The YouTube of virtual reality will bring virtual reality to the general public
Virtual reality (VR) technology is going to get a serious boost in 2016 with the proposed commercial availability of several instrumental devices. HTC’s Vive headset is set for an April release, Sony’s PlayStation VR is set to debut next year, Facebook-owned Oculus Rift will ship in Q1, and Samsung has already released its Gear VR in the US. United, who could visit India sometime next year as well.
While this is very exciting to read, if you follow the tech industry, you’ll likely feel a strong sense of deja vu. Do you remember when 3D TVs were just entering the market? The technology promised an “immersive” experience that you could enjoy while wearing a headgear. Sound familiar? Only this time, that headgear will cost a pretty penny and won’t be as comfortable as putting on a pair of glasses. However, what really killed the 3D fad wasn’t the technology or the cost, but the inability for an average user to create their own 3D content. That meant there wasn’t much to see in 3D except for a handful of movies and a few games. Virtual reality could suffer the same fate unless 360-degree video creation gets cheap and into the hands of every consumer quickly.
Make 360 videos
The biggest bottleneck is the lack of devices you can use to create content; there are only a few, and they’re not exactly easy on the pocket. Last month, Ricoh launched the Theta S 360-degree camera at Rs. 39,995, which lets you capture 360-degree photos and videos at the touch of a button. While this is expensive for most people, it’s also a great example of the type of devices that would drive the widespread adoption of VR.
Besides the big players, smaller companies and Kickstarter projects are vying to be the next Pebble of the 360 video world. Bublcam is one such project that started shipping its 360 degree camera this month to everyone who pre-ordered it. The V.360 is another similar camera that is IP68 rated and rocks a Snapdragon 800 for processing high resolution HD video and photos. Nokia also announced a VR camera, the Ozo, which looks interesting at this point.
But the second barrier to VR adoption is the lack of a standardized format for 360-degree videos. Currently, most captured 360 videos usually require you to download the company’s own app in order to view them. This means that if you want to share the video with friends, they will not be able to view it properly unless they also download the app. Now imagine if your friends or family members have devices from different companies; it’s a whole bunch of useless apps installed on your phone or PC just to see the occasional video or image.
Streaming Virtual Worlds
You can circumvent this to some extent by uploading it to online platforms like YouTube 360, Google Street View or Facebook. Even with something as simple as Google Cardboard, you can look around while playing a 360-degree video, taking you to the bottom of the sea where you can turn around to see sharks swimming nearby. And even without fancy equipment, just using a regular Android phone, you can take photospheres using Google Camera or 360-degree panoramas using Cardboard Camera.
One problem, which will improve over time, is that streaming such media can take up to four to five times more bandwidth than standard video. Video quality is another area that needs improvement. A dual fisheye camera setup like on the Ricoh Theta 360 may not give you the same quality of footage as, say, five GoPros on a custom 360 mount. The latter will require stitching the photos together later and will never offer button-press simplicity, but it’s the trade-off you’re currently making for quality.
Despite this concern, 360 degree videos are incredibly fun and once you experience them, you can’t help but want to make more. Right now, YouTube and Facebook feature a variety of 360-degree content from major publishers like Discovery, GoPro, and NBC’s Saturday Night Live. We can expect major networks and movie studios to join the race next year as well. Once the material becomes available, it wouldn’t be unlikely that more people would start creating content for these platforms.
But while Facebook and YouTube are currently your best bet for experiencing 360-degree videos, they’re not the most immersive – you can’t walk around the virtual world, lean or lean – you can only look around. a captive point of view.
The thing is, today’s platforms aren’t meant to be the future of 360-degree video, but rather a preview of the next level of entertainment, and that just happens to be virtual reality. You can’t just expect the average user to spend a huge amount of money on technology that’s still in its early stages of maturity, which is why I think VR headsets won’t take off next year, but at least there’ll be enough on the market to make things competitive.
In the meantime, devices capable of capturing 360-degree images will have time to get better and cheaper. There will still be plenty of incentive to choose one as two of the biggest video sharing platforms support this format so it won’t just be you shooting and viewing 360 content all by yourself or just the people around you.
Virtual reality is still far from mainstream, but 360-degree videos can pick up speed very quickly, thanks to the push of major video-sharing platforms. If manufacturers can get affordable devices for shooting 360-degree video into the hands of consumers soon enough, it won’t take much convincing to make virtual reality mainstream, in the same way that digital video creation once took off. that YouTube has made it extremely simple to consume as well as create.
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