What the hell is 180VR?

Without a doubt, 360VR is the shiny gem into which investors have been pouring jaw-dropping amounts of money, time and effort over the last year and a half. Luckily for us visual storytellers, this presents a new creative medium with which to experiment.

But very few people are talking about 360VR’s lesser-known cousin, 180VR.

Some might ask: Why should we be? Isn’t the point of virtual reality to look all around you in 360 degrees? Why on Earth would we cut off half the fun?

I’m here to argue why this little-discussed facet of VR should be getting more recognition, the main reason being because 180 VR can often actually increase a storyteller’s power.

Firstly, definitions:

VR is what’s in those pictures you see of headset-wearing, walking-into-poles techies who completely miss the fact that Mark Zuckerberg just walked right past them.

HMDs (techie translation: Head-Mounted Displays) consume your field-of-view with whatever entertainment you are watching. They immerse you in a virtual world, one in which the things in front of you are not real.

This concept of VR goes really well with 360º video. However, 360º video can be viewed on many other platforms independent of fancy (or unfancy) HMDs. Facebook just released their 360 viewing capabilities, and YouTube lets you watch spherical videos with or without their Google Cardboard headsets. So 360º video is merely moving-images captured in a full (or usually close-to-full) sphere of space. It’s the nature of capture (in 360 degrees), not necessarily the way audiences view it.

180º video, then, is just a different method of recording. As its name suggests, it records half of the full spherical environment. The camera rig will most likely be different because you don’t need half of the environment to be seen, and shooting can consequently be easier.

This leads us to our first point about how 180VR can increase a storyteller’s power:

Less to worry about

Anyone who’s filmed anything knows there’s a lot to think about on set. When capturing 360º video, aspects of production like set design and lighting are compounded when you have to consider viewers are watching your piece in a bigger viewing environment. With 180º video, you have less to worry about on set when crafting choices for your story. And usually when a storyteller is less distracted, the story turns out better.

Morever, not every storyteller is meant to conceive in 360. The fact that immersion can happen in 180 is amazing, and embracing it may open the door even further for VR storytellers.

Depending on the scene, guiding attention might be more effective in 180º

As mentioned in our previous blog post, motion and sound cues are very important for guiding attention in 360VR storytelling. They’re still important in 180VR, but less so. Since viewers don’t have as much to look around for in a 180º environment, this kind of VR experience works much more like a traditional film. Unlike 360VR, in which the frame is delimited, 180VR just expands the frame.

Conventional visual storytelling tools like consistent screen direction or three-point lighting can be appropriated in slightly different ways for a wider field-of-view. Such conventional tools were developed over the years of filmmaking history to better match the visual attention spans of audience members. When a viewer’s head is more-or-less locked into place for the viewing experience, the number of variables in the story’s telling skydives toward simplicity. When there are fewer options for viewers to attend to, the story is automatically more guided towards what’s directly in front of VR viewers, specifically the 180º scene in front of them. With 180VR, viewers don’t need fancy chairs that swivel, or rock, or move at all for that matter…which now leads us to my last point.

Right now, with VR viewing technology where it’s at, 180VR is a less cumbersome viewing experience for home users.

Film took some getting used to for theatergoers of the early 20th century. Viewing conventions have developed in such a way that we’re now capable and even comfortable viewing cinematic experiences at home. At first, according to popular legend, early filmgoers ran from the theater when a train started “coming at them.” While watching the Lumiére Brothers’ slice-of-life experiment of a train arriving at a station, the shock of the experience surely turned certain people off from the new medium. If audience members are turned off from the medium, or especially if they leave the damn room, your story is not communicated. Even if they stick around, though, a comfortable viewing experience minimizes distractions, particularly for uncontrolled home viewing, and allows viewers to better experience the story you are telling. A story is not just told; it is received, as well. (If a story is told in a forest with no one around to hear it, does it make an impact?)

The arrival of a train

Since VR viewing chairs are by no means mainstream, and not everyone even has a swivel chair that makes turning around and looking behind you easy, it is crucial to cater certain stories to the masses that don’t want to work too hard to look behind them all the time.

So if you want to tell your beautiful virtual reality tale more easily, with greater effectiveness, and a more reliable home audience, you should take a beat before jumping into 360. Consider the power of 180 VR.

Visionary Russian art filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky said,

Any excitement over a subject must be sublimated into an Olympian calm of form.

We can get very jazzed about looking around a 360º space in our cool, new HMDs, but if we truly wish to concentrate our efforts, our formal approach should be calmly assessed as to what kind of stories will really bring about the VR revolution.

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By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.