6 Things You Didn’t Know About 360 Video

1. 360 cameras fit into people’s lives better than you’d think — and better than your current device

360 cameras do something simple and brilliant that no other capture device has yet managed: they capture the moments that matter without interrupting the moments that matter.

A Feast for 14, by Marco M — with 360 there’s no need to move around the camera. You’re gonna get all the good stuff anyway.

Posing for a traditional photograph or video takes you and the person behind the camera out of the moment. As a subject, you’re forced to move into the frame and stay there. The person behind the camera, amateur or otherwise, must usher her subjects into view and ensure that all elements are caught between the four edges of the shot.

Strike a pose. Kill the moment.

By contrast, 360 videography allows us all to get on with our lives and enjoy the present — confident that we’re going to capture the moment we’ve been waiting for. You can’t endlessly fiddle to get the shot right because there’s not much you can control — what is, is.

What will be will be. Feel the zen.

Because the presence of 360 cameras is so unobtrusive in this respect, on Pie we’ve seen videos marked by their spontaneity, randomness, and lovingly accidental qualities come to the fore.

Beatbox Freestyle by Simone S., one of my favorite early videos on Pie, shows how much can happen when you don’t have to think too much about the camera.

2. 360 videos are more personal than you’d think — and they’re definitely the future of vlogging

When you’re shooting in 360 you’ve got to decide whether you want to try to hide from the camera entirely, or embrace the fact that you’re going to be in the shot.

One option is to hide from the camera so you’re not caught in its 360 field of vision … you’re going to have to be creative.

While high-end VR productions have tended to choose the former option, most of the user-generated footage I’ve seen has prominently featured the creator — often holding the camera out in front of their faces at the same position and height you’d see if someone was taking a selfie.

The result is an extra-special kind of vlog that we’ve seen become the first nascent genre on Pie: people sharing their lives in 360 degrees, and narrating their experiences as they happen.

An Aloha Christmas, by Vicky S. is a great example of a vlog-style video on Pie

With 360 videography, you can’t “point” the camera at the thing you’re interested in. So if you’re trying to get your viewer to look at something in particular or take note of something in your environment, you’ll have to tell them what to focus on. You’ll have to guide them through it.

Guiding your future-viewer through a 360 video as you make it is a unique experience that really connects you with your audience in a way I haven’t felt before.

Earlier this year I took my Ricoh Theta S to CES in Las Vegas. I didn’t know many people in Las Vegas or at CES and felt a little nervous staying in an Airbnb far away from the strip (ah startup budgets). I found that my Ricoh Theta S became my new best friend. I spoke to it as I roamed miles of casino floors trying to locate where my meetings were and I narrated my journey to the fish-eye lens facing me as if I was Skyping my best friend.

Thank god for my Ricoh Theta S. #lonelyinlasvegas

When the camera is experiencing everything that you are as well as your own reactions, it really is a lot like experiencing the moment with someone else.

And that’s part of the reason why …

3. Community matters

When we first started building Pie we weren’t entirely sure what kind of community it would become.

We’ve already begun to see some fascinating community behaviors emerge on Pie. Most of all, we’ve seen that our first users (most of whom are also creators) have formed deep connections with other people creating 360 videos all around the world.

We believe that Pie will provide a much-needed place for 360 creators and 360 fans to develop real connections with people they’ve never met in person. I’ve become hooked on the almost daily vlogs of some of our users who live in places I’ve never been — from Hawaii to Japan and the U.S. National Parks — and it’s awesome seeing how our early community is so engaged in the lives and stories of others on the platform.

Screenshot from the first test episode of Knowhere, by Frank Ruggles — which takes viewers on a guided tour of the National Parks.

We also have a separate Slack community for our creators to get to know each other (if you sign up to join our waiting list you’ll automatically receive an invite) and we’ve seen first-hand what the value of community is for 360 at this early stage. We’ve seen 360 creators swapping tips on how to get the most out of their devices, generous 360 creators in far-flung locations offer to go and film a site that someone else has never seen, and we’ve seen how a close-knit community can really help accelerate the spread of 360 know-how — with the result that creators on Pie are making better and better content every day.

4. You really don’t need a VR headset to enjoy 360 videos — your phone is enough

When we started working on Pie, I think that we all thought that we were waiting for two things: widespread adoption of VR headsets, and consumer 360 cameras capable of producing videos with good enough quality to be consumed in VR.

Over the last few months, we’ve been surprised by just how compelling it is to view 360 videos on mobile — without any headset at all. Initially people are most interested in viewing 360 videos using the ‘magic window’ technique: which involves moving your phone all around as if you’re looking through a window into another world. Pretty cool.

But we’ve found that the most common way of viewing 360, and the one we like the best, is by swiping: left, right, up, down, all-around. For the viewer, it gives the sense of being able to control the scene and frame entirely.

While 360 videos might not have a ‘frame’, technically speaking, the phone’s rectangular screen certainly does — and it’s great fun as a viewer to change what’s in the shot and play director.

Again, it’s something that feels incredibly natural for most. It has something of the qualities of pinching to zoom — it’s about getting the perspective you want.

Most interestingly, I’ve personally found that having watched a lot of 360 videos makes it almost unbearable to watch regular ‘flat’ videos on my phone. One of the strangest things that has happened to me since entering the 360 video world is that whenever I watch a flat video on my smartphone I am constantly imagining what is outside the frame and I have to stop myself from swiping around to see more.

In other words, I think that 360 videos are fundamentally changing the way we relate to visual media. I don’t think that traditional videos and cinematography will ever be totally displaced (at least not in the next few years), but I do think that we’ll develop a visual sensibility that expects 360 and expects as a default to be able to control the field of view.

5. VR & 360 videos are pretty different

One important thing to note is that there are 360 videos which work excellently when viewed on mobile but are terrible viewed using a VR headset, and vice versa.

Of course, the textbook difference that’s usually given to differentiate between VR & 360 is that the former is stereoscopic and interactive, whereas the latter just refers to the field of view. But I think that this year will see more fundamental artistic and conceptual differences emerge between the two.

I’m just beginning to see trends here and still have a lot to learn, but as one quick example landscapes are terribly boring viewed on mobile but can be awesome in VR.

VR is all about the experiential qualities of the footage — how it makes you feel, the mood it puts you in and the atmosphere it creates — whereas in 360 you want multiple subjects that grab your attention and lead you to want to explore a scene with your fingertips.

6. Bottom-up innovation will push 360 storytelling forward

The most important thing I’ve learned at Pie is that innovation in VR & 360 storytelling can come from anywhere and from anyone.

While high-end production studios and Hollywood directors will continue to develop new and fascinating ways to take advantage of virtual reality storytelling, some of the most innovative uses I’ve seen in 360 video have come from people relentlessly experimenting with consumer-level 360 cameras.

It’s in the cloud!, by the relentlessly experimental Pie creator Dawn Westlake. I still don’t know how she did it …

By lowering the barrier to entry, the new LG 360 Cam and Samsung Gear 360 are going to massively accelerate the rate of learning and help to empower a new generation of creators and storytellers to change the way we learn about our world.

At this stage I still have more questions than answers, and I’m sure that this year will be full of surprises as user-generated VR & 360 begins to reach more and more people. But while there are plenty of unknowns and unknown unknowns, the age of user-generated VR & 360 video is well and truly upon us … and I can’t wait to see what happens.

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