Viewfinder: What’s holding 360 video back?

360-degree video is a significant and exciting technological advancement in mediamaking. The 360-degree viewing experience provides uniquely immersive and interactive engagement with video-based content. Indeed, it may ultimately revolutionize the way movies are made and enjoyed.

If you haven’t experienced 360 yet, you’ll find that a quick YouTube search for “360 video” returns a broad array of results. The nature, roller coaster rides, travel and narrative videos that appear will quickly give you a point of reference. You can use your mouse and monitor to interact with this content. However, a head-mounted display provides a far more immersive viewing experience that makes you feel more like you are actually standing in the space. 

The Technology of Immersion

For certain types of video, 360 makes total and immediate sense. Travel and tourism, nature, extreme sports and real estate video are excellent and obvious applications. The power of 360 is in placing the viewer in an environment. Then, this medium allows them to control their own experience.

Pivoting within the space allows the viewer to see in any direction they choose. While the experience is unequivocally cool, it is still something that most serious filmmakers would categorize as a novelty. 360 video has some serious barriers to overcome if it will ever garner wide cinematic acceptance.

Most major editing applications already support the stitching, processing, editing and export of the format.

Technological barriers related to capture, editing and playback are small. Plus, dedicated 360-degree cameras are relatively affordable. This makes 360-degree image acquisition accessible to almost anyone. Most major editing applications already support the stitching, processing, editing and export of the format. Likewise, YouTube and Facebook already include 360 playback technology that allows viewers to interact with the content.

Drawbacks and Barriers

The biggest draw of the 360 experience is that the viewer has control over whatever he or she wants to look at within a scene as it plays out. This is complicated enough for a single-viewer experience. However, there are some fairly significant problems when it comes to distributing 360 content to audiences.

The massive bandwidth required to simultaneously play multiple synchronized streams in a venue is a bigtime barrier to a collective experience. The novelty of 360 is completely lost if anyone else controls what the viewer sees. At present, 360-video viewing is essentially a solo experience. That’s not how the masses like to consume media. People enjoy experiencing movies and TV with other people. It’s a social activity. Thus, this is a serious technical limitation 360 must overcome before it can catch on.

Barriers related to already-established motion picture storytelling conventions pose an even bigger problem for 360. Whereas shot sequencing and edit pacing play a major part in telling a story in traditional productions, the best current dramatic 360-degree videos are essentially one-act plays that take place in-the-round with the viewer at the center of the scene. 

What’s the Point?

At their very heart, television, film and video production are about taking careful control over precisely what the lens reveals and what the edge of the frame conceals. This could mean using an extreme closeup on a person or object to create tension or using the edge of the frame to hide the fact that the Munster’s house is on the same backlot street at Universal Studios as the Leave it to Beaver home.

From a practical point of view, traditional productions of all kinds employ the use of sets that are often not complete structures. They require a wide array of complex lighting rigs and instruments. And, at any given time, there are more crew members behind the camera than actors in front of it. All of these things are rather easily hidden from the viewer in traditional productions. 360 video, on the other hand, offers no place for crew members, equipment or craft services to hide.

Final Thoughts

Of course, all new technology takes time to find its place in the market. As more and more creative people try their hand at 360-degree production, greater innovations will surely result. New ways of telling stories may well emerge. Indeed, 360-degree technology may one day revolutionize the way we make and enjoy media. Still, it has some significant hurdles to overcome.  

Matthew York
Matthew York
Matt York is Videomaker's Publisher/Editor.

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