Action cams such as GoPro can put you on the back of an eagle. They can drop you from space. They can even let you experience a BASE jump off the World Trade Center. What they can't do, however, is film every aspect of an adventure at once. A GoPro is locked to a single perspective: that of the photographer. If the photographer doesn't see it, neither does the GoPro.
Enter CENTR, a new panoramic action cam that aims to change all that. Shooting in 360 degrees at once, CENTR can capture every aspect of an adventure—not just that first-person shot of you making that killer snowboard jump, but also the friend behind you who bit it on that same jump 10 seconds later.
Tested in prototype by organizations such as Red Bull, National Geographic, and the U.S. Army, the technology behind CENTR is the brainchild of Paul Alioshin, who previously head up Camera Engineering at Apple. According to Alioshin, there's a lot more to the CENTR than just four HD video cameras strapped together.
"It's technologically a big challenge," Alioshin tells Co.Design. "You have to stitch together every frame, line them up, calibrate the lighting and colors, and so on. There's a lot of math behind making four camera streams look like one contiguous panorama."
When it comes to specs, the CENTR takes four separate 1080p webcams and stitches them together into a single stream that plays back at up to 60 frames per second. Recorded videos are stored on an 8GB internal flash drive as a standard MPEG video file, but thanks to an interactive player, you can stream videos from your CENTR right to your desktop, smartphone, or tablet in real time.
In the hand, the CENTR looks like a doughnut, a design choice that allows the panoramic action cam to be easily held without obscuring any part of the panorama with your palm or fingers. Just drop it on top of your thumb like a ring and you've created an ad hoc tripod.
"A typical camera is almost like a firehose. There's the end you aim and the end you hold," says CENTR's product designer Joey Roth. "Every camera follows that convention. We wanted the CENTR's design to be completely omni-directional, because we wanted people to know at a glance that they no longer had to worry about pointing this camera at something. It records everything at once."
And that doesn't just mean everything around a photographer, something that CEO (another Apple alum) Bill Banta says is one of the biggest things that sets his camera apart from the competition's: The CENTR can record an adventure and its adventurer at the same time.
"People bike together, or skydive together, or snowboard together, or travel together" says Banta. "With the CENTR, when someone goes on an interesting trip or adventure, it gives them the ability to record what's around them while still being a subject of a video. It doesn't just capture your experience, but that of your friends."
Only time will tell if CENTR trumps GoPro. The CENTR is available for pre-order, for $299 through Kickstarter, with an ETA of February 2015.