Let’s try to wrap our heads around this one. Or wait, is it the other way around?
360-degree video is shot with a special camera or array of cameras that captures everything around the camera in a full 360-degree panorama. It’s stitched together so that a viewer with a VR headset — such as Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, or Google Cardboard — can watch the video, turning their head to see what’s around them.
For those without a headset, 360-degree video can be “enjoyed” on computers and mobile devices through special video players incorporated by sites like YouTube and Facebook. Here the user can drag their finger or mouse around the video to see what’s going on in the surrounding area.
360 Video in the Real World
The first time someone sees a well-produced 360 video, it’s usually a pretty cool experience, especially if they have a good VR headset. We are used to watching something on a screen and being locked into what the filmmaker wants to show us, so suddenly having more freedom feels liberating.
Of course, there are varying degrees of success with format right away. When Bjork was one of the first musicians to release a 360 video, she made it subtle and interesting, choosing to walk around the 360-degree world and guide the viewer through it, then adding multiple versions of herself so no matter where you turned, there was something to see.
On the other hand, the explosion of 360 video means several people are creating videos with no real purpose. They can end up being a distraction instead of an attraction. Filmmakers who really only need to show one focal point are making 360 videos that just let viewers turn around to see bland backgrounds, meanwhile missing all the action in front of them.
Take this 360 video for a Sacramento prison as an example. The filmmakers, no doubt, wanted to make the prison an immersive experience, but often, the most important visual information is in one spot, with the reverse view being a parking lot or utility building.
Furthermore, the filmmakers mixed the 360 footage with traditional 2D film clips that they placed in panels in the environment. It’s easy for the viewer to be turned around and miss these inserted clips entirely, making the video far less effective than it could be in a traditional format.
Regardless of the overall quality of these videos, the rollout of 360-degree videos is definitely picking up steam. YouTube has a channel dedicated to 360 videos. The channel is just over a few years old and has over 3 million subscribers. It houses clips ranging from music videos to extreme sports clips, to horror shorts.
They’ve even announced the integration of spatial audio into their player for an even more immersive experience.
And the recent announcement of updates to Adobe’s Premiere Pro CC editing software includes video editing tools for 360-degree video. Clearly the demand for such videos is high if Adobe is willing to build in tools for their creation.
Is 360 the Future of Video?
So is this the future of video as we know it? Maybe….. maybe not.
Many people think that VR is the future. The technology behind it is finally strong enough to support the processing power and video refresh rates needed for a cohesive experience. That much is true. But the promise of VR is an interactive experience that you can get lost in.
Imagine, for instance, a VR game where you move around a detailed 3D environment. You come upon a chest. You walk up to the chest, and slowly open it to reveal the treasure inside. That’s a truly immersive experience. Something that 360 video lacks. Sure, 360 lets you turn your head to see the crowd behind you at a concert, but you can move in and out of spaces, you can interact with the environment. Essentially, 360 video is just super, super wide-angle viewing.
There are players in the market trying to expand on this concept. Lytro is working on a VR camera called Immerge that uses “light field” technology to capture depth in a space. They claim that you will be able to move around a 360 style video and see in and under things.
Remember when 3D was all the rage? A few years back 3D TVs landed in the market and everyone was clamoring to get one for their living room. It seemed like every movie that came out in the theaters was in 3D and eventually, we’d only watch 3D movies on all of our devices. Only, that didn’t happen. Sure, there are still plenty of 3D fanatics out there, and many movies being shot for 3D, but it didn’t dramatically change the world of filmmaking as some thought. It only added a layer to the options for what was doable.
As the 3D fad started to wane, what was left was innovative filmmakers who really knew how to use the medium to their advantage, using 3D because it made the most sense for their vision.
We suspect that 360 videos may follow a similar trajectory. Today, everyone wants to make a 360 video. It’s a shiny new toy that will guarantee YouTube views while the hungry masses are eager to check out the latest and greatest. But given a little time, people will grow bored with poorly executed content in 360 and content production in 360 will likely slow.
Still, visionaries with creative ideas will make 360 videos that are compelling and original, keeping the format going. 360 video will find its place but it won’t likely be on every video screen in the world for every consumer.