So, if you’ve made it this far into this guidebook, you will have by now hopefully gained a better understanding of what 360 video is, how it’s produced and the different ways it can be employed to tell amazing stories. And hopefully you’ve picked up enough of our suggestions and ideas to help get you started.
But learning to shoot 360 video is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of virtual reality and immersive video experiences. If you’re interested in pursuing this technology further, there is so much more to explore and experiment with — more than this introductory guidebook can cover. In this chapter, we’ll offer some recommendations for next steps and additional resources, should you want to go deeper down this particular rabbit hole.
How can I make my content more immersive?
As we’ve discussed a few times in this book, 360 video is not technically virtual reality and is a much more limited experience. While what constitutes true virtual reality is hard to define, most media critics and producers would agree that the more realistic the virtual environment is and the more freedom to move and agency the user has, the more immersive the experience is. And in order to do that, one must look to the next stage, which is making your content more three-dimensional and interactive.
As you may recall, most consumer-facing 360 cameras shoot monoscopic video, which can be fantastic to look at but does not have any depth. Stereoscopic 360 footage, when viewed through a headset, can trick our eyes and brain into perceiving depth, which adds to the realism of the experience and is something that helps you take your content into the realm of being considered more truly virtual reality. We have a few suggestions to offer in terms of cameras that shoot 3D video, which represents the next level of 360 camera gear (and their much higher prices reflect this).
Stereoscopic cameras, in general, tend to be more expensive than their monoscopic counterparts. A relatively affordable way to get a stereoscopic camera is to check out the Insta360 EVO, which captures 360 video but also can record 3D at 180 degrees. Our research team has generally had great experiences with the equipment made by this company and believe they have emerged as a key industry leader in terms of both VR filmmaking hardware and software. One thing this company does really well is offer a strong product for nearly every consumer price point.
While you wouldn’t get the full spherical experience in 3D with this device, there’s a lot of interesting and engaging content you could create with 180 degrees field of vision. And for around $550, you’ll have a versatile 360 camera that’s pretty feature-packed for its price.
For around $800, another option is the Vuze VR camera, which is one of the more affordable 360 3D cameras on the market. They’re fairly portable and come in a variety of cool colours. But one of the reasons why it’s more affordable is that the resolution tops out at 4K/30FPS in 3D mode. For most projects, this should work fine, but this resolution falls a bit short of the professional-level.
Speaking of professional-level 3D cameras, there are several strong options. The Insta360 Pro series represents one of the company’s top lines and is aimed at advanced filmmakers and videographers. As of the writing of this guidebook, there are two models: The Pro I (approximately $4,500) and the Pro II (approximately $6,500). Both cameras are able to shoot stereoscopic 3D footage, with the Pro II offering higher resolution (8K compared to 6K) in 3D mode, as well as some improvements in controls and monitoring. (Editor’s note: Insta360 also sells inspiring sounding “Titan” for $20,000, which records 10K 3D footage and 11K HD, which is gobsmacking for a unibody camera and puts this in the realm of equipment specifically for studio-backed films or corporate projects).
KanDao is another 360 camera brand we have had great experiences with and their Obsidian series has an enthusiastic following. The S and R (each are in the ballpark of $7,000) models offer 6K and 8K 3D video resolution respectively. But these cameras are particularly popular among content producers because they have the ability to produce depth maps directly into its native editing software, KanDao Studio. Depth maps are used to set distance in your video – in essence, this will allow you to actually “walk” through your content and have 6DoF experiences:
And what if you can’t quite afford a camera on this level, but want to create 3D video and/or 6DoF experiences? Well, if you have a monoscopic 360 camera, there are some options.
Programs like Matterport and Cupix are interesting and versatile platforms that quickly and easily convert your 360 2D photos into 3D content. It’s not a completely accurate 3D video because the program buildings a 3D model from a series of 2D stills, but it looks awesome and can be extremely useful in the right situation. Interest and use of these tools have been especially driven by real estate agents wanting to show ultra-realistic virtual tours to prospective clients, while needing a more affordable and mobile alternative to 3D scanning. There are a variety of pricing options as well, including a free plan that lets you create one 3D scan for no charge. Be aware though, Matterport supports a select number of 360 camera types, so double check yours is compatible (Cupix appears to be able to support most models). And while the potential creative applications for this kind of technology is intriguing, at this point, the results tend to favour showcasing environments without movement or characters since it relies on image sets and not actual video.
6DoF interaction and adding multimedia enhancements
For individuals interested in building actual 6DoF experiences with their video and would welcome the opportunity to learn more coding and design skills, the next step would be to look into gaming development engines. A gaming engine can help you compile your 360 assets into a 3D environment that can be viewed stereoscopically on a headset. You can also use these platforms to add interactive elements and gameplay to your project.
The two most popular game development platforms are Unity and Unreal Engine, which basically allow people to create their own 3D video games and immersive experiences. There are numerous tutorials online about how to get started. Both platforms are powerful, versatile and free to use, with extensive resources and online communities backing them. In general, Unity is often favoured as a program that is more accessible and beginner friendly, while Unreal is considered more of a high fidelity powerhouse and perhaps better utilized by more experienced developers. It may seem overwhelming to get started at first, but try your hand at both platforms. You may find this will really open up all sorts of creative doors for your 360 video ideas.
If you’re not up for figuring out game development, but still wish to add more interactivity to your 360 videos, there are a few other options (with more developing all the time):
- ThingLink is an online tool that allows you to easily add hotspots, embedded content and other multimedia to 360 videos. There are various pricing options, including a more limited free version, but a professional subscription will run you about $25 a month.
- Adobe Captivate is a relatively new tool launched by the digital publishing software giant. The program essentially allows you to upload 360 images and video and then easily add customizable overlay content, such as blurbs, audio or quizzes. It also offers live device preview, so you can test your content on a VR headset in real-time. Although primarily aimed at educators, the tool does offer unique potential for content producers of all kinds and it’s fairly straightforward to use, with no coding experience necessary. It’s definitely an investment, however, with a full retail price tag of about $1,500 CAD (if you’re a student or educator, it costs about a third as much). And while this tool can help make your 360 content a bit more interactive, it won’t turn your monoscopic video in a 3D environment.
- Liquid Cinema is an exciting new VR authoring platform that allows you to add interesting features, including gaze-controlled events, picture-in-picture, hot spots, branched video, forced perspective and titles, quickly and easily. You basically upload your 360 video to its platform and then all the interactive elements are added and updated through their cloud-based system, which eliminates the need for you to render a new video. A non-enterprise subscription license costs about $65 a month.
We also highly recommend the following blogs and YouTube accounts to keep on top of 360/VR video trends, tools and techniques:
- Ben Claremont (YouTube vlogger, photographer and videographer specializing in 360 content. Offers fantastic tutorials on shooting and editing.)
- The 360 Guy (Lots of excellent camera reviews and 360 video tours)
- Immersive Shooter (Comprehensive blog filled with useful tips and industry news)
How will 360/VR storytelling continue to evolve?
We’re only just starting to see what is possible with this technology from a storytelling aspect, especially as other technologies, such as widely available 5G wireless networks, exponentially increase the capacity to push things forward. Journalist Sarah Lashkmi believes that “VR is the first step into spatial storytelling — so I could also see VR as the beginning of stories moving into augmented reality, as well as volumetric video and location-based interactives. Once these kinds of stories become easier to create and produce, and combined with 5G connectivity, they will be easier to share and more people will have access.”
Contraverse co-founder Josh Gonsalves agrees that volumetric video will play a major role in the next generation of immersive video, especially as production costs come down. “On the technology advancement side, there’s going to be opportunities with tracking. If you stack two KanDao Obsidian cameras together, you can create depth and space, not just 360. With that, you’re not just creating 360 video anymore, you’re creating a 360 environment.”
When it comes to journalism and documentary storytelling, Gonsalves says the next generation of 360 videos could be so realistic and immersive that the experience of watching them could feel more like tapping into a memory rather than viewing a video.
“If you view 360 videos, you do experience it as a memory as if you were there. You recall it as if you were in the savanna. For you as the viewer, it’s a very singular thing, you watch a giraffe on the screen in front of us. You can view it as ‘I was in the savanna.’ That’s real visceral sense. We’re already seeing that now, but as more and more people start jumping into that space, you’ll see more unique pieces around that.”
360 visual artists Jonathan Qu and Kevin Li also concur that immersive video will continue to become more realistic and the opportunities (and challenges) will be developing new experiences to maximize this.
“[Video] games are going to have a heyday. VR is really going to shine with games, and it’s going to mesh with reality. In 360 storytelling, we’ll be focusing on how to tell the story — does the audience need to be in the story themselves, or are they a third party character? How will audiences interact with the experiences? If we look at different mediums, we look at what’s popular and what works. Anything that’s narrative driven, so far, we found has fallen flat. However, being on the water, being around sharks, experiencing driving — those experiences work beautifully. Journalism will fall between narrative and experience.”
So, dear reader, our final suggestion to you is to, in addition to developing and experimenting with new shooting and editing techniques, also continue expanding your storytelling ideas. Be bold! Try new approaches when it comes to narrative or perspectives. In this spirit, you may find that breaking the “rules” of 360 storytelling could lead to all sorts of exciting possibilities.
- 3D video is the next step you can take to create more immersive and realistic 360 experiences. And the good news is that more and more camera companies are building 3D/volumetric capabilities into their devices.
- Most of the examples we have covered in this guidebook are 3DoF 360 experiences; learning to create 6DoF environments using programs like Unity or Unreal will unlock all kinds of storytelling potential.
- Technological advancements, like 5G coverage, could lead to a slew of amazing developments for 360/VR and make the production and sharing process easier and more affordable than ever. We encourage you to keep experimenting with different approaches and ideas for 360 storytelling!