360° Projection 101 – A Guide To Understanding Spherical Videos & Dome Projection

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Ever seen the Eiffel Tower and wondered what it would be like to stand at the top? Ever thought about how the world would look to a fish swimming in the Pacific Ocean? But you don’t have a headset or access to a spatial portal to experience that for yourself? A 360° video can be a good starting point for getting an idea of what spatial reality is like, and a great solution for video producers and content creators looking to tell stories in more exciting and engaging ways that everyone can enjoy.

What are they?

360° videos are moving panoramas. Unlike standard recordings, where the flat pane of visuals projected at your eyes is all you get to see, these videos present you an entire spherical field of view’s worth of content to peruse.

Perhaps the most accessible high-immersive content format, you don’t even need any equipment other than your computer, phone or tablet to experience them. Many big content-sharing platforms including YouTube and Facebook now support the format, where you can look around the video with just the drag of a mouse or the swipe of a finger. All you need to do is get yourself comfortable, turn on your own device and you’re ready to take a little journey of a breathtaking new world…all from your own home!

How are they made?

360° video production is one of the most exciting and immersive ways to tell a story. It’s an extremely involved process, however, that can be time-consuming and difficult to produce. Here, we’re going to explain the process of how people make the magic happen.

The camera never lies…

…but it only tells the half truth.

You see, for a camera to snap 360° degrees worth of action, it would need to capture light hitting its focal point from all directions. A standard camera, however, has a limited field of view (usually less than a hemisphere’s worth). There are two main ways you could go about creating a 360° degree video fo your own:

Omnidirectional cameras

These cameras usually feature a pair (or multiple pairs) of fisheye lenses; these are ultra wide-angle, curvilinear lenses that project an entire 180-degree view onto a circular image. Relying on a single omnidirectional camera alone, however, does bring you a couple of limitations.

Because they use multiple lenses at once, omnidirectional cameras often come with built-in software that automatically stitches the recorded footage from all lenses together to form a single video. Sometimes, the software may stitch the footage together incorrectly, resulting in obtrusive unclean edges which ruin the panorama and can’t be edited out. Furthermore, because of the way fisheye lenses work, resulting footage often features a distortion not found with other camera types, so the resulting footage may look strange and unconvincing to your audience if you’re not careful.

Multi-camera rigs

Alternatively, you could use a setup of multiple cameras, each facing different directions. This offers you greater flexibility over your panoramic footage than omnidirectional cameras do; if you’d like to let your audience look up at the sky and down onto the ground in the 360° degree view, they can if you implement extra cameras facing the appropriate direction.

The resulting quality is often much higher than that of an omnidirectional camera due to using other lens types (and no automatic stitching!), but it’s more difficult and time-consuming to set up to perfection. You will also have to be mindful of where you position your cameras to ensure you have full coverage of the entire spherical field of view, and don’t capture anything that’ll give the game away such as your tripods or other cameras!

Stitching it all together

Using multiple cameras will obviously result in lots of footage to work with. To bring it all together into a seamless, interactive globe of video, you would need to stitch it all together. Specialist software exists for this purpose to make the process quicker and easier, such as Mistika VR or Video Stitch Studio. Alternatively, if your computer meets the required specifications, you could use standard video-editing software such as Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere Pro to bring it all together.

What can we use them for?

Below are just some examples of how you can make the most of the format to deliver your content and information.

Films and entertainment

Spherical film opens up multiple possibilities for storytelling and worldbuilding; the audience can feel even more immersed into the story than ever as they can look around the virtual world themselves.

National Geographic have also tried out the format for a series of online wildlife documentaries where you can have a good look around the observed animal’s natural habitats. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rG4jSz_2HDY

Tours and tourism

We understand where we are in the world by looking around us, not by looking straight ahead. That’s why it’s much easier to get an idea of a place when we can take a virtual tour or navigate a panorama. Think back to every time you’ve gone on Google Maps to look up an unfamiliar place. You still don’t quite understand where exactly you’d need to go, or you’re otherwise curious as to what the area looks like, so you drag that little orange guy onto the map to use Street View.

Many businesses in the tourism and hospitality sector have also taken advantage of panoramic 360° video to give potential customers a good idea of hotels, lodges, and travel destinations before they decide to book their stay.

This video here for example offers a virtual walkthrough of a 5-star hotel in China. Showcasing the hotel rooms and their facilities in their entirety, while also exhibiting the lobby, pool and the bustling city view window, this video gives the audience an excellent taster of what to expect at their stay.

Education

For some people, it may be difficult to learn and remember information if it is only presented in a two-dimensional manner such as a diagram or a wall of text in a book.

A great example of a film used for this purpose walks the audience through the structure and biology of a plant cell, as if taking them on a tour through the inside of the cell itself. Through 3D animation, narration and text labels, the audience can look around this virtual cell and develop a greater understanding of how it all works. It’s also a lot more interesting than an illustration on a poster!

The use of VR videos can also be helpful for conveying ideas that might be too abstract to explain with words or pictures alone. In 2016, the National Autistic Society launched a 360-degree short film, Too Much Information, which gives insight into how a person on the autism spectrum may perceive multiple sensory stimuli at once and become overwhelmed.

DISCLAIMER: This video contains sudden loud noises, flashing imagery and bright lights that some viewers may find disturbing or disorienting. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgDR_gYk_a8

Limitations

Ultimately, a 360° video is still a video recording and not a full-fledged virtual reality application, so it will inevitably come with its restrictions.

Firstly, the only thing interactive about the medium is the angle at which you can view the action. Because everything is prerecorded, you can’t interact with any of the objects in front of you, nor can you control any of the events in the film.

Moving pictures where you can’t move

While a 360° video recording is captured from every angle, these all converge at a particular focal point. This means you can’t really walk around at your own accord. (unlike Google Maps which is made up of multiple panoramic photos, with a handful in each street!)

Theoretically, 360° degree videos can have a shifting focal point, simulating the effect of movement. However, we tend to see this more in animated films, where it’s much more feasible to implement than in a live action setting!

In 2016, Discovery released a rather ambitious 360° video on their YouTube, capturing a drone hovering at different elevations and eventually travelling 90,000 feet into the stratosphere. Note, however, the artifacts and warbling effects resulting from motion discrepancies in the lenses.

Sensory immersion

While we can develop touch and motion feedback devices within higher-tech virtual reality applications, we can’t let anyone feel a video (yet).

That is not to say that 360° videos aren’t engaging though! In fact, according to VR advertising platform Omnivirt, 360 videos often have a higher click rate and retention rate than their two-dimensional counterparts. You can more than compensate for the limitations, by putting even more effort and dedication into making sure your visuals and soundtrack are as captivating and convincing as they can be. Not even the sky’s the limit with this medium; take your virtual world outer space and beyond!

We also recommend taking a look at our article on binaural audio recording, a technique that can really make your soundscape pop, and pull your audience even deeper into your virtual world.

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