VR content will come from.