360 video: Filming in the round

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I have been experimenting with 360 filming, using the Samsung Gear 360 camera linked to a Samsung Galaxy phone.

Here are some of the things I’ve learnt:

Camera position is everything. When you film with a conventional camera, where you place it is just one of many decisions that will define the shot. (Along with framing, choosing the lens and focus for instance.) In 360, camera position is almost the only decision you need to make before pressing record: you can’t even decide where to point it, of course.

If you’re filming in 360, you’d better offer ‘value for money’ by having different things happen in as many different directions as possible, requiring the viewer to make use of their ability to track around the picture.

This is the first of my experiments, filmed with that in mind:

(If you’re viewing in a browser that does not support 360 video play on YouTube, e.g. Safari, try Chrome to view this video.)

When you’re watching, you can navigate around either using the pointers on the button top left, or by holding the mouse (or your finger on a touch screen) and dragging the picture round.

Here’s my second experiment, where I attached the camera to my bicycle like this:

This demonstrates a couple of things not to do:

First, if you view this through the Samsung Gear Headset, for the full immersive experience, it will make you feel distinctly sea-sick. Apparently that’s caused by the camera tilting horizontally, as when the bicycle goes round the corner. If you want a happy audience, stay level.

Second, if you don’t want to look like a grim, looming giant, put the camera at eye-level (and smile):

In those shots, I was controlling the camera (recording and viewing live what it was seeing) through a linked Samsung Galaxy phone.

So then the question is, how do you view what you’ve filmed? Well, first you have to save the shot from the camera – where it’s recording – onto the phone, which takes a little while, depending on the length of the shot. In the process, a conversion from the original file happens.

The simplest option for viewing, playing back in the phone itself, isn’t as easy as you might expect – unless I’m missing something.

The shots are saved to the phone’s Gallery, as on other Android devices. But if you view from there, or through the Gear 360 app, you can’t get the full 360 experience, moving the phone round to see different parts of the view. Instead, there’s a choice between: Dual view (the two 180 cameras in the Gear shown as two corrected rectangles on a split screen); Panoramic (where the left side of the picture joins up with the far right side like a map of the world); 360 view (which is like a big distorted sphere); Stretched; and Round view (below), which looks like this:

Interesting, but not very useful.

To get the full, immersive 360 experience, you need to insert the phone into the back of the Gear VR headset. Before doing so, you need to go back to the Gear 360 app, and touch “View on Gear VR”, which will prompt you to insert the device into the headset.

In my experience, it often takes a few attempts at putting the phone into the headset before you hear little pings on the headset that tell you it’s ready for you to navigate with its controls on the right side, to find the Gallery, and press play on your video.

The immersive experience is good, giving you the ability to ‘look’ in different directions convincingly, although deciding to do so doesn’t come naturally when we’re so used to just staring ahead at video. There needs to be real motivation to keep a viewer’s attention on what the director wants the audience to be seeing. Otherwise, they’ll just be using the 360 opportunities to stare idly at irrelevancies to pass the time, like bored children in class.

So how do you make your video viewable to more people than can have access to your phone and a headset that takes a lot of fiddling to make work?

One answer is YouTube, and the Samsung phone lets you upload direct, which is handy. But do so from inside the Gear 360 app. If you upload direct from Gallery, YouTube won’t recognise that your video is 360, and will just show it in the panoramic form, which looks weird.

Once you’ve uploaded, if you open YouTube on your phone, you’ll get the proper effect, where you can ‘look’ at different things by tilting and rotating the phone.

In my next blog, I will look at how to edit 360 videos.

If you want to find out about the very minimalist controls on the camera, here’s a 
good video that someone has kindly made. 

 

What makes a good 360 video?

360 video: BBC Click’s innovative storytelling

Virtual reality, 360 video and the future of immersive journalism

BBC R&D: 360 video and virtual reality

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