A slice of the world in your pocket: Palmtop camera shoots 360-degree HD video


posted Tuesday, May 6, 2014 at 4:57 PM EST


Plain-old video, your days are numbered -- or at least, that's the hope of the team behind CENTR, an unusual donut-shaped camera which promises to put an interactive slice of the world in your pocket.  Thanks to four cameras arrayed around its exterior, the CENTR captures and stitches a 360-degree panoramic video suitable for viewing on a Full HD display.

The CENTR's unusual shape was designed to solve the issue of how to hold a 360-degree panoramic video camera without blocking its lenses. Make a "thumbs up" gesture, stick the camera over your thumb, and then curl it back down again for a steady grip that avoids blocking the lenses. Or if you prefer, the device can be mounted on a standard tripod or GoPro mount accessory.

The official project video for CENTR.

After stitching, the CENTR outputs video at either 6,900 x 1,080 pixel or 4,600 x 720 pixel resolution. (That's about 3.6 times the width of a standard Full HD or HD video feed, while retaining the same height.) If you opt for the higher resolution, capture rates of 24, 25, or 30 frames per second are possible, while the lower resolution adds 50 and 60 fps rates. And thanks to the higher five-megapixel native resolution of the four cameras, the CENTR can also shoot 20-megapixel 3D panoramas.

The CENTR is configured and its framing previewed from a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth-paired Android or iOS smart device. It also boasts a cute, digital bubble-level function, as shown below. LEDs around the periphery of the donut illuminate to indicate a tilt, and change color when the device is level.

CENTR's LED tilt gauge in action.

According to its makers, CENTR stitches videos in real time from raw image data before compression, allowing better image quality. The device will also allow selection of which cameras should be active, although any active cameras must be adjacent to each other. (That is to say, you can't activate cameras on opposite sides of the device without one of the cameras in between them also being active.) Audio is recorded with three built-in microphones -- two for a stereo audio feed, and one for noise cancellation.

Sample output from a prototype of the CENTR camera.

You can see an example of output from the CENTR above. While 360-degree video from prototypes does still show a noticeable boundary at the stitching points between cameras, we're hoping this will improve in the final release version. Even if not, it's pretty nifty -- if just a little bewildering -- to be able to pan from side to side while watching a video, choosing the point of interest for yourself!

CENTR is in the funding phase on Kickstarter, but looks likely to receive funding, having already gotten 40% of the way to its goal in just six days. List pricing is expected to be around US$400, and early-bird backers can pick CENTR up now at a 25% discount, for a final price of US$300. Kickstarter backers should receive their units in February 2015, with retail customers waiting until after all Kickstarter orders have been fulfilled.

CENTR's video needs a custom player to allow panning. Above is a video shown without the custom player.

More details can be found on the Kickstarter page for CENTR.