What is 360° VR video?

Our look at what 360° VR video is and what some of the pros and cons of the format are

rowan@vimsy.co profile

Written by Rowan

Updated 2018-09-13

What is 360° VR video?

In this video, I explain what 360° VR video is and what some of the pros and cons of the format are. Is it the next big revolution in video production, or is it already a flop? And either way, are there useful applications for 360° cameras even if "normal" video remains king?

Please note that this is not a 360° VR video - although the video was filmed on a 360° camera! You can see some 360° VR video samples here: https://www.youtube.com/playli...

Please also be aware that due to the multiple lens setup on these cameras, sometimes objects that are between two lenses (or are quite close to the camera) have visible ghosting on them, which you can see in some shots. Hopefully this is a technical limitation that the manufacturers will fix soon. Unfortunately by the time the footage had finished stitching it was too late for us to record this video again.

Disclaimer: We don't currently support 360° video within Vimsy and have no plans to develop this feature at the moment.

Can't watch the video? Read the transcript...

360° video is a unique video format that links closely to Virtual Reality. The key difference between watching a normal video and a 360° video is that you, the viewer, have far more control over what you’re looking at. You can move the video around to focus on something that takes your interest, rather being forced to see what the filmmaker decided you should be seeing.

The thing that makes 360° video interesting is that it can be experienced in a variety of different ways. The most common way is to watch a 360° video on a computer and use the mouse to click and drag around the scene. However, a more exciting way is to use a smartphone or tablet to physically move around a scene. This is possible in several popular apps, such as the YouTube app. Many of these apps will also let you use a headset, which places 360° videos in the realm of Virtual Reality, especially if the 360° video has been filmed in 3D - it can feel like you’re actually there in person, which is really immersive!

What is 360° VR video?

Here I am being immersed in a 360° video experience

The only limitation of 360 video as a viewer is that the filmmaker still has control over where the camera was placed during the recording process - you can’t physically move around a scene like you can in a Virtual Reality game.

So how can you use 360° video within your business or as a video creator?

In the past, creating 360° video required large and expensive camera rigs and complex post-production techniques. Nowadays, the introduction of specialty 360° cameras has made creating 360° video far more achievable.

What is 360° VR video?

My 360° VR weapon of choice, the Insta360 Pro. This particular camera earned the nickname "Mo" while on a shoot earlier in the year. He has his own Instagram: @motheinsta360pro

The biggest challenge is finding suitable uses for the format. While normal video is about telling a story, 360° video is more about creating an experience. Great 360° video experiences could include tours around places of interest. For example, I worked with the University of Southampton on a 360° video project that gave prospective students a virtual tour of the campus and the city. By watching the video, future students were given an immersive look at what a typical day would be like if they enrolled there. Find out more about this project.

Other uses for 360° videos would be at events such as music festivals where viewers could look around at the performance and select which bits they want to see, and 360° video can be useful for training in the form of simulating an environment or scenario for viewers to react to.

However, the format is not without its drawbacks. The biggest challenge with 360° video is the fact that it captures everything around the camera, which means that every shot has to be carefully stage managed. If you don’t want something to be in shot, it can’t be anywhere within line of sight of the camera. If you want somewhere to look busy, you’ll have to make sure it’s actually busy. And if you’re filming in public and somebody makes a rude gesture at the camera, that could ruin a take, and so on. There’s far more flexibility with normal filming to hide, disguise and control what appears in the video - this isn’t the case with 360° filming.

This leads on to another issue, which is that if you want the camera to move you’ll need to think carefully about how that’s achieved, as the operator will certainly be in shot. There’s no standing behind the camera knowing that you won’t be seen. This can be very limiting and can result in a lot boring video content where the camera is simply placed on a tripod and left for thirty seconds, then moved somewhere else - this approach isn't particularly inspiring.

What is 360° VR video?

Even without a headset, watching a 360° VR video on a phone or tablet can still feel immersive

Finally, because the viewer is in control of what they can see, an engaging 360° video needs to direct the viewer’s attention. There should be things happening within each scene for the viewer to find and watch, otherwise they’re going to lose interest and switch off. But I personally feel like there’s a thin line between creating a 360° video that retains the viewer’s attention and producing something that would have been better as a normal video which commands the viewer’s attention by default. I think there’s a genuine risk of creating 360° videos simply because the format is exciting and novel and not because it’s the right format for the story that’s being told.

That said, I think there’s a huge potential in 360° video - especially in training, education, security and virtual travel. It’s simply a case of finding the right uses for the format. (If that's something you want help with, you're welcome to reach out to our video production team at Southpoint Films, Vimsy's sister business.)

Additionally, 360° video footage doesn’t have to be used for 360° video applications. The footage from a 360° camera can be edited into a standard video like the one at the top of this post, giving the editor flexibility over what appears in shot. While the wide angle of a 360° camera can still be limiting non-the-less, I think 360° video cameras could become the tool of choice for vloggers who want to share their videos in different aspect ratios, such as for Instagram TV, as they have full flexibility to reframe their footage for each platform in post production. This is really powerful!

And I’ve not yet mentioned that 360° video footage can be manipulated in interesting ways, such as creating a “Tiny Planet”. There’s a lot that can be done with these cameras once you’ve scratched the surface, but as with all technology, it’s about choosing the right tool for the task at hand.

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