GoPro's (GPRO 0.28%) Hero action cameras have been the most successful products in the company's history, and account for the vast majority of its sales today. But a new product that hit the market late in 2017 could replace the Hero camera as we know it.
The Fusion is a 360-degree camera, so it captures images of more than just the direction it's pointing -- it captures everything around you. It's often touted as a virtual-reality camera, but I think one feature could make it the only GoPro camera you'll ever need... eventually.
How Fusion will replace the Hero camera
The killer feature on the Fusion camera is something called overcapture. It's the ability to create a 2D video from a 360-degree video after the fact, all from a smartphone or desktop app. Here's how GoPro describes it:
Users have the flexibility in post-production to utilize the entire spherical file to find the perfect shot from which to punch out a full 1080p, traditionally framed image. This process is referred to as reframing, and Fusion's 5.2K resolution is what enables the full HD-quality punch-out.
If you've ever used a GoPro camera mounted to your head to capture something like skiing or skydiving you can see how this would be useful. Not only are these videos inconsistent because of your head moving around constantly, if you look away for a moment you can miss something and you don't have the ability to go back and capture it again. With Fusion and Overcapture you can create myriad of videos from a single spherical video file, all after the fact.
Fusion isn't "there" yet
While Fusion could conceivably replace the Hero camera, it isn't quite ready to do it yet. One problem is the Fusion's price, which is still steep at $699.99. The other is that image quality and stabilization aren't quite where they need to be to replace a traditional camera. A 5.2K video file doesn't allow for 4K quality 2D video images. And early reports are that Fusion's stabilization and stitching (to create 360-degree videos, the device has to stitch together images from its two cameras) still aren't quality enough to be seamless for users.
These are really technical challenges for GoPro, which is developing most of Fusion's technology in-house. But as the company improved resolution on its Hero camera models over time, it will doubtless improve the resolution, stabilization quality, and stitching on future Fusion models.
Then there's the fact that the overcapture feature hasn't even been released for mobile yet. That's when the app becomes a key part of a user's GoPro experience -- when users can easily create a video by moving a smartphone through a 360-degree video's field of view to "overcapture" a 2D video.
The future is visible for GoPro
It's not hard to see where GoPro is going with its lineup of cameras. I think the traditional Hero camera will slowly become less and less relevant for the action sports uses that GoPros are built for, and be replaced by Fusion cameras that can capture full spherical views of what people are doing.
This transition won't happen overnight, as the technology isn't quite ready for prime time, and users aren't as familiar with 360-degree videos, but over time, it will make more and more sense to buy a Fusion than Hero camera for most consumers. Having the Fusion line could also keep GoPro in business in an era when most people's smartphone cameras meet or exceed the quality of a Hero.
Given its potential to reinvigorate GoPro, I don't think Fusion is getting the attention it deserves from investors. This is what the company's future looks like, and it could be a bright future if GoPro becomes the gold standard for consumer 360-degree video capture devices.