Pilot Era 360-degree camera hands-on: Great for the enterprise and more

Hands on with the Pilot Era 360 degree camera - great for the enterprise–and more zdnet
  • Editors' rating
    9.2 Spectacular

Pros

  • Superb in-camera stitching
  • Remote control through app
  • Google Street View optimisation

Cons

  • Tiny screen fonts

The Pilot Era 360 degree VR camera from Pisofttech promises to be the only camera you will need -- whatever you plan to do with it.

From aerial photography to conferences, tourism to events, this 360-degree live streaming camera will provide all of your image requirements without the need for your phone or computer. I am really impressed with its features.

The company has been around for a while. Pisofttech was founded in 2012 by the Alumnus of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Participating in research and development of embedded panoramic algorithms, Pisofttech focuses on image and graphics fusion algorithms and visual products.

The Pilot Era camera is hand held -- and not cumbersome at all. Its dimensions are 159 x 61.4 x 61.4mm  -- about the same size as a can of soda -- and it weighs 690g. Currently, it is on offer on Indiegogo for $1,999, which means this is for the serious hobbyist -- not the casual consumer who wants to try it out.

The camera has a base unit which screws into the bottom of the camera, which enables you to connect to the device using Ethernet or LTE using a SIM card. The USB-C port can be used either as a power supply or a connector for peripherals such as external drives, storage, screens, or batteries.

The camera has 8K video with a maximum resolution of 7680 x 3840 at 7fps (for Google Street View images) through to 1920 x 960 at 30fps with real-time in-camera stitching. Unstitched video resolution is 7680 x 3840 at 24fps.

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Its static images are up to 8192 x 4096 pixels with real-time photo stitching across the images. Furthermore, it delivers 4K live streaming at 3840 x 1920 at 30fps. An impressive set of image resolutions from the get-go.

The Android-based Pilot OS has a comfortable look and feel to it. It has a small 3.1-inch touchscreen, which could be a challenge if you have huge sausage fingers.

The four cameras all have 12MP Sony CMOS sensors and an f2.8 aspehrical (not exactly spherical) fish eye lens. It also has pitch, roll, and yaw stabilisation through its 9-axis gyroscope. 

The Pilot Era also supports RTMP (Real Time Media Player) streaming, where you can add the URL of the streaming service (Adobe Media Server, DaCast, Facebook, Kaltura, Live Stream, Meridix, Periscope, Red5, Twitch, UStream, Wowsa or YouTube) for your stream.

According to its Indiegogo page, its 512Gb storage will store over 6.5 hours of 8k videos or 26,000 panoramic images. The 7,200mAh battery will give over 3.5 hours of video shooting.

I connected the camera to Wi-Fi  -- I had to use a stylus pen to type my Wi-Fi password as the keyboard was so tiny.  I then downloaded a 655mb system update to the camera. The 4.5.0 update supports the Google OSC protocol, which means that the Google Street view app can control the camera.

This update was quickly followed by another 198mb update, 4.5.1, which fixes the Facebook live streaming issue.

After all of the updates, I found that the camera was easy to configure and use with only four icons on the default screen: Camera, Gallery Live, and Settings. Although the screen is really small, it is packed with useful features.

The Pilot Era focuses perfectly. It corrects for any distortion, and you can zoom the screen in and out. There are indoor and outdoor settings for the best image quality. It also has an anti-rotation feature, so if the camera is tilted or rotated, the image stays in the vertical plane

I love the fact I do not need to fiddle with any of the images after I have taken them. No post production stitching is needed, the camera automatically does this for me – thank goodness.  

The Pilot Go app connects to the camera and allows me to control and configure all of the settings on the camera. If you have large hands, this app will save you so much frustration. You can also remotely use the app so the camera will record when you are out of shot -- a really useful feature.

As the camera is standalone, it will live stream, and record at the same time directly to live platforms such as Facebook or YouTube.

Hands on with the Pilot Era 360 degree camera - great for the enterprise–and more zdnet

Pisofttech

The camera is optimised for Google Street view photographers who wish to upload images of the location directly to Google Maps. Select the street view mode on the right hand side of the touch screen and start recording.

You can tweak settings such as ISO, EV, or stitching, and preview the film in the camera gallery before uploading.

The geographic coordinates are saved with each 7fps frame so when the film is uploaded to Google Street View it will create maps of the location filmed depending on the coordinates saved with each image shot.

Google processes all of the footage and creates connections between all of the images taken. You can see the path taken as a blue line in Google Maps. If there is no coordinate data, then Google Maps can not process the video for upload.

Ideally for street view maps, the camera should be installed on a car -- or you could walk around with it fixed to your body. The GPS in the camera seems to be really accurate -- at least in the location I used it.

I tried the Pilot Era in the countryside, and I waited for 30 seconds or so before filming to make sure that I had a good triangulation from the GPS. In town, or in the vicinity of high buildings, you might need to wait longer to get an accurate GPS signal.

I also like the fact that the Pilot Era camera has a removable battery. For an extra $65, you can buy an additional removable battery to double the amount of time you can use the Pilot Era for video and image capture.

Yes, this is an expensive hobby camera. With a recommended price of $2,500, this is aimed firmly at the business side of the market. 

But for the features, streaming, and great image quality, I think it is worth the price tag. And with the Google Street View feature, you can map all of the uncharted territory that the real Google Street View cameras have missed. 

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