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Why 180 degrees is what we need for VR video

José Somolinos

Solutions Strategist and XR Lead

October 12, 2017


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Youtube recently created a new video format, VR180. Before, 360 degrees were the only way to upload and play videos on the platform, making this format the standard. Well, it might not be obvious at first thought, but having 180 degrees videos will make the transition to video VR less steep for both video producers and viewers. Video producers will record once, following techniques they already know, and the content will be available both for regular screens and for VR devices. Also, it will improve the quality of the video, and ultimately, it will finally make 3D videos a commodity.

This new format is both compatible with VR devices and 2D screens, so hopefully, it will create a smooth transition for video producers that are used to regular video but want to test something more immersive. They will make a video that can be watched on a mobile phone but also in a VR headset in 3D, with no extra hassle. The first officially compatible cameras will be released this winter, but we can already see some events and videos using this new format.

Storytelling when the audience can look anywhere

It is easy to produce 360 video but difficult to tell a proper story. Traditional storytelling used in cinema is based on one single assumption, as the director controls where you are looking. 360 video goes beyond that precept for bad and for good. We are not a spectator anymore but a visitor, we are placed in the center of the scene, so the action can happen on the sides or behind us without even noticing it. To solve this, some new interactive narrative examples are flourishing, like in The Simpsons’ 600th chapter, where the micro-stories around you only start playing when you look at them. We will be surprised by these new narrative experiments, but there will always be a need for a single timeline storytelling. VR180 video format solves that by keeping us always looking at the right place. All the action is focused in the front of us, or slightly on the sides, so no more neck pain when trying to find the action. In addition to this, the fact that video content is traditionally watched whilst sitting makes VR180 video format even more natural.

For non-narrative videos, like music and sport, most of the time there is a good 180 and a bad 180. Concerts, theater and sports fields always have a half with the action and the other half with the audience. Who wants to watch the gentleman of the first row eating a sandwich instead of Cristiano Ronaldo scoring a goal? Ok, maybe me for half of a second, but this is not worth spending all the bandwidth on it.

The smaller the area, the higher the quality

When it comes to internet broadcasting, dividing by half means multiplying by 2. In order to not waste bandwidth, there are solutions when broadcasting VR video, as you can set it up so that you only receive the part that you are looking at. Many companies are not broadcasting in 3D because the production and distribution of VR are not yet there. We are still using “old day” video formats, which consists of a single rectangle with all the information embedded. The 360 image is stretched on the screen [image: 360 flat], leaving few pixels dedicated to the center of the scene, where the action happens. If we pass to stereoscopic-360, each eye takes a half of the screen, so the quality of the image is immediately divided by 2 [image: 360 3d]. If we remove the 180 degrees behind us, then we recover the quality lost to jump to 3D [180 3d].

The number of pixels dedicated to the relevant part of the video is bigger in VR180, so the quality of what matters on that video will be better as well.

3D is not a gimmick, but a necessity

I recently watched a football game, Real Madrid-FC vs. Barcelona, fantastically broadcasted by NextVR and I didn’t remove my headset for a single second. Not even at half time, when there was a Marc Anthony concert! They had a good coverage of the game with many stereoscopic 180-degree cameras around the field. The broadcast was automatically directed, changing the camera based on the action, no hassle in manually changing cameras nor seeing any buffering time on the switching. The image was an astonishing 3D realistic view at the field level. NextVR uses a 3D mapping technology, so the objects closer to the camera feel more realistic than with other platforms. The feeling you get is definitely closer to being in the stadium than watching football on TV. I have seen other sports videos in 360 that aren’t stereoscopic, and the immersion feeling is not even close to what you get when you watch it in 3D. This is the type of production that we need, 3D is not a gimmick but a necessity to get the proper immersion perception in VR.

A lot of people have only tried a VR video for a (very) short period. Truth is, if you haven’t watched more than 5 minutes of VR video it is because you haven’t seen a  good demonstration. The average length of time for a VR production is about 5–10 minutes, this is about the moment where you have to remove your headset because it is hot, sweaty or you need to check your phone notifications. The bulky headsets that we have on the market are partly to blame.

If you haven’t watched more than 5 minutes of VR video it is because you haven’t seen a good demonstration

Although, in my opinion, we don’t keep the headset on because the videos are not catchy enough. We are not immersed enough to forget about that we are wearing is a headset. Unfortunately, most of the available videos are just 360 flat videos. 3D videos are rare and most of the time poorly implemented. We need good 3D content to become the standard, and having 180 stereoscopic videos is a first good step.

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