Panorama vs 360° vs 3D vs VR — The Big Difference

Panorama, 360°, 3D, Virtual Reality — That’s too many words. And we all got some questions to ask.

Who wins? Which is the best?

What is 360°-3D?

Is that what VR needs?

People are curious about VR and terms like the ones above are common to throw around these days. But with so many sources of information, things often get jumbled-up. So let’s clear up the mess and know what is what.

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FoV vs Focal length of your camera’s lens

Panorama has many names. Some people call it a wide-angle shot and some call it an ultra-wide-angle shot. Most of the time, photographers just name the image after the kind of lens they used while taking that shot. Generally, a lens having a focal length between 8–18 mm is a Wide-Angle Lens. More about focal lengths and FoVs here.

Stitching a Panorama using multiple images


Of all the terms, this is the most trending one. A 360° shot is simply a panorama that covers the full horizontal field of view around a person. 360° videos are no different from a normal video. They are a sequence of 360° photos presented in a rapid fashion. Except that you watch 360° content on Oculus or Google Cardboard based 360° viewers.

Comparison: 360° view vs a Regular 120° Panorama view

360°-3D, A.K.A. 360° Stereo

A bit about 3D movies first…

From the Earliest to the Latest

3D movies — These are nothing but two video feeds being shown separately to our two eyes. 3D movies are immersive but the equipment required to watch them is pricey and bulky. Apart from that, there are just too many competing standards for the same technology. Most of us still enjoy watching 3D and are ready to pay up a day’s salary for that ‘IMAX 3D Experience’.

But now the time has come that we upgraded to 360°-3D.

Reason being, the same as before,

360°-3D is the most immersive of all video formats.


A 360°-3D photo or video is a pair of two 360° images stacked either in the side-by-side or in the over-under format. Also, just like normal 3D movies, both images have a little parallax. The over-under format has a better resolution while side-by-side is economical in terms of storage and memory. Both formats are good when it comes to watching 360°-3D videos on phones. But if you have a 4K screen, then a 4K 360°-3D in Over-Under format is what you should watch. The method for watching a 360°-3D video is same as that of a normal 360° video. Put on your Oculus or Google Cardboard and you are good to go.

Both formats appear the same on your phone, Over-Under provides better quality

Virtual Reality

Instead of telling you What the fruit is Virtual Reality, I will tell you what it is not. Currently, various big players players and technology-giants — like Google, Facebook, HTC, Samsung — are marketing 360° videos as VR videos. Quoting lines from an earlier piece:

“360° photos and 360° videos do not equal Virtual Reality. In its entirety, VR is a lot more immersive than a 360° shot.”

And yes, not even 360°-3D content can compete with VR.

But how?

How come 360°-3D videos — despite of being the ultimate form of immersive entertainment — does not even come close to beating VR?

Answer is simply this:
Various forms of visual media would never achieve what VR can, because they lack the most desirable of all elements required for entertainment — Interactivity.

Oculus introduced interactivity through wireless handheld remotes. The system works on hand-gestures recognition.

Videos and Photos

Be it normal or panoramic or 360° or 3D or 360°-3D content, all of them are passive in nature. They can only be immersive up to a certain limit. Beyond that, we need something that reacts and responds to the stimulus given to it.

Photos and videos are out.

How about 360° games?

Games are interactive, aren’t they?

So, can 360°-3D games become the most ultimate form of entertainment?

Hold it right there and take a second. Which of the following do you think is more involving:
A film on Football, like Escape to Victory?
A computer game on Football, like FIFA ’15?
Or Football — the one that you actually play on the fields? Just think about it — What leaves you sweaty, breathless and riled-up. And you will know.

Final Battle — 360°-3D Games vs VR

Okay, so net-net 360°-3D computer games are interactive and immersive. A number of companies have already begun advertising their VR games — which is technically incorrect, as they are only 360° games which are being marketed as VR games. Anyway, it seems like 360°-3D computer games are on the cards and we may see them in the next 2–3 years.

Hmm… 360°-3D games! So, is that it? Is that VR? Is that the farthest technology can go, EVER?
The answer is no, a big NO. This thing called VR is a beast and is way bigger. It is supposed to be as close to your senses as the Reality itself. And by that I mean, all of the senses.

VR is supposed to create an alternate world for you and place you inside it. A world where you can do amazing things which may prove to be too costly, risky or even fatal in the real world. Things like telepresence, virtual travel, even magic.

With the current VR technology, you are placed in a virtual world, and you are known by your AVATAR

VR is a special and sought-after technology since it can solve two of most biggest problems of humanity: Social Networking and Transportation. With VR, a soldier can be with her daughter on her first birthday while serving his nation at a war-front. In VR, long-distance lovers can actually feel the heat of the moment and strengthen their relationships. Using VR, not only can you watch the majestic Pyramids of Giza but also feel the pith of the whole scene — the aridity of the desert, the grainy sand, the scorching sun and the blue sky.

Now that you know what VR is and where it stands amongst the current technologies for entertainment, go ahead and learn to How to VR.

IN Conclusion

Panorama, 360°, 3D, 360°-3D and VR are different technologies and serve their own purposes.

Panorama, 360°, 3D, 360°-3D are largely meant strictly for viewing.

VR is the more quirky one and combines the best elements of technology from the worlds of “Movies” and “Games” to present the most engaging experience possible.

A VR experience may have a story-line, or a script, or even have a cinematic touch, to offer the best viewing experience in 360°-3D. At the same time, it will offer the user to engage with the environment, discover parallel stories, live the most out of it, or even complete task — just a like any game would offer.

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