With the recent VR announcements at Facebook's F8 conference, things are certainly getting a lot more interesting in the 360 content space, especially with the new hardware that can shoot in six degrees of freedom for an unprecedented level of immersion. However, the current wave of professional-grade 360 cameras are still cost-prohibitive for many studios, with the Nokia Ozo asking for $40,000 and the original Facebook Surround reference design costing about $30,000 to build. This is where Insta360 comes in with its $3,499 8K VR camera, the Pro, which is now open for pre-orders ahead of tomorrow's NAB Show in Las Vegas.
Gallery: Insta360 Pro hands-on | 9 Photos
For those who aren't familiar with this Shenzhen-based startup, Insta360 is perhaps better known for its 360-camera dongles for smartphones: the Nano for iOS devices and the Air for Android (the latter has also been co-branded with Huawei and Nubia in China). These are significantly more affordable than the $300 to $400 offerings from major brands, with the Nano retailing for $199 and the Air going for $130 -- the former costs more as it also works as a standalone device.
Obviously, Insta360 is pulling a similar but more aggressive move in the professional market. When the company first reached out to us, it wasn't afraid to admit that its Pro is going right after the Nokia Ozo by almost matching the latter's specs. The Pro features six 200-degree lenses -- two fewer than the Ozo -- that are backed by real-time 360 video stitching (4K at 30 fps with H.265/H.264 or 4K 3D at 25 fps with H.264), thus making it easier to use than some other devices in the same space. On the audio side, the Pro packs four microphones, but you can also plug in an external microphone
Advanced users can do more using Insta360's post-processing software or third-party tools (8K video at 30 fps, 4K slow-motion at 100 fps, 4K 3D at 30 fps), whereas still shots can go up to 60 megapixels (7,680 x 7,680) in 3D with an optional time-lapse mode. The content can be stored on an SD card or external storage via USB 3.0 (Type-C port).
Like the Ozo, the Pro also comes with Wi-Fi, Ethernet plus HDMI connectivity to enable real-time 360 preview and even direct live-streaming -- either 6K 3D or 4K 3D -- to Facebook, YouTube, Insta360 server or others via RTMP. Better yet, the Pro has an optional 4G network card, and since it packs a 5,000 mAh removable battery (which apparently lasts for about 75 minutes), it can become a truly untethered professional-grade 360 live camera. Speaking of, the machine weighs 1.2kg or 2.7 pounds which isn't too bad, and as with any camera, you can set it up on a tripod.
While we didn't have an ideal environment for taking sample shots during my brief time at Insta360's office, the company has plenty of sample content on the official product page, and the ones I looked at through a smartphone VR headset were indeed impressive, especially the ones in 3D stereoscopic view. Feel free to take a peek at those.