GoPro posted a new video of some MotoGP racing bikes to its YouTube channel late last week that shows off something curious: a compact, two-lens camera capable of shooting 360-degree video.
This is something that CEO Nick Woodman first promised back at CES in January, and nothing has been shared about the product since. But the camera seen in this video does not appear to be the one that Woodman teased. In fact, it was announced back at the NAB trade show in April as a part of the company’s new "Custom Solutions" program, where GoPro works with partners to create versions of its cameras that are tailored to those partners’ specific needs.
GoPro already has a small live-streaming camera — it just hasn't talked much about it
Inside this camera’s pedestal-style housing is, essentially, two repurposed Hero 4 Black cameras that have been jammed together. Underneath that are two of GoPro’s HeroCast units — the product used by companies like ESPN to live stream broadcast-quality footage from beefed-up Hero 4 cameras.
But while this camera might not be the consumer camera we’ve been expecting, GoPro’s increasing focus on live-streaming makes me believe that the feature will be a part of most, if not all three of, its impending hardware releases: the 360-degree camera, the Karma drone, and the Hero 5.
The twin-lens 360-degree live-streaming camera that was showcased in GoPro's new video.
Live-streaming would be a major point of differentiation for the Hero 5, because — right now, at least — none of GoPro’s major competition offers that feature. (Two cameras do — one is from a startup called Sioeye, the other is a still-unreleased action cam from LG.) GoPro did lightly embrace streaming video with the Hero 4 when it announced a partnership with Periscope this past January, but I expect the Hero 5 will have an LTE chip built right in that will allow standalone streaming to major platforms like YouTube and Facebook. Other rumored features — 8K video, built-in stabilization — won’t have the same broad appeal as live-streaming. GoPro will have gone two full years without releasing a flagship camera by the time the Hero 5 comes out, and it just so happens that the camera will drop when live-streaming video is taking off. Excluding it would be a huge missed opportunity.
Like with standard action cameras, there aren’t many live-streaming options in the nascent consumer 360-degree camera market. YouTube recently flipped the switch on live-streaming 360-degree video, though, so it’s bound to be a next step. The Custom Solutions camera in the MotoGP video is obviously leaning on the strength of HeroCast to pull off its streaming, but an LTE chip and some proper compression algorithms could be all that GoPro will need for a consumer version in the early days of spherical video.
Live streaming would be a big differentiator for all three upcoming products
Streaming isn’t a table stakes feature for drones quite yet, but industry leader DJI has been pushing it hard, and was even the first drone company to take advantage of the Facebook Live API. Considering GoPro will already be fighting an uphill battle against DJI in terms of quadcopter market share, live-streaming from the Karma seems like a no-brainer. For what it’s worth, when Woodman announced the delay of Karma’s release, he hinted that there was good reason. "Karma’s features make it much more than a drone," he said. "To give ourselves more time to fine-tune these features, we have made the difficult decision to push Karma’s launch to the holidays."
Of course, it’s possible that none of these products will have live-streaming capabilities, especially because it tends to be a huge drain on battery life — something that has long been the most thoroughly criticized fault of GoPro’s cameras. And these devices could also just leverage a user’s phone connection instead of requiring LTE chips with their own subsequent data plans — but requiring the phone to be near the camera at all times would limit each product’s flexibility.
Live video is becoming a huge part of platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and — to some extent — Twitter. And a lot of that video is being shot by smartphones. But the more people who try and like live video, the more they’re going to want to show off different perspectives. GoPro — and its impending new hardware — is uniquely suited to provide for those customers. In fact, it’s how the company rose to prominence in the first place.