Introduction to 360-degree video and virtual reality
360-degree video (360) and virtual reality (VR) are hot topics – but what are they and how do they work? Learn why 360 and VR are changing how video is watched and produced.
360-degree video and virtual reality: a new landscape
You’ve probably heard of or seen a new type of video that offers viewers the opportunity to explore a video in 360 degrees with their mouse or mobile device. They can even put a headset on and look around in all directions. This medium is called spherical video and two popular categories are "360-degree video" (360) and "virtual reality" (VR).
360 and VR were created to allow viewers to interact with and experience the content, instead of just sitting back and watching. They offer an immersive view that lets each person choose where to look. Both 360 and VR are shot using cameras that record in all 360 degrees. The main difference between them is whether or not the viewer wears a headset. While this technology can definitely wow an audience, remember that it’s in its infancy and evolving fast. The information found here is just a guide and not meant to be concrete rules for where and how to use 360 and VR – that part is up to you!
To watch 360-degree video (360) on YouTube, a headset is not required – all you need is a mobile device or desktop computer. Instead of putting on a headset, you can explore the video in all directions with a few simple moves. On desktop, you can click and drag with a mouse or click the arrows in the top left-hand corner of the screen. On a mobile device, you can drag your finger across the screen or move it around in different directions. (While 360-degree video doesn’t require a viewing accessory, you can watch with an accessory like Google cardboard.) The screen is monoscopic because there is only one set of images displayed.
Watching virtual reality (VR) can make you feel present in the action of the scene because you must cover your entire field of vision with a viewing device like a headset, or head-mounted display (HMD). When you look into a head-mounted display, the screen is split, so that each eye sees a slightly different perspective, just like in real life. This perspective gives a sense of stereoscopic depth that you won’t get in 360-degree video alone. It’s the key element that distinguishes virtual reality from 360 and other types of video.
By nature, all virtual reality videos are shot in a way that lets you see 360 degrees around you. However, because a headset or viewing device is required for virtual reality and not required for 360, 360-degree video cannot always be categorised as VR.
The future of video is upon us – diverting from traditional ways of shooting and watching to innovative production and experiential videos. We’re just at the beginning and YouTube is excited to be a platform that supports and encourages the evolution of creators utilising these new technologies to bring their creative visions to life and share them with the world. Don’t worry if a fancy head-mounted display seems out of reach, affordable VR viewer options, like Google Cardboard, are now available globally.
See it in action
Rollercoaster ride in 360 degreesTry interacting with this video from your desktop by clicking with a mouse, or, on mobile by pressing play and rotating your phone in different directions.
From YouTube, you can click and view from monoscopic to stereoscopicStereoscopic is used for VR video when you put on a headset, whereas, a monoscopic view allows you to watch 360-degree video without a headset.
Popular types of 360-degree and virtual reality video
360 and VR are powerful mediums for video because they allow the audience to not just watch, but experience the content. Here are several categories where experimental creators are pioneering these techniques to evoke emotion and offer viewers a new perspective on video:
Documentary: 360 and VR video has been incredibly effective in documentary filmmaking because the audience is no longer just a spectator but invited to take look around. It’s effective because it can spark empathy by conveying the true realities and struggles of others. For example, in "Seeking Home", viewers are pulled into the landscape of the Calais Migrant Camp. Additionally, this production style can invite viewers into places where they otherwise might not be allowed, like North Korea.
Action sports: 360 and VR videos often shine brightest when there’s a lot of visual spectacle, and there’s nothing like sports and action to provide that.
Music videos: Music videos have always been on the forefront of experimental filmmaking, so it’s no surprise that directors have embraced 360 and VR. Now, viewers can do more than just bob their head along with their favourite song.
What does the future hold? There’s endless potential for the types of videos that can be effective in 360 or VR. Keep an eye out for new videos popping up in all genres as creators, like you, infuse style, creativity and structure to spherical video.
See it in action
Documentary-style virtual realityA 360 view of the children’s surroundings makes this story even more powerful.
The future of education?Spherical video has the potential to transform educational videos into interactive learning tools. Try clicking around with your mouse or tilting your phone to see the whole sky.
Is shooting in 360-degrees right for you?
Now that you’ve seen some of the popular types of videos that are being shot in 360 degrees, it’s time to decide whether this format will work for you! While the technology is really exciting, it’s important to weigh the intended viewing experience with production requirements to justify whether or not to try out shooting in 360 degrees.
Remember, the audience is essentially dropped into a scene, so it’s critical to negotiate how they will fit and what you can do to keep them engaged while you're telling your story. It’s no longer just someone watching; instead you must design every detail of an individual’s experience. Spherical video requires a lot of prep and it’s not for everyone. But the work coming out of it is changing the video industry and making experiences that move viewers and get them to take action.
Try asking these questions when deciding whether to use VR and 360-degree video:
- Would a 360-degree perspective give your viewers an experience – physical or emotional – that they otherwise couldn’t have? The most effective 360-degree videos are the ones where the technology plays a central role in making it enjoyable to watch. So would this enhance the topic of your video, or just be a visual gimmick?
- Will you be recording in a rich environment with interesting things for a viewer to see? Or are there just some blank walls and your laundry basket?
- Do you want your viewers to look around? Or would you rather their attention be fixed on something? Sometimes 360-degree videos can actually make people less observant because they have so many options. If you want to focus a viewer’s attention and guide what they see, 360 video may not be the best choice. Or, try using a narrative voice or character to direct attention.