The VSN Mobil V.360 is one of the first compact 360-degree cameras made for consumers that you can actually buy. Currently, most of its potential competitors are only available for preorder, but anyone with $450 can get a V.360 direct from VSN Mobil’s site. Buyers in the UK and Australia can get one for about £300 or AU$575, respectively.
As its name implies, the V.360 is able to capture a whole scene with one shot. There’s no need to pan your camera or mount multiple cameras, you just hit the shutter release or press record and you’re done. What results is an immersive photo or video that, with the help of a desktop player or mobile app, can be explored at all angles as you’re viewing it.
Being first isn’t always a good thing, however, and at times the V.360 definitely feels like a work in progress. The video and photo quality isn’t outstanding by any means and after using it for a bit, you might start to think of it as a one-trick pony.
It is a pretty cool trick though, and in the right hands it could be a powerful creative tool for standard movie clips and if virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR take off, you’ll be all set to create your own VR content.
Design and features
The boxy design of GoPro’s cameras might make them slightly awkward to mount on top of a helmet, but the V.360 is on another level. The camera sits 4 inches tall (102mm) and 2.2 inches wide (56mm) and it weighs in at about 8 ounces (230g).
Add in some extra height from a mount and, well, it’s easy to feel clumsy with it up there. Even if you’re comfortable getting stares and questions while wearing cameras, the V.360 doesn’t look like your typical camera, expect to get frequent questions regardless of where it’s mounted.
Speaking of mounts, the camera itself has a standard 1/4-20 tripod mount on the bottom, so finding things to attach to isn’t a problem. Plus, VSN Mobil throws in a small two-prong adapter for use with GoPro mounts. Also in the box are a small Bluetooth remote control, a microfiber storage bag, a rechargeable battery, a USB 3.0 cable and wall charger, a silicone sleeve to cover the lower section of them camera and an adhesive dash mount.
The V.360 is shock-, vibration- and dustproof as well as watertight for up to 30 minutes down to 3.3 feet (1 meter). However, while it might survive a drop, crash or other mishap, the large plastic wraparound lens is unprotected. Even with relatively careful handling during my review I ended up with hairline scratches that were visible in brightly lit movie clips.
Unscrewing the bottom cover (more difficult than it sounds because of the cover design and its waterproof seal) gets you access to the battery, microSD card slot and Micro-USB 3.0 and Micro-HDMI ports. The camera is charged via the USB port, so unless you buy the V.360 docking station, you’ll be charging it on its side, which no doubt added a couple scratches to the camera lens.
Controls and features
The Bluetooth remote (also waterproof) can be used to power the camera on and off, snap panoramic photos or start and stop videos. If you want to do more than that, you’ll have to install the iOS or Android app on a smartphone or tablet.
The camera has both Bluetooth 4.0 and dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi. If you just want to control the camera – change settings, start and stop recordings, etc. – you can connect via Bluetooth. The Bluetooth is always on even when the camera is off. This allows you to connect to the camera to turn it on, and then you can connect to its Wi-Fi radio, which you’ll need for a live preview or to view your recordings.
I tested with both an iPad Mini and a Galaxy S5 and using the 2.4GHz Wi-Fi connection was a bit flaky at times, dropping out and then requiring a reconnection. Switching over to the 5GHz band was more stable, but the video still lags a few seconds behind the camera. Basically it’s enough to set up your shot, but don’t expect a smooth real-time stream from the camera while recording.
For controlling the camera, the app works fine. It’s not the most straightforward layout, but it’s easy enough to pick up and use. The live preview and recordings can be seen in a rotating shot-glass view or a flat view that you can swipe through. You can also turn your device horizontally to fill the screen with your video. And, as you rotate your device the video will rotate with it, acting as a window for what the camera sees.
There are some inconsistencies between the iOS and Android versions, but for the most part they work the same and the company says it will continue to add features. For example, at the moment there is no way to wirelessly download entire video files straight to your mobile device, so you either have to copy them off the card directly or stream them from the camera. This capability is coming soon to the iOS app and then to Android.
Having the files locally makes a big difference in playback performance, and means you don’t have to carry the camera around with you just to show friends and family your panoramic photos and videos or take advantage of the built-in Google Cardboard VR support.
Should you want to share something you’ve shot, you can trim out up to a minute of video from one of your clips. Once you’ve selected the section that you want (somewhat tricky since there is no preview, so you have to remember the time frame you want to use), the app will download and transcode your clip, which in my tests took about 15 minutes.
Next, you get to play director, spinning a wheel onscreen with colors that represent different viewing angles in your video. Once you have the edit you’re after, you can save it, which requires another long wait. At that point it’s ready to share and viewable in a standard video player. Because of this, though, viewers lose the ability to interact with your video.
You can also move your clips off the camera and view them in VSN Mobil’s desktop player or edit the MP4 video files with regular editing software. Also, if you don’t mind doing a small bit of extra computer work to add some metadata to your video, you can take your clips and upload them to YouTube.
Once you’ve added the metadata and uploaded, your 360-degree videos will have a pan button in the top left letting viewers rotate through your clips. (VSN Mobil says adding this metadata along with other features will be added to a future version of its desktop player.)
As for the V.360’s recording capabilities, you can capture video at 6,480×1,080 pixels at up to 24fps and 3,840×640, 2,880×480 and 1,920×320 at up to 30fps. Eight-megapixel photos can be captured one at time, in bursts of five or for time-lapse videos. And, thanks to built-in motion and audio detection, the camera can be used as a security camera, as well.
Video and photo quality
There are a few different ways to capture 360-degree video, but mainly it comes down to the number of cameras. You can use multiple cameras with wide-angle lenses and then stitch the video together after it’s shot, either in camera or with software. Or, you can use a single camera with either an ultrawide-angle lens like the Kodak Pixpro SP360 or 360fly or you can go the V.360 route and use a unique lens design (though it is similar to what Kogeto uses for its 360-degree camera, Jo, too).
With a single-camera design like the V.360’s there are no seams when you view the final video because it doesn’t need to be stitched together, either in camera or with software. As long as you’re playing back through the V.360’s app or desktop player, anyway. The camera actually splits the 360-degree video in two and then stacks them for viewing in a standard player (as you can see in the video above). That means if you’re shooting at its highest resolution – 6,480×1,080 pixels – you end up with two 3,240×1,080-resolution strips.
So, with one camera, you can capture the full view in front and behind and it’s up to you how you want to use them. For example, you can sit them side by side for a full 360-degree panorama (like the video below), or switch back and forth between the two, or cut out a side view while simultaneously showing a front view.
The thing is, the video quality is just OK, which is hard to swallow given the price of the camera. You don’t have to look at the results too closely to see compression artifacts and purple fringing is prevalent in high-contrast areas and highlights blow out easily.
For less than the price of this camera you can get several models that capture higher-quality clips. Granted, those cameras won’t do what the V.360 does, so you’ll have to choose what’s most important to you.
That said, video looks decent on small-screen devices like tablets and smartphones because the issues, namely the blocky artifacts, are more difficult to see at those sizes. The exception here is viewing the video with Google Cardboard, which magnifies all the problems. Also, I’d skip using it in low light because things only get worse.
Worth noting, too, is that the vertical viewing angle is 60 degrees. If you’re not careful with your camera placement you can end up with videos and pictures filled with headless bodies or disembodied heads. It also means you’re not getting a spherical view when used with VR glasses.
The issues with photo quality are a little harder to overlook than the video. Enlarge them even a little bit and everything looks like mush with distracting compression artifacts. Like the video, though, at small sizes played back through the V.360 app, they look OK, but you’re probably better off using your smartphone’s panorama photo options.
You’ll have to overlook quirks in design and performance, but the VSN Mobil V.360 360-degree action cam offers up some serious wow factor now and potentially even more in the future.