Why VR180 is a solution in search of a problem…

So — for all of us in what I affectionately refer to as the Frameless media industry (VR/AR/MR/XR — pretty much any R) — Google announced something interesting today.

Why yes — it’s VR180

No thanks Google.

And lemme just say that I think it’s a pretty dumb idea — but perhaps not for the reasons you might expect.

I should clarify that I know full what the technical logic behind this announcement is (namely the following three things: double effective resolution, heatmap data indicates that people tend to look towards the front when watching 360 videos, easier to shoot) it’s a textbook example of Google demonstrating utter failure to understand humans — and only looking at the data in a vacuum.

This is something engineers can end up doing on a regular basis — but it’s rare that it happens so acutely without getting caught by a product/UX person somewhere along the way.

To be clear — I would be the first to point out that viewers look beyond 180 very rarely… (in talks I would say 180 is for content but 360 is for context) — I have both written and talked about this before.

So let me just list a few things that seem moronic about the current thinking/implementation.

(a tiny aside — VR180 doesn’t currently work in Chrome or in Native Android YouTube (apart from in Cardboard mode). It presumably should work in Magic Window given that 95% percent of views will be that way — but I’ll assume that’s a bug for now)

1. The conceit that this will be done in headsets (Daydream or otherwise) — just seems flat out daft.

You don’t simultaneously give viewers freedom to move AND restrict their movement. It’s like putting a dog on a leash AND throwing it a frisbee at the same time.

Or if you want a more human example — yes it is true that you pay attention to things in front of you. Pretty much always. Because duh, our eyes point forwards.

But if you were (in real life) to find yourself in a room where you only see HALF the room because the back half is empty space it would freak you the fuck out.

In other words — Google FFS — you control people’s attention with story — not with blinders. Humans are not horses.

If you applied VR180 to interior design you would put no paint on half your house because, you know, data indicates you don’t look there very often so why bother having anything there.

2. And guess what — you do move your head, say plus/minus 30 degrees quite a lot. At the maximum end of 30 degrees (to the left for example) you will see 30 degrees of black within your 180 degree field of view.

That is distracting — to say the least.

3. VR240 would arguably be much more acceptable here — again if the aim is to make the viewer feel like they are actually immersed in the scene.

4. Audio. One of the unique and amazing components of stories in 360/VR is spatial audio, since as many have pointed out, myself included — even though our eyes see 180, our ears hear 360.

VR180 audio is gonna be interesting. A spatial mix only forwards…or just stereo??

Of course a cynic would argue that “who cares about spatial audio because 99 percent of people are not using headphones” thereby negating the mix…but that’s a different debate…I happen to think spatial audio is an incredibly powerful tool for orientation cues, and immersion…and we ignore it at our peril

5. Ultimately if the aim is just to have an artifically large screen/frame then woo-hoo Google — congratulations you’ve done it. But, as Inigo Montoya once famously and repeatedly said

I do no think this means what you think it means.

My suggestion for the solution — is of course — better, more compelling content in 360 — made by people who understand pace, emotion, character, story and, equally importantly UX.