360 video is more fashionable than the future
The quality of the video content we consume has reached a point where true-to-life video quality is possible, provided you have a suitable medium to consume it. 4K videos and 4K displays are currently the pinnacle of video quality in the consumer space. It has also become much easier to generate such content with many high-end smartphones now supporting this resolution.
Honestly, 4K isn’t as exciting as it was four or five years ago when the cameras and TVs that supported it were first released, or at least that’s what the marketing companies big tech companies want you to believe. 360-degree videos are all the rage right now because it’s the main driver of virtual reality (VR), which most tech companies are doing all the rage.
(Read also : The YouTube of virtual reality will integrate virtual reality)
But without getting into the whole debate about whether VR will be a successful platform or not, is 360 degree video the future, or is it just a passing fad on the way to something different ? When you ignore the hype, things don’t look good for 360° videos.
Creating specialized content is never easy and to get started with 360 degree video you will need a special type of camera to capture the footage as regular lenses cannot capture a wide enough field of view. The simplest implementation is to turn to fisheye lenses, which have been around for decades and offer the widest possible angle by intentionally distorting the image.
These cameras are usually one-trick ponies, but when implemented well, they can do wonders. We’ve seen such products first-hand with Ricoh’s Theta S 360-degree camera. It’s a fun device, but it has its share of limitations, such as cumbersome sharing methods and, of course, a hefty price tag. This model also lacks expandable storage, a big deal. Soon, Samsung will launch its own version dubbed Gear 360, the price of which was only recently revealed. Later in the year, we should expect LG to launch its 360 camera in India as well, along with the LG G5.
These cameras won’t be cheap due to their specialized nature, so people probably won’t be lining up to buy them, but it’s a start. There is also the matter of sharing the content, which will initially be limited to consuming it via a VR headset (another investment) or uploading it to YouTube or Facebook. However, the quality takes a big hit when you download the file, at least currently, and don’t forget the extra bandwidth needed to stream such a video. Plus, you’ll have to remember to carry that extra camera with you since you’ll never need to capture a candid 360 moment.
The most practical solution would be to have a smartphone with a built-in 360 degree camera. Sound crazy? Maybe, but a relatively unknown company called Yezz has created the Sfera, an Android Marshmallow smartphone with two 5-megapixel cameras with fisheye lenses on either side of the phone, which can capture stills and 360-degree video. Most important here is the patented software that puts everything together in real time.
The smartphone space has stabilized for a while, technologically speaking, and with everyone jumping on board the VR bandwagon, this could soon be a trend. However, this is not exactly a practical solution. What if you want to take a regular photo? The fisheye lens won’t let you do that. You can add another camera sensor to the front and back for regular shots, but then we’re looking at a total of four sensors, which not only will increase the cost, but it would be very difficult to design one ergonomic phone.
We saw smartphone makers like LG and HTC try this with 3D, with the Optimus 3D and Evo 3D smartphones, in 2011, but it quickly fell apart and was never tried again. Maybe we could see big players tackle Yezz’s idea of a smartphone with 360-degree video capability, but the chances of it succeeding as a product seem slim.
The main problem with all these devices is the fisheye lens, which only allows you to take a specific type of photo or video. The only way around this is to have a multi-camera setup in a circular array to get an almost flat image you can still interact with in 360 degrees. Facebook recently unveiled the open-source Surround 360 Video Camera for shooting 360-degree videos.
However, it is designed strictly for professionals, as the price tag of $30,000 (around Rs. 20 lakhs) is not exactly pocket change. It’s easy to see why Facebook has to come up with a product like this, as it plans to go beyond games for its Oculus Rift VR headset. Then there’s Nokia’s Ozo camera, once again designed for professional videographers. Devices like these should give you the best 360-degree video experience, but the type of content to come out of them would be limited, not to mention you’ll have to pay a premium for it. Over time, production costs would come down to make this content more accessible, but you won’t see such cameras making it into the hands of consumers even in the distant future, if at all.
Creating and sharing 360-degree content has its challenges, and so does consuming that content.
Lots of video content is best enjoyed with other people. Whether it’s watching a movie, TV show at home or in the cinema, it’s nice to have people with you to share the experience. 360 video, on the other hand, is best experienced with a VR headset, which unfortunately removes the social element as it isolates you from everyone else in the room. You can watch the same video on a tablet or your PC with a compatible player, but then you have to keep moving with your finger or mouse to see what’s happening in the other frame. It’s pretty cool the first few times you try this with demo videos, but how long can you keep doing it? After a while, the novelty will fade.
Gaming, on the other hand, is the perfect platform for a 360-degree experience, as it’s more of a one-person activity. That’s why Sony’s PlayStation VR seems poised to have a much better leg up on HTC’s Vive and Oculus Rift, simply because so many of us already have the platform. delivery (the PlayStation 4) unlike the other two, which require you to build a fairly expensive PC to run. Again it will be games that drive VR in the early stages and possibly later as well, while video will most likely be a nice addition to have but not the reason you buy a VR headset. .
It’s fun while it lasts
360-degree video is trending because it’s the fastest way to get people to embrace virtual reality, but it’s something that won’t last. There will surely be specialized use cases for 360-degree video, but to say it will go mainstream is a bit of an overstatement. VR content will continue to focus on games and other interactive applications because that’s the most logical choice. However, video will most likely take a back seat as it is not easy to create video content for this medium.
Most 3D movies so far do a poor job of presenting a headache-free 3D experience and most of them are just an afterthought because that’s what is expected of movies nowadays. Filming in 3D is hard enough, imagine what the challenges of filming for 360 degree video will be like, let alone editing a feature film for a 360 degree experience.
New technologies cannot be imposed on video just for fun. We’ve seen this happen with 3D and what good was it? The only reason people watch 3D movies today is that it’s rarely possible to go for the 2D version. And when was the last time you watched a 3D movie at home, other than the ones that came on the demo disc? 360-degree video could suffer the same fate as 3D, but faster.