If you have stumbled upon my blog you will have noticed that I don’t post often (about once a year) but when I do it’s usually because I foresee a convergence of technologies that will profoundly change the way we do things. This post is no exception.
In recent months I have been playing around with two new photographic technologies that will each cause step changes in the way we take, view and share photographs and videos. The convergence of these two technologies could completely revolutionize the way we experience TV and communicate.
The first technology is called light field photography. It has been around for a while in medical imaging applications but a new start-up called Lytro is going to propel it into the mainstream with the introduction of consumer light field cameras. I have ordered one and it should arrive in the next few months. I will be sure to post some examples of living photos when it arrives.
The amazing thing about light field cameras is that their photos are focused by the viewer after the photo has been captured. As you view, you choose what interests you and focus on that part of the photo by touching it. This makes viewing photos a personalised interactive experience and with no need to focus, light field cameras can take very fast photos, so you won’t miss that memorable moment (as so often happens with consumer cameras). To top things off, any light field image can be converted to 3D after it has been taken.
One of the most expensive parts of a camera is the mechanics and computer processing required for auto-focus. Light field cameras do away with this completely, making them less expensive to produce. The first batch of Lytro cameras are selling for $400-$500. Like most things, the price point will lower as the economies of scale in this start-up get going.
Because the photos are focused post-capture, light field cameras can have large aperture lenses which result in nice narrow depth of field photos without any fear of missing the critical focus point. The large aperture lenses mean fast photos, so no more camera shake or low light issues.
The second technology is being popularised by Kōgeto with their Dot attachment for the iPhone. This device, combined with the Dot app, allows you to record 360 degree video with your iPhone. Then you can pan left or right while the video is playing back to see anything that happened in the full 360 degree space around the camera. Again, this makes watching video an engrossing interactive experience and it is at a consumer friendly price point of $79 for the attachment (the app is free).
Both of these technologies are amazing on their own, but what gets me excited is the possibility of bringing them together, along with other existing technologies, to create new immersive entertainment and communication experiences. Let me paint two pictures of what could be possible in the near future.
Imagine a television controlled by an Xbox-Kinect-like sensor that recognizes you and responds to your gestures. You stand in front of your TV watching your favourite football team in 3D. The cameras around and suspended above the field are all 360 degree light field cameras. Each player also has a 360 degree light field camera built into the top of his helmet. As you watch the game you can control which camera your want to view using sideways arm gestures. You can also pan the camera you are currently viewing by turning your head from side to side, and you can alter the focus by pointing. Watching a game like this would make you feel like you were a part of the action, and it would be quite a workout! Finally, you could allow other people to subscribe to your ‘directors cut’ so that they could view the action through ‘your eyes’. A ratings system of all lounge room directors could rank you so that people who just want to watch the game can choose to follow the most talented directors or perhaps a director who likes to view the game in a way that resonates particularly well with them.
Imagine another scenario, in which you are travelling for work and your spouse and 18 month old daughter are at home. You call them on Skype/FaceTime and up pops a 3D image of your spouse. You can hear your daughter in the background. Rather than requiring your spouse to move the camera you simply turn your head to the left and the image you are viewing pans left until you see your daughter playing. You point at her and the focus sharpens on her face.
These scenarios give a glimpse of the possibilities of these two technologies in the very near future. I look forward to this becoming a reality. What do you think?