Capturing a wider field of view

Mapping onto a rectangle makes it easy to bring pictures or movies that were captured with ordinary cameras into VR; however, the VR medium itself allows great opportunities to expand the experience. Unlike life in the real world, the size of the virtual screen can be expanded without any significant cost. To fill the field of view of the user, it makes sense to curve the virtual screen and put the user at the center. Such curving already exists in the real world; examples are the 1950s Cinerama experience, which was shown in Figure 1.28(d), and modern curved displays. In the limiting case, we obtain a panoramic photo, sometimes called a photosphere. Displaying many photospheres per second leads to a panoramic movie, which we may call a moviesphere.

Recalling the way cameras work from Section 4.5, it is impossible to capture a photosphere from a single camera in a single instant of time. Two obvious choices exist:

  1. Take multiple images with one camera by pointing it in different directions each time, until the entire sphere of all viewing directions is covered.
  2. Use multiple cameras, pointing in various viewing directions, so that all directions are covered by taking synchronized pictures.
The first case leads to a well-studied problem in computer vision and computational photography called image stitching. A hard version of the problem can be made by stitching together an arbitrary collection of images, from various cameras and times. This might be appropriate, for example, to build a photosphere of a popular tourist site from online photo collections. More commonly, a smartphone user may capture a photosphere by pointing the outward-facing camera in enough directions. In this case, a software app builds the photosphere dynamically while images are taken in rapid succession. For the hard version, a difficult optimization problem arises in which features need to be identified and matched across overlapping parts of multiple images while unknown, intrinsic camera parameters are taken into account. Differences in perspective, optical aberrations, lighting conditions, exposure time, and changes in the scene over different times must be taken into account. In the case of using a smartphone app, the same camera is being used and the relative time between images is short; therefore, the task is much easier. Furthermore, by taking rapid images in succession and using internal smartphone sensors, it is much easier to match the overlapping image parts. Most flaws in such hand-generated photospheres are due to the user inadvertently changing the position of the camera while pointing it in various directions.

Figure 7.23: (a) The 360Heros Pro10 HD is a rig that mounts ten GoPro cameras in opposing directions to capture panoramic images. (b) The Ricoh Theta S captures panoramic photos and videos using only two cameras, each with a lens that provides a field of view larger than $ 180$ degrees.
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For the second case, a rig of identical cameras can be carefully designed so that all viewing directions are covered; see Figure 7.23(a). Once the rig is calibrated so that the relative positions and orientations of the cameras are precisely known, stitching the images together becomes straightforward. Corrections may nevertheless be applied to account for variations in lighting or calibration; otherwise, the seams in the stitching may become perceptible. A tradeoff exists in terms of the number of cameras. By using many cameras, very high resolution captures can be made with relatively little optical distortion because each camera contributes a narrow field-of-view image to the photosphere. At the other extreme, as few as two cameras are sufficient, as in the case of the Ricoh Theta S (Figure 7.23(b)). The cameras are pointed $ 180$ degrees apart and a fish-eyed lens is able to capture a view that is larger than $ 180$ degrees. This design dramatically reduces costs, but requires significant unwarping of the two captured images.

Steven M LaValle 2016-12-31