When Lytro first hit the streets , it felt something like a solution in search of a problem. The original system allowed for capturing still photos that you could refocus in post. Cool, yeah—once or twice—but the hope of it becoming the new default for still photography didn't really take off, despite the novelty. As the vast majority of photography moves to the smartphone, there wasn't a large enough wave of excitement for the Lytro to make it in the crowded and competitive standalone camera space.
However, the technology behind the Lytro system is fascinating. Unlike traditional photography, which captures light intensity head-on, light field photography (also known as plenoptic photography) measures the geometry of the light from a scene—the intensity as well as the direction of light rays traveling through space. Lytro's software can then reconstruct the image in three dimensions.
Immerge produces potentially infinite depth of field imagery if the artist so desires.
Recently, Lytro made the smart pivot to go after high-end Hollywood production instead of the consumer market, as we covered in detail in our NAB video this year. This makes a ton of sense: all of the data captured by light field photography opens up huge possibilities in compositing , and large studios are able to afford investments in technology if it can speed up workflows.
In the same pivot, Lytro also went hard for VR with the Immerge platform, taking advantage of light field data captured in 360° in order avoid some of the issues with traditionally captured VR (particularly with regard to focus). We have gotten very used to the way focus works in 2D (and even somewhat 3D) stereo movies, but depth of field issues can potentially be frustrating in VR. As you look around real life, you are used to being able to refocus your vision on whatever you like, and if you have shallow depth of field in VR capture, the VR playback has large areas of the "world" that are out of focus, which can undermine the sensation of immersion. Not so with Immerge, which produces potentially infinite depth of field imagery if the artist so desires.
While most demo videos showing a 2D representation of an immersive experience designed for a headset are frustrating, this one does a good job of showing off the immersive, sharp nature of the imagery captured.
Like many VR systems, at this point Lytro Immerge will primarily function as a rental tool for most users, though it is coming to market eventually.