In a recent blog post, Lytro CEO Jason Rosenthal has confirmed that the company is headed out of the consumer imaging business to focus instead on developing a light field virtual reality platform. Rosenthal admits that it was too risky to compete in an established consumer space (that was in decline, no less, thanks to smartphones), and determined the value-add of light field technology to VR would have greater impact. Hence, Lytro has scrapped product development in the consumer camera space.
Says Rosenthal, 'The cold hard fact was that we were competing in an established industry where the product requirements had been firmly cemented in the minds of consumers by much larger more established companies.' He also mentions the rise of smartphones and consumer satisfaction with image quality from them.
And 'while consumer Light Field cameras offered a number of true technological breakthroughs such as interactive 3D pictures, radical lens specs, and the ability to focus a picture after the fact,' the reality was that there was much more investment Lytro would've had to make to its cameras competitive with modern cameras in image quality. Meanwhile, VR companies and Hollywood studios were increasingly asking for light field technology in cinematic and next-gen content. 'We had just raised $50MM in new capital. We didn’t have the resources to both continue building consumer products and invest in VR.'
Accordingly, in November of last year, Lytro announced Immerge, a 360° light field video capture device, just after announcing plans for layoffs as the company shifted direction toward video and VR. The pro-grade Immerge was a confirmation of this change in focus. It's currently only a concept camera (co-designed with Seattle-based design firm Artefact, which also designed the Illum), capable of recording live action VR in what Lytro claims as 'six degrees of freedom' that, if we understand correctly, should allow for multiple perspectives from multiple angles of view, as well as focus and depth-of-field control after-the-fact. This is a clear benefit for VR capture, which aims to capture as much scene content as possible for the viewer to explore in a virtual environment.