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How VR Could Power GoPro Back to Growth

By Travis Hoium – Updated Jul 24, 2017 at 6:35PM

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GoPro's Fusion spherical camera could be coming to the VR market at just the right time. But to break out, it may need an assist from Facebook.

GoPro Inc. (GPRO -0.41%) has finally given up on its media business, allowing it to focus on what it does best: make cameras. And the newest one to join its lineup (due to hit stores sometime this fall) is the Fusion spherical camera. 

The Fusion is essentially a boxy Hero camera, but it has two lenses, allowing it to create immersive 360-degree images. Users can "punch out" these images to create the distorted pictures that have started popping up on the internet. But the Fusion also has the potential to be a great virtual reality content creation tool. And it's that the masses could actually use -- the VR equivalent of the Hero line that made action cameras affordable for (and popular among) mainstream users. And that's important given the new VR headsets expected to hit the marketplace in 2018. 

Spherical camera image from a GoPro camera.

Image source: GoPro.

Facebook's VR plans match GoPro's Fusion launch

VR hardware has been stuck in place for most of the past year, with HTC's Vive and Facebook's (META 0.85%) Oculus Rift waiting for their next upgrades. Tethered headsets are certainly the most common entries in the high end of the VR market, competing with smartphone-powered headsets from companies like Samsung and Google. With their high cost and difficult technical operations, those devices aren't built for the masses. But if rumors of a wireless Oculus headset are true, it may be a game-changer. 

GoPor's Fusion camera, expected to be released late in 2017.

GoPro's Fusion camera, expected to be released late in 2017. Image source: GoPro.

A recent report from Bloomberg says that Facebook will launch a $200 headset sometime next year, hoping that its combination of affordability and functionality proves appealing to a wider swath of consumers. It's certainly logical to expect that price point would be much more compelling than the $800 cost of a Vive -- even before you factor in the price of a high-powered computer to plug it into, plus the hassles of operating today's VR systems. As a package, what's on offer so far is not something that will excite millions of people enough to buy.

If a low-cost, wireless headset does emerge, it would be possible to bring it to a friend's house or on a trip. And that would make it perfect for showing off your new spherical video. 

Content is king

Currently, sharing spherical video content via the GoPro VR app and similar platforms is a decent option, but it doesn't truly capture the experience. You really need a headset to be immersed in the video. GoPro's Fusion will allow customers to capture, edit, and share content easily. And a relatively low-cost, high-quality headset could make that content easily consumable. 

Lots of companies are trying their hands at spherical cameras, but no one else has the brand power of GoPro in action cameras that could make those new devices take off. Still, I don't think the Fusion camera really works as a product for the masses without a VR headset for the masses as well. But Facebook could complete the product ecosystem and make Fusion the next must-have device from GoPro -- so don't count the action camera maker out yet.

Travis Hoium owns shares of GoPro. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook and GoPro. The Motley Fool has the following options: short January 2019 $12 calls on GoPro and long January 2019 $12 puts on GoPro. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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