Way back in 2012, the first Lytro Light Field camera hit the market, and while it was a seriously cool piece of hardware, it struggled to find appeal in the consumer market. As such, they followed it up with the new Lytro ILLUM camera that had a more professional look and feel about it, but that still wasn't enough. The Light Field technology, which captured a lot more data than just one still image was – and still is – really cool, but refocusing an image after the fact and manipulating something as if we can go back in time has become more of a novelty than anything else. Now, Lytro is refocusing on Virtual Reality, and their CEO Jason Rosenthal has explained some of the thinking behind this change of direction.
Rosenthal details the reality that hit him about the Lytro line of consumer cameras; that they just weren't going to take off and be that popular. Despite the breakthroughs in image manipulation, larger file sizes and expensive cameras weren't going to work in a world where many users just use their smartphone to take a picture whenever they want to. Then, the Hollywood studios and content creators came knocking because they "were looking for a Light Field powered solution to help them realize their creative vision for cinematic VR and next generation content". This seems to be a pretty universal problem at the moment, there are more VR headsets and content portals than there is actual content to be enjoyed. Right now, the majority of what's available through Google Cardboard or Gear VR is short videos and fun add-on experiences. Running with this idea of Virtual Reality, the Lytro team came up with the Immerge (pictured above), a camera solution that merges 360-degree content with the Light Field technology.
File sizes for VR content will also be large, but the end product that gets sent to consumers doesn't need to be as large as the files being worked on. This means that the Light Field technology can be used by studios and such to create their perfect VR masterpiece, without passing on the burden of these larger file sizes to consumers. With the Light Field technology, content creators can refocus, adjust depth and create a closer or further away experience with only one take. There's no need to change the zoom of the lenses or anything like that, one take of an area will allow creators to tweak the focus and so on to their heart's content, all through one take.
Or at least, that seems to be the general idea, anyway. Right now, the Immerge is just a concept and while Lytro is very much looking at VR as the future of their business, it remains to be seen just when this new device will hit the market. Of course, with Nokia and GoPro joining in on the fun, Lytro will definitely have their work cut out for them. For those interested in all things startups and business, the whole article – linked below – is well worth a read.