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360 video vs VR and the Evolution of Us

Recently, Ken Perlin invited me to speak with him at YHouse about VR. In a quaint new venues in NYC’s lower east side, Caveat was filled with a couple dozen forward-thinking individuals from a wide range of backgrounds. HCI, astrophysics, education… For the first time ever, when I asked the audience who had tried VR, every hand in the room went up. Pushing further, I asked who had tried interactive VR beyond 360 video. Almost half the hands in the room dropped.

Let’s face it, 360 video is synonymous with VR in the eyes of the mass market.

I hear the debate over whether 360 video is virtual reality almost daily. I hear the purists’ perspective – 360 is not interactive, it doesn’t have room scale tracking or can’t support ambisonic audio. I get it, and for the record, I agree. But there’s a bigger picture here than theoretical debates.

It’s not just the tech that is evolving, we are too.

360 video serves an important function: it’s a stepping stone for mass adoption. If you aren’t a gamer, it’s likely you aren’t naturally going to attempt to navigate a virtual environment. There’s a high percentage chance that you aren’t even going to turn around. Inevitably when audiences encounter 360 videos at film festivals, they stare directly ahead until prompted to turn their heads. Audiences have been conditioned for centuries to look in a single direction for content. It’s a habit that needs to be broken to fully embrace immersive content.

So if you want VR to succeed, stop denigrating 360 video and the audiences who are going against their learned behavior. Start making better spherical content. (Can someone please finance / make another “Help!“?)  Leverage the spherical content into interactive content. Truth be told, immersive tech’s not ready. So don’t expect people to be either.

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