Once again, a Kickstarter project yields a fascinating, ingenious product: CENTR, a camera with a diameter less than a coaster that shoots panoramic full 360-degree video in HD...or is it 4k?
Since the beginning of RedShark News, we've kept a close eye on Kickstarter projects that offer unique innovations for moving image professionals. Projects the likes of the Digital Bolex, Lynx A, Hitfilm for Mac, Oculus Rift, HolyManta variable ND and others have graced our site. Of course, the great numbers of film tech products on Kickstarter and Indiegogo means we're not going to cover it all, but we strive to showcase the projects that pique our interest, and hopefully that of our readership. (RedShark's full coverage of Kickstarter projects can be found HERE.)
The latest tech marvel comes from two former Apple employees who were partly responsible for the camera advancements on the iPhone and other devices. Bill Banta and Paul Alioshin left Apple to form a start-up, CENTR, with a small band of programmers and engineers. CENTR is also the name of their first product, an unbelievably small 'donut' outfitted with four 5MP HD cameras, with the amazing capacity of shooting full 360-degree video. Part of the magic is in the way CENTR stitches together these four image planes into seamless panoramas. According to the company, "the highest quality panoramic video requires extensive and precise in-camera calibration. CENTR Camera processes 20 variables with each calibration, ensuring that your panoramic image is the highest possible quality. Each seam is scrutinized for key points and then matches are identified and vectored between adjacent cameras giving images that look like the one below."
The resulting image or video, at 1080 resolution, is 6900x1080 pixels, which the company calls 360-degree HD...or 4K panoramic. CENTR records this media onto 8GB worth of internal Flash memory, or a Class 10 microSD card. There's also a special video player that allows users to orient the image underneath a viewing window, allowing a great deal of interactivity. RedBull has used this technology in the past for its 360-degree video experience of a Formula One racer, and FOX Sports, National Geographic, and the US Army have utilized test units. Since the early prototype models, CENTR added the ability to select cameras (for non-360-degree recording), Wi-Fi support for camera settings and video previewing, Bluetooth, quick-release battery, and mounting compatibility with tripods and GoPro accessories.
There's a little confusion as to whether the CENTR camera system is at HD or 4K resolution. The answer is...it depends. As I mentioned, the camera is capable of recording up to 6900x1080 images and video, or 7,4520,000 pixels per frame. UHD (consumer 4K) is 3840x2160, or 8,294,400 pixels. So, at best, the resulting media's resolution is a little beneath the consumer 4K standard. Although the 4 5MP cameras combine to form a collective 20MP imaging system, roughly 11% of that resolution is lost due to the overlapping necessary for its live stitch, as indicated by this graphic:
Another thing to keep in mind is how the end media will be used. If we're talking about panoramic images, then yes, CENTR will yield very close to a 4K result. And I suppose that if you wanted to use your own custom video player, you could play 6900x1080 video across four horizontally-positioned HD screens to view the entirety of the scene at full resolution. But most will either utilize the interactive video player, which only displays a portion of the image on its main viewer at a time, or will crop-in and pan over the video in post to produce HD video. For this reason, it's probably best to consider the media '360-degree HD'.
Although the CENTR camera system will eventually retail for $399 USD, backers of its Kickstarter campaign will receive the complete package, including the camera, battery pack, mount, micro USB cable, app and stickers (!) at the discounted price of $299. You can find the CENTR Kickstarter page HERE and more information on the camera and company HERE.