Virtual reality company Jaunt recently announced it has raised $65 million in new funding, led by an investment from Disney, which makes it one of the most-funded startups in the virtual reality space. The world of VR is filled with companies that claim to specialize in 360-degree video, so why have so many huge companies, including Google Ventures, invested in Jaunt?
What the hell is this company doing that others aren't?
It's not just one thing
"Easy answer? A lot," Cliff Plumer, president of Jaunt Studios, told Polygon. "We've been developing a lot of technology from the camera, to how you process the footage that comes off the camera, to post-production platforms to how you distribute the content. That's kind of the origins of the company."
Plumer's background is impressive: He was the CEO of well-known effects company Digital Domain and the CTO of Lucasfilm.
This is one of the strengths of Jaunt; the company offers an end-to-end solution for 360-degree video, including its own proprietary camera, the Jaunt One.
"I don't believe people are ready to wear HMDs for two or three hours"
"A lot of people are going out and getting GoPro rigs and running around with their 360 GoPros and shooting stuff, some successful and some not-so-successful," Plumer said. But GoPros weren't designed to be used for this method of shooting. The Jaunt One camera, shown above, was designed for video that will be shown in VR, and it also shoots in stereoscopic 3D, a distinction they were keen to point out when I repeatedly referred to their videos as being in 360 degrees.
The Jaunt One can also handle low-light environments better, and unlike GoPros that have been slaved together the different cameras on the Jaunt One can adjust their settings on the fly; a camera pointed at a part of the room with lower light can be adjusted independently to shoot that bit of the environment accurately.
"We can do that in software with our camera," Plumer explained. "We can adjust the aperture of the setting that is more in the shadows versus something that has more light. Having those controls for shooting is going to make our content for VR that much better."
This investment round gives Jaunt not only a sizable bankroll but a number of strategic partnerships, with Disney being arguably the most important. But Jaunt isn't in a rush to simply live stream things like sporting events or concerts.
"I don't believe people are ready to wear [head-mounted displays] for two or three hours to watch a sporting event or live music event," Plumer said. The displays have to become more comfortable for that to happen, and watching sports on television will be hard to improve.
"There has to be a different kind of storytelling," he continued. "Sports coverage is awesome. An NFL game has two or three dozen cameras covering the action. That's great coverage. To me, what needs to be pushed is the storytelling aspect. We want to take audiences to places they can't buy a ticket, or they can't get access to. So that's the stuff that we're trying to focus on right now rather than trying to compete with what's already great content that's covered through traditional broadcast."
You can watch some of Jaunt's efforts for yourself if you have access to Google Cardboard or an Oculus Rift.
Jaunt seems to have the technology, the partners and the cash on hand to push this new art form as far as it would like. The latest investment in Jaunt could make other companies in the same space more attractive to those in traditional media who don't want to cede control of this form of video to Jaunt by default.
With no retail virtual reality displays available as of this writing, this level of investment in content is a bold move. But Jaunt is in an enviable position to deliver video content to a brand-new market if VR does take off. That positioning, combined with proprietary hardware and an end-to-end solution for video in virtual reality, makes Jaunt an attractive investment for a traditional media industry that doesn't want to be left behind.