By Robert Eagle, on 15 August 2016
Within tech and social media circles, everyone is talking about virtual reality (VR) and 360-degree (or 360) videos.
Facebook has prioritised it, allowing users to upload 360 videos and investing in and developing a VR headset called the Oculus Rift. Samsung has emerged as an early consumer industry leader with the Samsung Gear 360 camera to accompany their Galaxy smartphones and VR headsets. YouTube even rebuilt its video player from the ground up to allow users to upload 360 videos as they would any other video.
With Goldman Sachs predicting the VR industry’s value to be at £80bn by 2025, it’s clear we are at the beginning of a VR revolution that has the potential to change how we capture our environments and tell stories.
So what does this mean for communicating news stories, student experience and research findings at UCL? I’ll share what we in UCL Communications have been learning about 360 videos.
360 videos on social media
As I mentioned in my last blog post about live streaming on Facebook, 2016 is the year of social media video innovation. 360 videos’ first wave of mass appeal this year is on Facebook.
I have made three videos with the Ricoh Theta S that we have uploaded to both YouTube and Facebook. The first was an atmospheric video of highlights of the UCL campus. Viewers enjoyed the novelty of having an interactive video. Spin your smartphone or tablet around and suddenly you can look around campus 360 degrees.
As most of our videos are viewed on mobile devices, it makes sense that we create videos catering more to smartphone users than the traditional PC desktop user. This isn’t without its problems, however, as many people at UCL may have antiquated PCs with old versions of web browsers incapable of playing 360 videos.
However, if we want to lead technical innovation in communications in higher education, we need to start to experiment with new tech before it is universally accessible. That will help us determine the most effective use of the technology by the time the majority is on board.
As far as statistics go, the film reached nearly 46,000 users on Facebook with over 20,000 views. It was also relatively popular on Twitter with nearly 11,000 impressions – that is, the number of users who saw the tweet.
Following the campus highlights, I went around the Slade MA/MFA Degree Show, capturing the buzz and student performances. Tracey Emin even made a cameo twice in the video.
The most complex 360 video I’ve made yet was about a trip with a UCL Institute of Education project on teaching the First World War.
Telling stories in 360
I actually made the First World War 360 video concurrently with a 6-minute standard flat film. When you watch the two films together, you get a sense of how different the pace, character development and storytelling are.
Simply put, a flat 2D video allowed me to get across a lot of information through talking head interviews, interspersed with close, mid-range and wide shots that provide context and editing pace.
360, however, is an entirely different language of film-making. I had to leave behind a linear journey narrative structure and instead embrace atmospheric audio, and allow the audience to explore the landscapes. I brought in voices of participants, but there are no talking heads to camera.
Where do we go from here? This is only the beginning of 360 films at UCL and more broadly. On a technical level, I’ll be using the Samsung Gear 360 camera more, as it’s higher resolution. On a conceptual level, I want to start playing with interviews in 360 and incorporating animation into videos.
I’m currently developing a series of 360 films on how UCL students and staff in Computer Science, Psychology and the Bartlett have been using virtual reality technology for several years, long before the latest 360 video craze.
Points to think about before making your own 360 video at UCL
- Gimmick factor: Are you using this technology simply because it’s new and cool, or do you want to say something in 360 that you can’t say in a flat film? Not everything is suitable for 360. Atmospheric and immersive experiences are a good place to start.
- Cameras: Check out this list of camera options
- Placement of camera: If you can’t get your 360 camera in amongst the action, don’t bother. A 360 video shot from the back of the room is not engaging. You’re better off shooting with a video camera and zooming in.
- Height and monopod: Height is usually best at eye-level, though you can play around with different heights if you want your audience to see something from above or below. More importantly, you’ll want a monopod (around £70-£100), as a tripod will appear in shot below the camera.
- Audio: Because the audio on the Theta is poor, I use an external audio recorder and match up the sound when editing. Having sumptuous audio is absolutely vital to creating immersive 360 video.
- Resolution: The Theta has terrible resolution when blown up on a PC screen, though it’s adequate for a mobile screen. The Samsung Gear 360 Camera has nearly twice the resolution, but you need a PC or Samsung Galaxy phone to download the footage. There are more advanced ways of making 360 videos (e.g. with a GoPro 360 rig), but these are complicated to produce, so I’d recommend you pay a specialist production company to do this for you.
- Editing and uploading: Fortunately, you can edit 360 footage as an equirectangular (a sort of Mercator projection) ratio in normal editing software. The key is to export as a high-res Quicktime file, convert to an MP4 file at 20mbps and then inject the 360 metadata with Spatial Media Metadata Injector. Then the video is ready to upload to Facebook or YouTube as any other video file.
Tempted to create your own 360 video? Let us know how your 360 plans and how you get on, or feel free to ask any further questions: firstname.lastname@example.org