Dissecting a Digital Memory of Manhattan

In this essay, we’ll be looking at a digital memory someone made of their trip to New York City, and examine some of the things that work really well for digital memory creation, and one or two things that don’t work well at all.

Here’s the video we’ll be looking at:

If you don’t have an HMD (Head Mounted Display — either an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive) that you can watch this on, this video will not seem like a digital memory at all, but rather a gimmicky 2-dimensional video, and you may wonder what the fuss is about. The difference is that when viewing this same video in a modern VR rig, you suddenly feel as though you’re right there thanks to the power of Virtual Reality Presence.

See my previous essay on why I feel properly created 360 degree videos are digital memories. In that essay you can also see how to go about viewing videos like this within the HTC Vive or Oculus Rift.

During my analysis of the digital memory we’re discussing, I watched the entire thing without sound so that I could focus on the different elements of the video. I picked this particular memory because it is relatively short, is quite diverse in how it is put together, and it mostly takes place in a very interesting environment. Throughout the video we can see multiple things that make digital memories so compelling.

The first segment of the video is filmed atop a building in Manhattan offering excellent views of the Empire State building as well as other familiar landmarks. The first thing I noticed while watching this in VR is that if you pause the memory, you can still look around and take in the entire view. Since this memory is created in 4k resolution, the still views look quite nice.

After 22 seconds, the view shifts and the viewpoint is now suspended high above the ground over the railing atop the same building. The camera is mounted on a selfie-stick and this gives the overall feeling of levitating above the city streets.

High above the ground

Next the video shifts into a crowded even of some sort, and the camera is back on a tripod in the middle of the action. Many people are milling about, and since there’s a lot of action up close to the camera, it’s quite easy to see the seams where the video has been stitched together. In the future, better stitching technology should be able to reduce or eliminate this effect entirely.

Stitched Together

Next, we move into a small restaurant in Manhattan. Looking around, we can take in the entire restaurant in pretty remarkable detail. The camera is again on a tripod, so the scene is quite stable and pleasant. Years from now, the creator of the video can look back and recall this meal in much higher detail than he could if he hadn’t taken any photos, or only still images, or even if he had taken 2D video.

Inside a restaurant

In the next scene, though, we see an example of what we probably shouldn’t do in digital memories — walk about with the camera on a selfie-stick. The bouncing of the camera at the end of the stick is quite jarring and could probably give some viewers motion sickness. That said, pausing the memory still gives a really nice view of the area, and, like actual memories, we can skip forward past the unpleasant parts.

On a selfie-stick walking through a park

Then we hail a cab. The camera is back on a steady tripod, and we have an interesting view of a street in the city. We’re next to an interesting multi-level compact parking lot, and get to watch the memory creator hail a cab.

Hailing a cab

Now we’re inside the taxi. This bit of the video isn’t particularly interesting, but you can look up and through the sunroof of the cab, and you can also get a pretty good look at the taxi’s dashboard. The camera here is on a selfie-stick, but since the creator isn’t walking, there’s no discomfort.

Inside a cab

After a short return to the top of the original building, we end up somewhere outside of NYC at a beach, during very windy weather at what looks like the prelude to a storm. This particular sequence is very interesting, because, thanks to Presence, the feeling of nearly getting soaked by a wave is visceral. I think if the camera had lingered here for a while without narration, it would make an excellent memory to relive later. More on that below.

At the beach

In the final scene, we arrive inside someone’s house or apartment with the camera mounted on a tripod. This scene is interesting due to its intimacy. We get a view into the life of someone we’ve never met and get a look into their private residence. From where the camera is, we can tell dinner was recently finished, and we can see the entire dining room and most of the kitchen.

We’re in someone’s house

This particular video wasn’t created with the intention of preserving a digital memory, but it serves as one nevertheless. The creator of the video is a vlogger and he shares a lot of his personal life with his viewers, and this video is no exception. The primary difference between a video like this and what I might consider more of an intentional digital memory would be to allow the camera to record without narration. Linger on the vibrant city. Linger on the views. Linger at the beach. Simply record your relative playing his recorder.

But, as I said, this video, as is, is still an excellent digital memory. This trip to NYC will last as a much more real recording of the trip than photos or 20th century videos could create. This recording, plus the biological memories of the actual trip will allow the creator of this video to recall it in much greater detail than he could without this recording.

The creator has also shared with the entire world his memory. I’ve never been to Manhattan, and while this recording isn’t a substitution, it’s still the Most Real _feeling_ representation of Manhattan I’ve ever experienced. If I had access to many hours of similar recordings, I might very well begin to feel much more like I had visited the city.

If you don’t have a VR HMD, this essay probably won’t convince you of anything. If you have a chance to experience it, though, I strongly suggest that you do as soon as possible. Play some games, but also experience the memories of others captured in 360 degree videos.

I am convinced that the future of tourism and home photography will include 360 degree video cameras and most consumers will move away from still images and 2D videos as soon as high quality 360 cameras are available in mass quantities and are easy to use. This, more than anything, will drive mass consumer adoption of Virtual Reality.

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