Near the end of the opening keynote at Google's I/O developer conference, the company announced something called "Jump." And while it may have sounded like Jump was just a camera rig the company built in conjunction with GoPro, it's much more than that. Jump is an entire ecosystem for creating virtual reality videos, and it sounds like the kind of thing that could help VR take off by making it much more accessible to both create and consume.
As Clay Bavor, Google's vice president of product, detailed on stage Jump consists of three parts: the camera rig itself, software that automatically assembles and processes the footage, and a player. First, Google has developed blueprints for a 360-degree camera rig made with 16 cameras — enough to keep the quality of the content high without totally sacrificing portability, apparently.
Filmmakers will be able to use "any off-the-shelf" cameras
And while GoPro is obviously the first company working on a Jump rig, Bavor said that filmmakers will theoretically be able to use any off-the-shelf cameras. (The benefit of buying GoPro's instead of building your own, however, would be that the optimizations done on the back end would already be taken care of.) You can also make the camera array out of any material. "We’ve made one out of 3D-printed plastic, one out of machined metal, and for good measure, of course, we also made one out of cardboard," Bavor said.
"What’s critical is the actual geometry, and we spent a lot of time optimizing everything," Bavor continued. Basically, Google did all the math for you. "The size of the rig, the number and placement of the cameras, their field of view, relative overlap — every last detail."
Like it did with the plans for Cardboard at last year's I/O, Google will release the camera geometry plans to everyone this summer.
The second part of Jump is something called "the assembler." It's a back-end software that can create VR video in stereoscopic 3D from the Jump rig's 16 raw video feeds. By combining computational photography and "computer vision," the assembler software recreates the scene being captured but also generates thousands of in-between viewpoints as well. As Bavor put it, "this is where the Google magic really begins."
"This is where the Google magic really begins."
The third part of Jump is, simply, YouTube. Instead of building a new kind of player specific to immersive, stereoscopic VR video, Google will just make Jump an option in the YouTube player. "If you want to experience VR video all you need is the YouTube app, your smartphone, and some cardboard," Bavor said.
VR content isn't impossible to come by these days, but it's still not what you would call easily accessible. It's also not very easy to create — even professional filmmakers are still using hacked-together rigs like what I saw being used at the NBA All-Star game earlier this year. And if Google really wants to push VR into places like the classroom, making it more accessible for consumers is key.
Last year's release of Cardboard really helped establish an entry point for virtual reality, but until now it hasn't been surrounded by the kind of ecosystem that could really let it take off. With Jump, it sounds like Google has finally done just that. GoPro may be the first company on board, but it certainly won't be the last.