What is 360-degree video, and how can we apply this to journalism?

This post is a summary of frequently asked questions that I get everyday from friends, family, colleagues and classmates. Right now I’m working on my final thesis about the possibilities of 360-degree video in journalism and I’m partnering with Fusion Network for my hands-on research.

Panoramic frame of a 360-degree video inside a juvenile kids in Louisiana by Fusion Network

360 degree video:

360 video is a new form of shooting and experiencing video that allows the user to look in all the directions of a video-recorded scene. In 360 video or spherical filmmaking, the user, or the audience, no longer looks straight to a flat framed image, but explores the video by moving the fingers (by swiping the image around) or by moving a device like a smartphone or a tablet. 360 video can also be enjoyed in a VR headset although it doesn’t mean all 360 video is virtual reality.

VR Festival Kaleidoscope, NYC October 2015

360 video is not exactly the same as Virtual Reality (VR)

360 video is the simplest form of immersive video, but although one can experience 360 video with goggles or a headset (like Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift or Samsung Gear), it doesn’t mean it’s Virtual Reality or cinematic VR.

Cinematic VR requires 3D vision and ambisonic sound (which means you see different images for each eye like in “real” life and you also hear the direction of the sound as you move your ears). In many cases not only you feel immersed in the VR but you u can actually interact with your body and move around.

Freedom 360 mount. This rig shoots in all directions but still in 2D

Right now, the majority of 360-degree videos are shot in 2 dimensions (so like a “traditional video”) and the sound is often stereo — not ambisonic — and often not even binaural (different sound depending on each ear).

Keep in mind, the majority of 360-degree videos you will see online are just an expanded spherical 2D video. And the majority of VR content out there (today in 2015) is mainly computer generated (CG.).

Immersive is a term we borrowed from videogames

The word “immersive” is borrowed from the videogame industry. The concept of “immersive” was applied to designate videogames that blurred the line between physical and simulated world. So for example, games where the user interacts with a musical instrument, or a toy-gun, or goggles, or a headset. Basically it means that you are immersed in this virtual world created (often) by a computer.

Pioneering project of Nonny de la Peña Hunger in L.A — Photo by emblematic.net

In this instance, Nonny de la Peña was the first journalist to start using videogame technologies and computer generated environments for factual reporting. To describe her work she used the term “immersive journalism”. The pioneering work of Nonny de la Peña Hunger in L.A in 2012 or the most recent “Project Syria” have acquired a great following.

How to experience a 360-degree video

First of all, consider that this technology is really new and sometimes there are still some technicalities that make it difficult to enjoy. For example, if your wifi is not fast enough you will see the images in less quality and it can make the whole experience quite bad.

Youtube has its 360 Channel — you need to use it with Firefox or Google Chrome or install the Youtube APP on your phone.

Google Cardboard — you can put a smartphone on the front side and u are all set!

You should also download apps like VRSE , LittleStar , VRVideo, but you will need a smartphone higher than I-phone 4 or 5 or at least higher than an Android 4.

If you are really into it you should get a Google Cardboard (it can be really cheap, 5$/12$) and you will be able to enjoy some of this content on the Cardboad, you can also check this post with some reviews of more expensive headsets.

Some 360 video cameras have also their websites with videos 360 videos like Bubl Experiencies, 360 Fly, Theta.

Is this the next media revolution?

Nobody can see the future, but what we know is that the biggest tech companies are investing billions of dollars, and that the technology is becoming more and more accessible. Youtube has a 360 video platform, Facebook allows 360 video in its Newsfeed, the New York Times just announced it is going to distribute more than a million Google cardboards to its subscribers… These are big moves and signs of a change.

Other recommendations?

I think the best is to go to the nearest festival you find and enjoy the headsets and some of the VR works you will find there. If you download the APPS mentioned before, there are many interesting projects. Personally I think it is worth to check out the work of Nonny de la Peña and Chris Milk.  Also the work of Be Another Lab (The Machine to be another) or the story of the Nepal earthquake by RYOT.

Why I am interested in 360 video as a journalist?
Learning web and filmmaking changed my mindset as journalist. Learning new tools and working with professionals from different backgrounds helped me conceive stories differently. Because 360-degree video and immersive journalism seems to be the next incoming media revolution, for me, it’s key to understand how this technology will reshape my craft and how it will change society.


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