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While virtual reality develops, 360 video already brings new online experiences

February 1st, 2017 | by Alfred Siew
While virtual reality develops, 360 video already brings new online experiences
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Much has been made of the potential of virtual reality (VR), but look beyond the dorky-looking goggles and you can see there’s a lot of amazing experiences already available today in something called 360 video.

Now, 360 video provides a “free-look” sort of experience that enables you to move your view around as a video plays, making it a more engaging experience than typical videos.

It’s not exactly VR, however, because it doesn’t provide the enveloping sensation or immerse you in a simulated world. Plus, you don’t have gloves and other sensory accessories to make things truly funky.

Still, 360 video is here and it’s real. One of the best examples of this is a news report just hours ago from The Guardian showing the ravages of war on the frontlines of Mosul, Iraq (see above).

So many pictures and words have already described the situation in news reports about the ongoing conflict there.

However, if you follow the 360 video from reporter Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, you’ll be almost sitting next to him as he travels in a car through the region. Or scanning a burning oil field that shows the extent of the devastation.

Never before could a journalist bring readers so close to the action, or have them interact as closely to experience the situation themselves.

While games and other simulations have been the main uses touted for VR and also 360 videos, the real world could prove more compelling with the new technology.

Besides frontline reports, events recorded in 360 also prevent a richer experience than typical videos. Think of a wedding dinner, for example, where a 360 video lets you look around the ballroom and relive the evening.

Late last year, parts of the Singapore Fashion Week were streamed live via 360 videos. Viewers can look around the scene with their mouse or finger taps. All they needed was to head to the annual event’s website.

The Singapore-based company behind this, Cgangs VR, used custom-made cameras that automatically stitched together various video streams to deliver a seamless experience. What made the event unique was that it was live and of broadcast quality.

The company is an offshoot of Cgangs of China, a country that is actually ahead of the world in VR and 360 videos. Already, people could pay a small amount to view a live concert, for example, if they did not manage to buy a ticket to head there in person.

All this points to an interesting future for 360 video. While VR goggles evolve to become lighter and more comfortable to wear, 360 videos are already paving the way for more immersive experiences online.

What will accelerate the takeup even more is user-generated content. While consumer 360 cameras from GoPro or other brands are still lacking many features that offer broadcast-quality videos, there’s no stopping people from taking more such videos in future.

Just as YouTube moved from grainy videos in the early days to 4K clips today, 360 video already looks set to offer new immersive experiences.

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