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GoPro just bought a virtual reality company

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Welcome to the age of 'spherical content'

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The world's leading action camera company just took its first major step into the growing virtual reality market. GoPro just announced that it has purchased Kolor, a French company that specializes in virtual reality software. Kolor's employees will join the GoPro staff, with operations remaining in Savoie, France.

Kolor’s software lets users to combine multiple photographs or videos to make 360-degree panoramas and videos, or "spherical content" as the companies call it. The ability to create interactive content is something that GoPro hasn't been able to directly offer its customers until now, even though many virtual reality content creators are using the company's cameras.

Kolor's staff will join GoPro

Along with the news, GoPro has released a 4K, 360-degree video (shot with its own cameras, of course) to showcase what Kolor's software can do. It can be viewed on YouTube (above) if you're using Chrome, or on GoPro's website. It's also available on Kolor's mobile app, Kolor Eyes (iOS and Android), and can be viewed with Google Cardboard as well. GoPro says that more spherical videos will be available soon on other platforms like Oculus VR and the Samsung Gear VR, too.

"We see that incredible opportunity for GoPro to be at the forefront of the virtual reality movement," CEO Nick Woodman said during the company's quarterly earnings call. "Given that GoPro is already the most widely used capture device for capturing life experiences in an immersive manner, it’s only natural that we have a seat at the table moving forward."

Adding to that, Woodman went on to say that 360-degree video is complicated to make right now, but that the company plans to make it easier :

I think that virtual reality content production today is largely done by professionals or prosumer power users who are combining six or more GoPros [laughs] using 3D-printed rigs to capture incredible content, and then they're using Kolor's software to stitch that together and Kolor's player to play it back. And I think that as we see more and more fantastic VR content being produced using our products and as we make it easier for professionals and prosumers to do that, there's going to be a natural trickle down desire at the consumer level where people are going to want to capture this type of experience for themselves. And I think that because the consumer is already looking to GoPro as an enabler of self-capture — the type of content we're known for today — it's only natural to think that they look to GoPro for virtual reality, personal virtual reality spherical content capture solutions in the future. And I think we're well-placed to be a leader in that area.

The acquisition of Kolor is another in a line of important steps for GoPro as the company expands the services it offers. Earlier this month the company announced a commercial version of "Herocast," its solution for broadcast-quality live streaming that it tested at this year's winter X-Games. GoPro also struck a deal with the NHL that led to the action cameras being used in some live broadcasts.

GoPro just rang in its second highest sales ever

Alongside the Kolor buy, GoPro announced its first quarter earnings results of $16.8 million on $363 million in revenue, netting the second highest sales in the company's history. That ended up working out to 24 cents a share in profit, which was ahead of the 15 to 17 cents range the company forecast for itself at the end of its last quarter, and above the 18 cents a share investors expected ahead of the report.

Product-wise, GoPro sold 1.3 million devices during the quarter, though did not provide a makeup of what those models were. By comparison, it sold 852,000 cameras during the same quarter last year. GoPro's gross margins, or how much profit the company makes on its products, also improved year over year. It posted a gross margin of 45.1 percent, up from the 40.9 percent during the same quarter last year. GoPro also grew its cash pile to $491.9 million, up from the $422.3 million it reported last December.

GoPro Wi-Fi BacPac hands-on pictures

GoPro’s had a fairly sleepy quarter since it announced its last set of results in March. There’s been little movement on the product front, with the company coming off its Hero 4 camera release in October. Since then, it's introduced the Herocast, one of its first new major accessory add-ons earlier this month, and one aimed squarely at video pros instead of consumers. The $7,500 product transmits HD video from GoPro cameras for live TV broadcasts. It’s already been in use by the NHL and as part of the 2015 X Games in Aspen, Colorado. Some of the other developments in the quarter include 2.6 million downloads of GoPro's mobile app, and a 93 percent increase in videos that were published to GoPro's channel on YouTube.

Looking ahead, the company says to expect second quarter earnings of 24 to 26 cents a share on revenue of $380 and $400 million, with a margin of 45 percent. That quarter runs through June 15th.

Josh Lowensohn contributed to this report.