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Nokia is getting back in the game, starting with a virtual reality camera

Nokia Ozo, unveiled Tuesday night, is a virtual-reality camera designed for professional videomakers.

Nokia Ozo, unveiled Tuesday night, is a virtual-reality camera designed for professional videomakers.

(Nokia Technologies)

Nokia, a king in the flip-phone era, was crushed when people switched to smartphones. It sold its struggling phone-making businesses last year to Microsoft, which recently killed most of it, and the company has been mostly quiet since.

Now, Nokia aims not to miss what many believe is the next new hot technology: virtual reality.

At an event in downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday night, Nokia unveiled a virtual reality camera. It’s the company’s initial product for what it sees as a broad push into immersive media, which enables people wearing special headsets to rotate to watch nearly 360 degrees of a filmed or animated scene.

To date, video makers have been rigging together makeshift cameras to film content. Nokia is billing its Ozo camera as the first high-quality device to be designed for shooting virtual reality cinema, and it’s planning to sell it for thousands of dollars to professionals. It’s likely to face competition from camera companies, including GoPro, which recently showed off a system to capture 360-degree videos.

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“We believe we can make this an incredible, successful adventure for all of us ... to bring amazing stories to life,” Ramzi Haidamus, president of Nokia Technologies, told a few dozen Hollywood executives sipping wine at the event.

But that’s not the “end game,” he said in an interview. He declined to speak about a possible consumer version but said that he wanted to perfect Ozo by learning from leaders in Hollywood.

“Once that’s done, that will inform what we do,” he said.

Ozo is a sphere with eight cameras and eight microphones. There’s a rectangle sticking out at the back to hold a battery and a hard drive. It comes with software that enables live viewing of what’s being captured by each camera, and near-live, low-resolution viewing on a headset.

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The camera should begin selling late this year, but Nokia revealed it early to put it in the hands of Hollywood for final-tuning.

Jaunt, a start-up that’s been at the forefront of making virtual reality films and editing software, is partnering with Nokia to be an early adopter. On Tuesday, Jaunt showed off a scripted scene of a wedding gone awry in a church.

“It’s specifically made for VR,” Jaunt Studios President Cliff Plumer said of Ozo in an interview. “That’s why it’s a big deal.”

Haidamus saw dozens of things being tested at Nokia’s lab when he joined the company a year ago. He’s chosen to invest heavily in areas that have both progressed well and that fit where the technology market is going.

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For now, virtual reality represents one-third of Nokia’s relaunch strategy, he said. Nokia also plans to return to the phone game by licensing its brand to other companies, and it also licenses thousands of patents. Another prong will be announced next year.

Finland-based Nokia has offices in Sunnyvale and San Francisco. Though there are no plans to come to Los Angeles, Haidamus said the region has become increasingly important because of the virtual reality community.

Chat with me on Twitter @peard33

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