Does 360 have a place in the future of VR

360 Filmmaking in Guilin, China

Since the very beginning of modern Virtual Reality, two factions were caught in an endless battle of identities. The VR purists who would go to great lengths just to reject the idea of classifying equirectangular 360 videos as VR, and the die-hard VR cinematographers who would defend their artwork to the bitter ends just to give them a place in this bold new medium.

So what are the arguments of both sides and do they even matter?

The VR purists believe that Virtual Reality needs to somehow give you the same flexibility and variety of choice as true reality in order to justify the “R” in VR. Since 360 videos are simply panoramas taken one step further, the lack of interactivity and decision making during the experience make it fall short of this definition. On the other side, filmmakers may argue that a well made 360 video shot in high resolution and perhaps with a stereoscopic camera can provide enough immersion to take the user out of true reality and establish their presence instead within the VR film. Personally I think anyone who spends their time arguing this simply have nothing better to do with their lives. Since 360 videos are best consumed with a VR headset, its part of this industry and contributes to its growth. Besides 360 production is improving at a rapid rate both in terms of storytelling as well as technology, so the argument of 360 giving first timers a bad impression is short lived and unreasonable.

3DOF vs 6DOF
If you’re even remotely aware of the industry, the notion of 3 degrees of freedom and 6 degrees of freedom probably have been coming up fairly frequently. 3DOF are the limitations of most mobile based headsets where you are free to move your head up, down, left, and right but objects don’t get closer or further when you lean in any direction. 6DOF headsets require positional tracking like the Vive or the Rift, they allow you to stand-up and walk around the room, often times people would call the boundary in which you can walk room scale. Now we can go on and on about the different types of tracking from optics to ultra sound, inside-out to outside in, but the point I want to make here is specifically on content. While on the surface, 6DOF seems to be an obvious winner giving you more flexibly and freedom to interact with your surrounding environment, we tend to forget that more doesn’t always equate to better. Looking at difference between films and role playing video games, both allow for great suspension of disbelief, but while one allow you to customize characters and have multitudes of choices to execute the storyline, the other is simply a passive experience that go from one end to another in the same order every single time. Although the ability to make choices do seem once again more appealing on text, the evidence of movies still being popular today proves that sometimes a passive experience can triumph over an interactive one. 360 videos obviously fall under the 3DOF category, although it lacks interactivity compared to the more upbeat VR experiences, great storytelling combined with stunning visuals can be the most relaxing way to spend a quiet Sunday evening.

Future of 360 filmmaking 
So although the future may look bleak for 360 videos with all the exciting 6DOF headsets and Mixed Reality stuff coming out, as the industry matures, more defined segments will begin to form. Just like how we don’t compare Videos with Photographs or Paintings, we shouldn’t compare 360 videos to interactive 6DOF gaming either. Both are methods of immersive storytelling, and both can give rise to great works, different times and different moods call for a different type of experiences. Today we’re still scratching the surface of 360 storytelling, akin to how Georges Méliès produced the Trip to the Moon in 1902, many tests and improvements on cameras and post-production pipelines need to be refined in order for us to master the grammar of 360 Production. Here are a few things that still need to be refined in order to create a foundation for this medium to develop creatively.

  • Directing audience attention across the panoramic plane
  • Transitions and cut scenes
  • Moving the camera without motion sickness
  • Spatial Audio
  • Stereo with no distortion
  • Camera placement and reducing safety zone

Hopefully over the next years to come more and more artists would try their hands at this new frontier. Establishing a new medium isn’t easy, we just have to put away our hate and judgement during the ugly duckling stage, and one day it’ll blossom into something great. Besides, we’re already seeing some great works from studios like Felix and Paul and Funique.