The Kandao Obsidan is made up of six fish-eye cameras surrounding a metal plate. All six shoot video simultaneously. The Obsidian comes with its own software that can then stitch all six videos together for one 360-degree video.
Virtual reality rose from far-fetched obscurity to all the rage seemingly out of nowhere in 2015, but 2016 was a relatively slow year for development of the tech, at least to consumers. Behind the scenes, however, tech giants worked hard in 2016 to build the platform and foundation on which VR will one day thrive. Facebook, in particular, planted the seed at its annual developer's conference last year by making its 360-degree 3D video capturing system (Surround 360) open source. The idea behind that, said Brian Cabral, Facebook Surround 360's engineering director, was to "encourage others to go and build their own cameras and help build the ecosystem."
In the year since, plenty of companies took on the challenge. Speaking again this past April at the 2017 edition of the conference (dubbed F8, not to be confused with the latest Fast and Furious movie), Cabral highlighted the three products that stood out the most: the Imagine Vision Z Cam V1 Pro, Onsemi CKT 360 Endeavor, and the Kandao Obsidian, the latter of which was designed and built in Shenzhen by a Chinese start-up.
The Obsidian actually comes in two variants: the Obsidian R captures 360-degree photos in 8k resolution and creates 8k/30 fps or 4k/60 fps 3D-360 videos. The Obsidian S, meanwhile, is optimized for high frame rate shooting, capable of producing 4k footages up to 120 fps. What drew praise from Facebook, however, was the seamless software that allows for "one click" processing. Simply press the button, and the Obsidian can process the images or videos captured by the six fish-eye lenses to form one seamless video.
According to Kandao's co-founder and CEO Chen Dan, the Obsidian can stitch footage at one frame per second, more than twice as fast as other software. He says Kandao was able to achieve this by leveraging Facebook Surround 360's calibration code to prove Kandao's own algorithm.
"We worked closely with Facebook, not just in using their platform to find content creators, but Facebook provided us with feedback and advice along the way," Chen says.
For their work, the Obsidian has already found early success. The camera was named a "Best of Innovation Honoree" in the Digital Imaging Product Category at this past CES (The International Consumer Electronics Show), have partnerships with several Chinese video content provider, and have an award-winning documentary maker as a fan.
When Qi Zhao shot his first 360-degree documentary, he had to use 14 GoPros strapped together, and stitching the 20-minute footage together took 20 days. After he tested the Obsidan, Qi's team has already committed to use it for their next project.
Kandao says the Obsidan can broadcast live and transfer files to and from computers with just one ethernet cable, without the need for multiple SD cards or wires like other cameras.
“Kandao’s stitching software will reduce the post-production time of our first documentary a lot," said Qi in a statement. "Coupled that with the Obsidian cameras, we think we can produce content in days, instead of several months."
Another artist made a similar jump.
"Akon was in China and his camp initially wanted to the Nokia OZO camera, which costs US$60,000," says Lionel Liu, co-founder and CMO of Kandao. "But his crew went with Kandao after testing the camera, because they thought it was much easier to deploy, monitor and control."
The Kandao Obsidian, by the way, costs US$5,000, less than one-tenth of the Nokia OZO.
Liu says he and his team's mission from day one was to develop hardware and software together so the Obsidian can be the most efficient (both in creating content and cost) camera around.
VR footage from a Chinese Basketball Association game recorded using Kandao's technology.
Akon's camp initially wanted to use the Nokia camera, but went with Kandao after testing the camera.
"There are professional softwares out there that stitch videos together, like Kolor and Autopano, they cost upwards to US$1,000" says Liu. "Our camera comes with the software. Our goal is to give VR to everyone -- for every content creator to be able to make their own 360-degree video easily without hassle."