Virtual Reality Video

Benefits and challenges of shooting 360 video

VR or 360 video is not a new format of video shooting, it has been available for years through professional cinematic videographers who used the format to create 360 imaging for dynamic surround maps and trick shots in regular movies, among other niche uses. The more recent rise in popularity of affordable VR headsets and the availability of 360 cameras in the consumer market is bringing this format to the limelight.

The first tech giant to bring a consumer 360 camera was Samsung. With the Samsung Gear 360, released in 2016, VR video was available to the masses for the first time. Other 360 cameras were also introduced around the same time, but they came from mostly unknown brands and were looked at as a tool for very specialized videographers. What Samsung did different was introducing this camera as an add-on to its popular Galaxy phones along with an attachment, the Gear VR, that allowed users to use their phone as a VR headset. This was in my opinion the first introduction of an affordable, consumer grade virtual reality camera and video eco system.

What also boosted the rise of this format around the same time was Facebook’s introduction of VR video to its platform. So the videos that you take with the Samsung Gear 360 or any 360 camera can now be easily uploaded to the platform, and shared with your friends. The platform even allowed for simple editing features such as; the starting point of view and the zoom level of the video. So if you were holding your camera backwards pointing the back lens forward it would not totally ruin the experience.

People started using this format to produce videos that were completely immersive. You can literally view an entire seen like you are standing there, so the format was first mostly used for real estate agents wanting to showcase their properties which we now know as virtual tours. Of course, as people played around with these cameras, other casual uses for the format were introduced. Including displaying live VR video of an events, having a round table discussion or podcast with the 360 camera being center shot to take video of all of the guests. People even started using them for their kids’ birthday parties and casual vlogging.

360 cameras also allow users to shoot regular 2D videos in a format that was not possible without a 360 camera.  There’s a mode called ‘little planet’ which is achieved by using both lenses of the camera in one 2D shot while fully zoomed out making the person shooting the video look like they’re sitting or walking on a little planet. On the other hand, if you use the same format while fully zoomed in on an object or person, a shot named ‘inverted little planet’ it would make your surroundings into a circle in the center of the frame and any objects in that shot will be on the edge of that circle.

360 cameras work by taking two videos from the two fish-eye lenses that are mounted opposite each other and each fish eye lens takes in video or photo shot of a complete surround image from one side. Think of it like a panorama shot that’s fully horizontal and vertical at the same time. The shots from both of these lenses are combined via software or “stitched” together to create a complete 360 shot, and this can be done for a single photo or video.

The nature of these shots also means that any equipment you use to attach the camera to such as a tripod, head mount or even a drone will be visible in the shot. With editing software, this can object can be covered or even removed, though removing it will require editing each frame and is a complex procedure.

In addition, The VR video format also brings another challenge. How do you make a VR video entertaining and not boring? We are used to taking video of where the action is happening, if you are pointing  a regular camera you are looking to record the action happening, everything around this is usually still, or not important. This challenge was taken by a few professional studios and they’ve created scenes that force the user to look around their environment. Usually these are professionally recorded short films where the action happens all around you and the camera is placed in the center. This shot format is called POV or point of view and in most cases assumes that you, the viewer are part of the experience. Actors will ask you to look behind you or walk around the shot forcing you to look around to view the story completely.

From a technological stand point 360 cameras are also limited by a couple of factors, although, with every iteration of this technology these limits are improved upon. The pixel density of these cameras is usually low due to the nature of the sensors so images and videos are grainy or pixilated if you zoom. This is improved upon year-over-year and in my opinion won’t be such a limiting factor as better sensors hit the market. Another limiting factor is the focal length. With regular cameras videographers use specialized lenses to achieve a certain shot, or focus in on a particular object. With 360 cameras the lenses themselves are attached to the camera and cannot be changed, this means that all objects will be in focus and it also means that you cannot shoot VR video in low-light conditions without heavily editing it in post-production.

For more engaging, and cinematic 360 experiences studios are shooting videos with 360 cameras around a green environment (like green screen but all around you) and heavily editing it with realistic 3D models. A few very successful short films where introduced in this format, including a 360 Jurassic World video and a Tomb Raider short film. This combination of 360 video and hyper realistic 3D rendering will bring this technology to the masses as shooting technique improve, 3D rendering becomes even more realistic and editing software adapts to the new format.

As the technology matures and 360 cameras become more wide spread I believe that this format will be more widespread, and we will see movies with famous franchises adopt this format to produce movies and short films that are truly immersive, bringing their brands to this format will increase adoption like we’ve never seen before.

In the meantime, you can contact a representative at GameIN and ask us on how we can use 360 videography to help you and your business bring your ideas and brand to this fully immersive format.