What LG & Samsung’s 360 camera announcements mean for the future of 360 video

As one of the co-founders of Pie, I’m excited about what the announcement of the Samsung Gear 360 and the LG 360 Cam will mean for the future of 360 video.

Samsung Gear 360 Cam (left) being controlled by Samsung S7 (right).

While there are already some great 360 cameras out there (my favorites are the Ricoh Theta S and for a higher-end option the Insta360), the LG and Samsung could be a leap forward for two reasons. First, since they’re made by phone companies, both should make the stitching process painless and mobile-based. Capturing a 360 video and uploading it to Facebook, YouTube or Pie is going to feel as natural as sticking a filter on a selfie and posting it to Instagram.

LG 360 Cam and mobile app on the LG G5.

Secondly, the advertised resolution of the Gear 360 is 3840x1920 — that’s twice as good as the Ricoh Theta ($350). If Gear 360 hits anywhere near the same price point (not yet announced), that’s a game-changer.

And there’s certainly a strong hypothesis about the future direction of VR at the core of LG and Samsung’s decision: mainstream adoption of VR won’t happen until there’s mainstream creation for VR. In other words, it looks a lot like LG and Samsung think that their 360 cameras are the missing piece of the puzzle that will drive VR adoption beyond gaming — and help to sell their consumer-priced VR headsets.

“Synergy”: the Samsung Gear 360 will be able to produce 360 videos that can be viewed on the Samsung Gear VR.

And I think they’re right. During my time at Pie, I’ve found that the experience of watching short, compelling videos created by people one feels an emotional connection to — whether that’s friends and family through Facebook 360 videos, or 360 vloggers on Pie — is how the power of immersive video really becomes obvious for most people.

And yet, for those who see 360 as analogous to the birth of television it still might seem like an odd decision for Samsung and LG to take such big bets on user-generated 360 content. When the TV was invented it wasn’t like television manufacturers were waiting for everyone to have their own cable shows.

So why are the big guns making big bets that 360 video’s takeoff is dependent on the democratization of VR creation?

Right now there just aren’t enough people creating high-end VR & 360 video content to turn VR viewing into an everyday viewing experience. UGC is necessary. By empowering everyday users and amateurs to create their own 360 stories with the click of a button, Samsung and LG are widening the potential talent pool and making a bet that non-professionals equipped with the right 360 recording devices will be capable of creating videos and experiences that other people will love.

It’s something we’ve been betting on at Pie since Day 1.

Unleashing the power of UGC in the 360 video world is going to lead to a lot of (much needed) experimentation and freedom. Until very recently, capturing any sort of 360 video at a decent quality was a lengthy process that required a lot of planning and not a lot of spontaneity. Rigs had to be set up, videos had to be stitched together using powerful but technically demanding software, and everyone on set had to stick to the plan. All of that is about to change. We’re going to see Samsung Gear 360 cams being passed around at bar mitzvahs, and LG 360 Cams held above the crowds at sold-out sporting and entertainment events. The number of total hours of captured 360 footage is about to explode and, with it, some super-creators are going to emerge and make VR headsets worth buying for those who want an even more immersive experience.

That’s why we’re building Pie — to be a place for this new medium to flourish, for early adopters to get to know each other, and for people all around the world to discover what’s happening in the world and experience it instantly in 360. Every morning I’m fascinated by the incredible videos that the first people using consumer-priced 360 cameras are creating.

Samsung and LG both have good reasons to want 360 cameras to go mainstream. They’re both banking on VR headsets that have considerably less computing power than the higher end VR headsets like the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift. Neither the Samsung nor LG will be capable of powering the blockbuster games that will sell Rifts and Vives. In other words, LG and Samsung are going to have to carve out a market for non-gaming-focused VR devices and they’re betting on user-generated 360 videos to take them there.

This year is sure to be full of ups and downs as user-generated 360 video begins to find its feet, but I’m going to enjoy watching from the front-lines as the first Samsung Gear 360 and LG 360 Cam videos make their way onto Pie.