360-degree video are hot topics, but what is it and how does it work across different platforms? In this series, I would like to dive into the matter and share my findings with you. Starting with an introduction.
What is 360º video?
In 360º videos – also known as spherical videos, the view in every direction is recorded simultaneously using one omnidirectional camera or several cameras in a rig. The resulting footage has to be stitched to form a single video, either by the camera itself or by using specialized video editing software that finds the common imagery and sound to sync and align the different video feeds.
Monoscopic vs stereoscopic
During playback, the viewer controls the viewing direction, typically by head/device tracking, swiping or dragging the mouse. Most 360º video is monoscopic – meaning that it is viewed as a flat image (2D) curved into a spherical space, as opposed to stereoscopic video where separate images are shown to the left and right eye, giving the perception of 3D depth. Stereoscopic 360º video is mostly limited to computer-generated imagery (CGI) used to create a virtual reality (VR). However, camera rigs for stereoscopic 360º recording do exist for a high cost, data-heavy solution.
So, what about Youtube’s Cardboard mode? Isn’t that 3D? Well, not really. Youtube renders your monoscopic (2D) video and gives it some stereoscopic “magic” to create the illusion of viewing true 3D content. It’s pretty impressive still, and gives you a more immersive experience when viewing 360º video in a Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR or similar VR goggles. This is how they do it:
“We use a combination of video characteristics such as color, spatial layout and motion to estimate a depth map for each frame of a monoscopic video sequence. We use machine learning from the growing number of true 3D videos on YouTube to learn video depth characteristics and apply them in depth estimation. The generated depth map and the original monoscopic frame create a stereo 3D left-right pair, that a stereo display system needs to display a video as 3D”
Capturing 360º video
Consumer grade 360º cameras – like the Samsung Gear 360, LG 360 Cam and Ricoh Theta S, are now on the Swedish market with a price range of 2.500 to 4.000 SEK. All of the above make use of a dual wide-angle camera set-up to stitch together a 360º video up to 4K (in the case of the Gear 360). If that’s not enough, the next step is a multi-camera rig like the GoPro Omni that houses six Hero4 Black cameras to enable an 8K capturing of your environment. Now, you might think 4K is already overdoing it, but remember that those pixels have to be spread out over a 360º by 180º ‘screen’ to form a spherical view. The Omni still manages to deliver a Full-HD image in whichever direction you’re staring at but it comes with the hefty price tag of 53.999 SEK (including all six cameras). Compare the video quality of the Omni and Gear 360 in the video’s below and decide for yourself what’s worth your money.
The consumption of 360º video content is growing rapidly. Early 2016, Google announced that over 5 million Cardboard devices have been sold and their Cardboard app has over 25 million installs. Samsung, in May, 2016, announced to have sold 300.000 Gear VR headsets in Europe alone. But even without a headset to view it on, Youtube has been publishing 360º videos since March 2015 and Facebook followed soon, allowing users of their app to look around in pictures and videos with ‘Motion view’ or simply by swiping around.
Now, we have a better understanding of the technical aspects, possibilities, and limitations of 360º video and VR. In part 2 of this series, I will explain more about the production of 360º video and what it means for the director and crew. Which are the most popular types of 360º video? How can we put it to use in the design and prototyping process? And what else does the future hold?
In anticipation on part 2, we already went ahead and shot a short video in 360º at the Malmö office. Have a look around!