Acer had a lot to say about their whole range of products for 2017 at their press conference in New York City today, but the one that raised the most eyebrows was what technically is still just a smartphone. But, the Holo 360 isn’t something you’re going to see in wireless stores — first and foremost, it’s a 360-degree camera. The Holo 360 is being teased ahead of the release of Acer’s mixed reality headset, one of many that are being made in partnership with Microsoft’s HoloLens.
Unfortunately, Acer didn’t have much else to say about the camera. All we know is that it will be a handheld, smartphone-shaped device with 4G connectivity, which can be used for both data and calls. If it’s like other handheld 360-degree cameras we’ve seen, it’ll have two wide-angle lenses (at least 180 degrees each) on either side with identical cameras, plus software that will stitch the two images together. That creates a static 360-degree image that people using VR headsets (or YouTube or Facebook’s 360-degree video viewers) can look at, turning their heads wildly.
It’s a bit of an iffy proposition, especially if the 4G connectivity adds significantly to the price tag. The justification would be that you could upload 360-degree videos instantly, wherever you take them. Now that unlimited plans are back at all the major carriers, that’s not as big of a deal, although the soft data caps for throttling (usually between 20 GB and 25 GB) could come into play if you upload enough of those videos.
The main point of the camera is to support Acer’s mixed reality efforts. Acer, along with many other device makers like Lenovo, HP, Dell, and Asus, are making a low-cost tethered mixed reality headset in partnership with Microsoft. It won’t be as advanced as something like the Vive or the Oculus Rift, but it does have the advantage of two front-facing cameras that allow for internal tracking — there’s no need to set up a separate sensor in the room to track your movements. Those headsets will include Microsoft’s HoloLens technology, hence the mixed reality part — the virtual world can be joined by Microsoft’s holograms, virtual objects that you can interact with like you would icons on a PC.
The camera is necessary because if any sort of reality other than the real one is going to take off, there’s going to need to be more games, videos, and images to look at to make it worth everyone’s while. How successful Acer in particular will be at doing that will depend on what’s still the biggest barrier to entry for more immersive and interactive VR — price. It might still be a while before we hear about that for the Holo 360.