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Giroptic's iO camera is all about cheap 360-degree live streaming

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But the company still has to work out some bugs

Experiments with shooting in 360 degrees get bogged down by three things: price, quality, and ease of use. French company Giroptic wants to tackle all three of those problems with its newest camera, the $249 iPhone-compatible iO, which is being announced today. The camera attaches via Lightning port to your iPhone or iPad, can capture spherical photos and videos, and it even has a trick up its sleeve: live-streaming. It’s available for preorder starting today on Giroptic’s website, and the company says cameras will start shipping in January 2017.

Girpotic was one of the first companies to wade into the 360-degree camera waters when it launched a Kickstarter for the funky-looking 360cam in 2014. What finally shipped in 2016 was a mixed bag — 360cam was waterproof out of the box and had some unique features, but the image quality wasn’t great. The 360cam also supported live-streaming in 360 degrees before basically any of its competitors, and before some of the biggest video platforms even made it possible to do so. (YouTube enabled the feature earlier this year, and Facebook just announced that it’s starting testing this week.) So it’s no surprise that live-streaming will be one of iO’s most notable features.

I’ve been using a near-final production version of iO for a few days, and like its predecessor, there’s some good and bad. On the plus side, it’s dead simple to use — as close to plug-and-play (literally) as any 360-degree camera on the market. The video quality, while not stunning 4K, is on par with what you get from the Lightning port cameras made by Insta360, Giroptic’s most direct competitor in this space. It might surprise you, but it’s not going to blow you away.

Live-streaming is the standout feature, and I wish I could speak to the iO’s capabilities here. Unfortunately the software wasn’t final, and the live-streaming didn’t work well for me. The camera could authenticate a stream to YouTube, but the quality was either bad or just outright glitchy, and full of image artifacts. The app was also still pretty buggy — uploads to YouTube were tricky, and sometimes didn’t read as 360-degree videos. Giroptic’s COO Pascal Brochier told me that this should all be cleared up by the time the units ship, so we’ll have to wait to see some evidence of that.

The iO is the latest in a line of products that make shooting 360-degree photos and videos seem easy — a true feat considering the format is still so young. But while this camera appears to have that intoxicating blend of small size, decent quality, and reasonable price, there is one problem it won’t solve. 360-degree videos need to be stable, or at least if they’re in motion when you’re filming, then it needs to be very deliberate motion. Handheld shooting is fine for photos, but doesn’t really work for 360-degree videos — it confuses the viewing experience, especially if you’re watching in a headset.

The iO will suffer from this problem, just like the attachable Insta360 cameras do. The camera’s protective case has a slot in the plastic so that, when you open it up, can act as a makeshift stand for your iPhone / iO combo. But be prepared for the whole contraption to topple.

The idea of being able to capture your experiences in 360 degrees and make that footage available in real time is a powerful one. In many ways it seems like a logical next step for 360-degree videos (or arguably the one that takes them mainstream). The problem is the tech just isn’t there yet. So if you’re dying to try live streaming in 360 degrees, this is a camera to keep your eye on. Just don’t be surprised if it requires some sacrifices.