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GoPro unveiled its virtual reality camera for Google a year ago. It's still not here.

Whither the GoPro Odyssey?

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Eleven months ago, at its marquee developers conference, Google announced its big, splashy foray into virtual reality video: Jump, a platform for shooting 360-degree footage. And it teased the first “Jump-ready” camera — one from GoPro. In the fall, GoPro unmasked that gigantic camera rig, called the Odyssey, promising its arrival in November.

The Odyssey didn’t come in November. And it still hasn’t arrived.

Since the announcement, the action-camera company has held several talks with people in the virtual reality industry interested in using the high-end camera equipment. But those talks abruptly stalled around January and GoPro’s team went dark, according to two sources.

That lag underscores the difficulty GoPro has had expanding beyond its core market of extreme sports enthusiasts. It also highlights the challenges Google faces in racing rivals, particularly Facebook, to forge and seize the nascent market of consumer VR.

Sources said that content producers had filed paperwork for early dibs on GoPro’s camera, but did not make any payments.

GoPro listed the Odyssey price at $15,000 — a hefty sum, yet one commensurate with its lofty promise. The device cobbles together 16 GoPro cameras in order to shoot spherical video. Coupled with Google’s computational tools, the companies claimed the camera would solve one of the persistent hurdles in VR content — shooting quality footage that captures depth and allows viewers to explore the frame without feeling nauseated.

A GoPro rep sent over the following statement: “Odyssey is a priority for both GoPro and Google, and we are continuing to work together. We have content partners lined up, we’ve shot content with the camera and will have more Odyssey news to share soon.” A Google rep seconded the statement. But both comments declined to explain the delay.

So it’s likely the camera may land in the coming weeks. Or it may come around Google’s next developer conference at the end of May, which will focus heavily on VR and may have updates on Jump, including possible new compatible cameras. Google hasn’t given up on its ambitions to flood YouTube with compelling VR video. In January, the company said over 350 thousand hours of such footage has been watched, and it will probably have new numbers in May.

Still, the wait may have put a dent in GoPro’s plans to move deeper into VR capture. While VR production is a niche market, it’s a growing one as tech and media companies scramble to generate as much content in the form as possible. Initial consumer devices, like Facebook’s Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive, arrived this spring. Yet the content on those devices was likely shot on cameras from GoPro’s ostensible competitors, such as Nokia and the startup Jaunt.

Some industry sources attribute the Odyssey’s wait to its features. It’s hard to build such a camera! Google’s VR focus has been more on widespread use of the media — via its cheap Cardboard device and potential ways that smartphones or other devices can view and capture VR video — rather than very expensive camera hardware.

GoPro’s business struggles may also be a reason. Its stock has fallen sharply in the past year as growth in the action camera market has slowed, and the company’s media plans have yet to pay dividends. GoPro shares are currently trading at $12.10. When it announced its upcoming camera with Google last May, it was trading at $58.81.

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