Digital trends 2018 : Higher quality and more personal experiences

Nic Newman’s 2018 survey of the future was almost reassuring. There’s plenty of disruption still to come and some alarming ideas doing the rounds. Switzerland is planning a referendum on scrapping its public service broadcaster’s licence fee.

But on the basic questions of what kind of content people want and how they’re prepared to pay for it, the wind seems to be blowing in the right direction for established broadcasters and news organisations.

Continue reading “Digital trends 2018 : Higher quality and more personal experiences”

Immersing yourself in new storytelling technologies

If you want a term that covers the use of virtual reality, augmented reality and 360 video in factual productions, “immersive journalism” does the job pretty well.

That was the subject at the Orama festival in London, with journalists and producers discussing how this emerging field is changing non-fiction storytelling.

On a panel called New tools, New production Methods, three producers talked about what they’ve learned in making VR and 360 journalism, and gave advice on what journalists and documentary makers need to think about when creating immersive pieces.

From left: Colin Warhurst, Hugo Ward, Francesca Panetta, Ed Chizhikov

Moderated by Colin Warhurst of the BBC Blue Room, the panel gave a comprehensive view of VR and 360 as they’d experienced them. They were: Francesca Panetta, executive editor, VR at the Guardian;  Hugo Ward, series editor, The Economist & C4; and Ed Chizhikov, head of 360-degree content​, RT (formerly Russia Today).

So how did they first get into VR and 360?

For Hugo, it was when he was working on a video about the use of VR in treating post-traumatic stress disorder at a clinic in Los Angeles. When someone showed him the experience in a headset, “it just blew me away,” he said. “That was what made me think this is a medium that’s here to stay.”

After working in news for eight years, Ed said one of his cameramen got excited about 360 and convinced them they needed to try it. RT was one of the first organisations to use YouTube’s 360 capabilities and they even set up a separate Facebook page for their 360 content. “As a news organisation, live transmission is very important to us. Live 360 is the future of 360,” he said.

How do you plan an immersive journalism piece?

Hugo worked with VR company Visualise to do a 360 video in Osaka, Japan: “as a documentary director, I didn’t know anything about 360,” he explained.

Visualise had the technical expertise, such as how to stitch 360 video together in post, while Hugo brought his director’s eye to it. In one instance, he realised that the person carrying the 360 GoPro camera wasn’t lit well, so they found a strip light to tape to the pole.

“All of a sudden this shot changed entirely because the guy you want to focus on it lit up. There are 360 experts out there, but we’ve got to be honest and say we’re at such an early stage, we’ve got to be open to learning from everyone, and everyone is bringing something different to it.”

But sometimes you can’t get a 360 cameraperson or crew to help you. For RT’s groundbreaking 360 video from the International Space Station, Ed explained “It was fun to tell the cosmonaut he needed to operate the camera. He was saying ‘I’m an engineer, I know how GoPros work!’ But then he realised he needed to do many different things.”

For Francesca, it’s all about the planning: “we think a lot about the story. The first thing we do is figure out is who you are and why you’re there. We’ve made four pieces so far [on solitary confinement, the Arctic, London’s Victorian sewers, and from a baby’s perspective]. In three of these pieces, you [the user] have a role – you’re a baby, you’re an urban explorer, you’re an inmate. We’re interested in the experiential potential of 360, not so much the observational documentary perspective. So we spend a lot of time storyboarding up the script and have quite a solid idea of the story structure before we start building the visuals.”

One important consideration for Francesca’s team is whether you ‘move’ the viewer within the experience, as they prefer to avoid cutting between different scenes. Going into a virtual world isn’t the same as watching a regular video, as the viewer feels embodied somewhere else.

They experimented with different movements within the virtual environment, from gliding on rails to moving side to side and backwards, as well as the pace, to see whether the viewer would feel sick. “These are things that gaming has been experimenting with, but documentary-makers and people from news industries are much less familiar with.”

Inside the International Space Station with RT

What kit is needed for immersive journalism?

When Hugo’s team was in Osaka, they wanted a lighter rig like the 360 GoPro. When they needed better quality, they used a Sony AS7 360 rig, but lost some of the versatility.

Similarly, Ed said that his team has tested almost all the 360 cameras out there, but for live-transmission news stories they use small cameras. For produced pieces, they use higher-end ones.

What has new technology enabled in terms of storytelling?

Ed was happy that they were able to film in the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria before ISIS devastated it.

Colin observed that 360 can capture places that may disappear in time, which makes it “like a digital museum capturing historic relics.”

Francesa pointed out that in the advertising world, a lot of 360 is focused on “gimmicky” experiences like skiing or skydiving. “They’ve understood very quickly what’s unique about the medium. How can we use that insight, but within documentary and nonfiction and news that is interesting for us? I’m really interested in experiences you can’t have otherwise.”

Solitary confinement with the Guardian

Challenges in immersive storytelling

Hugo’s biggest learning points were around the transition from directing traditional documentaries to 360. Because the crew usually needs to be out of shot in 360, and he didn’t have a monitor or headphones, he didn’t have as much control as he was used to. “Later in the cutting room you realise we didn’t get that shot very well, or we should have done that differently, or the audio didn’t work here. It’s about being on top of the process as much as you can, because you lose an element of control in production.”

Francesca warned about trying to do too much with VR and 360, particularly around audio narration.

“You absorb less audio in 360 because we’re inviting people to be distracted. In filmmaking, you can say ‘Look at this, I want to tell you about this.’ 360 is saying ‘Distract yourself as much as you want.’ In the user testing we’ve done, the amount of visual and audio details that someone can recall from the story is pretty minimal. So what is it you want someone to take from that experience? I would be economical with how much you’re trying to get across, in terms of storytelling.”

Ed points out that the multiple platforms available pose huge issues for producers. “We use YouTube and Facebook and our own apps in Android and iOS, and Samsung Gear VR. Next we’ll have Google Daydream,” he explained.

As RT publishes each video in six different languages, and does different versions for YouTube and Facebook, that’s a minimum of 12 versions for one 360 video project, not including any ‘flat’ versions that are requested as well, which puts a heavy load on producers.

One problem is that we live in a world of multiple devices – we watch TV while also browsing on our phones and tablets. “What I like about VR is that it’s a one-screen solution. You’re looking at it and you’ve got nowhere else to go,” said Ed.

But another problem is that the users on each platform are different – YouTube viewers are there to watch videos, but are surrounded by a lot of choices so may click away after 30 seconds, he explained.

“On Facebook, the average video shot length is seven seconds. People won’t watch 15 or 20 second shots, they get bored. So you have to open with a strong shot, then a powerful second shot. In GearVR, it’s completely different, it’s 15-20 seconds minimum for a shot. So we’ll save the most powerful shot until the end.

“That’s why I think people should have their own app. In your own app, you’ll have real results. And if the person doesn’t want to see that video, he’ll go and watch another one you’ve made.”

Hugo pointed out that at the moment, 90% of the people watching immersive content aren’t using headsets, which was a huge problem. Ed agreed that was why all the platforms needed to be engaged with, and that while it was a lot of work, it was interesting to see what different audiences respond to. For example, he found out that RT’s Arabic audience “is crazy about Antarctica” while their Spanish audience “loved a piece we did about salsa dancing in Moscow.”

So while it sounds like there are many difficulties in producing immersive journalism, from planning to production to platform choice, all the panellists agreed that this is an exciting storytelling medium that’s here to stay.

“The best time to start is right now,” argued Ed. “You’ll make mistakes, but mistakes have to be made in VR right now. Just try it – it may not be a mistake after all, you may create something new for the future of VR stories.”

 

360 video: BBC Click’s innovative storytelling

What makes a good 360 video?

My first 360 filming and editing experience.

Virtual reality, 360 video and the future of immersive journalism

BBC R&D: 360 video and virtual reality

 

 

What does AI mean for the BBC?

AI has become central to ideas about the future. But what exactly it is, and what it’s going to do for us, are still very much questions to be answered.

And that’s what Rumman Chowdury came to the BBC to do. At an event in which she was described as “California’s coolest data scientist”, Chowdury explained that she works for the consultants Accenture and has a clutch of high-powered degrees.

Chowdury wants to challenge the emerging conventional wisdom about AI. For a start, let’s not forget that we’re talking about computer code, she says, not some kind of techy Frankenstein. So resist the temptation to  anthropomorphise: once we start complaining that “this algorithm is racist” we’re in trouble because “we remove human agency from the equation”. So don’t blame the algorithm: “it is our responsibility to make sure these tools are deployed ethically.”

Chowdury is an unusual influencer in the world of big tech because her background is in political science not technology. AI needs an agreed system of governance and accountability, she says. And she doesn’t buy the idea that the tech billionaires of Silicon Valley are going to save the world; no, they’re in business.

Fortunately, when it comes to steering AI towards a system of “honesty, transparency and fairness”, she says there’s a business motive alongside the moral one since consumers, especially younger ones, are demanding it.

So what does all this mean for the BBC? Well, Chowdury highlighted three particular areas, which I asked her about after her presentation.

First, she talked about recent developments in the use of AI to generate news stories. Where once, such ‘stories’ consisted of nothing more than the artful linking of stats, today AI can incorporate feelings and can sum up and express group sentiments:

Second, Chowdury believes that AI will enable the BBC to reach particular audiences more easily through specialist tools – for instance, reaching refugee communities through better and more widespread translation tools:

Finally, when it comes to BBC governance and ethics, Chowdury sees work to be done in applying existing values to the new world of AI. In setting up AI systems, what safeguards can be created to ensure the same kind of fairness and balance that the BBC strives for in the rest of its output?

BBC Blue Room, for more of its series of Intelligence talks (BBC staff only)

Should you worry about AI?, another post from this blog

VR and 360 video: what are they good for?

There’s plenty of appetite among media types for experimenting with VR and 360 video. But building that appetite in a mass audience is another matter.

VR typically creates a digital world through which the viewer can move and perhaps interact while 360 video is simply video footage recorded in all directions.

360 video is simpler than VR in almost all respects: it’s easier to make and edit, on simpler, cheaper kit, and can be viewed on devices that people are more likely to already have, rather than the powerful computers and dedicated headsets needed for full VR.

For that reason, 360 is often talked about as a ‘gateway’ to VR. The BBC’s Zillah Watson’s has completed a report for the Reuters Institute on the use of VR in news organisations. A panel with other media providers at the BBC to launch the report discussed the ‘gateway’ concept in relation to VR. (The word ‘drug’ was never mentioned but hung heavily in the air.)

As to whether 360 video really is a gateway to VR, Zillah admitted that “we don’t really know”. But she said we do know that 360 production is a gateway to VR production. It’s a kind of entry level activity for individuals or organisations wanting to learn about these new technologies.

From left: Zillah Watson, BBC; Anna Bateson, The Guardian; Kay Meseberg, ARTE; Nic Newman, Reuters Institute (chair).

Alongside Zillah was Anna Bateson, vice-president of platforms and partnerships at the Guardian. On the question of enticing an audience through the gateway to VR, Anna warned that one disappointing experience can lose you potential fans: you can “kill the whole thing” with bad content. So the Guardian’s policy is to make less, but make it the best possible quality.

What does that great experience consist of? Kay Meseberg, Head of VR at the French-German network ARTE, took a historical perspective: when people first went to the cinema, he said, that was a kind of virtual reality for them. “In five years, we’ll be talking about immersive content with its roots in cinema but nobody yet knows what it’ll look like.”

In the short history of VR and 360, ideas about what works have already evolved. There was a theory that 360 video was uniquely able to evoke empathy: you’d feel you were sharing experiences because the medium is so immersive. An influential report from a migrant camp helped promote this idea. Zillah says empathy is now seen as just one use: “there’s so much more that you can do – VR can also bring joy and surprise people. We’re seeing a far greater range of content than we saw a couple of years ago.”

When it comes to the use of 360 video by news organisations, a more practical matter is being debated: the role of the presenter. As Zillah explains, a 360 video report is very different from conventional TV news coverage:

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Zillah Watson

So what kind of subject lends itself to VR or 360 treatment? The pithiest answer Zillah heard in researching her report came from Marc Jungnickel of Bild: “be them or be there”. If VR isn’t going to transport you somewhere or put you in someone’s shoes, then don’t bother.

But there are no rules and few experts in this field so Zillah encourages everyone to roll up their sleeves and get involved:

Mental health at work: Avoiding stress is not a sign of weakness

Last year on this blog, Matthew Shaw, from BBC News, wrote about his experiences as a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan, researching how to make newsrooms more mentally healthy. Now back, he’s turning his project to practical effect across the BBC.

The idea for the project came from my own experience. In 2014, I had time off work with depression – something I’d experienced before but had never fully recognised. It wasn’t down to my personal life, it wasn’t my finances and it wasn’t the job. It was all those things. I had lost all my resilience to life’s challenges; but to recognize that in a busy, stressful working environment was really hard.

The BBC was very good to me. But it struck me that I wouldn’t know what to do if a colleague approached me and told me they were worried about their mental health. I told my doctor this and she encouraged me to do something about it.

The University of Michigan Depression Center saw a chance to collaborate in a project on workplace mental health which would both benefit the BBC and help discover key ways of building successful plans for any business in beating the stigma of depression at work.

Along with a team of MBA graduate students from Michigan, I met mental health experts, employers and business leaders in New York and London, from huge corporations to public services and charities.

And what did we discover? There were just a few key areas that mattered when starting a workplace mental health initiative.

For any campaign to work it must have the support of those at the very top of the business. No-one will feel safe to speak about their mental health if they don’t believe their bosses will back them. Only then can people come forward to tell their own stories and act as champions for mental wellbeing.

Every workplace is different: you must know what makes your office tick and what your colleagues respond to. You also need to find the right physical space for people to talk about their mental wellbeing and find better ways of helping everyone strike a more healthy work and life balance.

But above all, every workplace must actively promote its resources. No-one is going to ring a company helpline unless they know it exists and they trust it. It’s not just about communication: you need to market hard and make sure you reach everyone.

So there you have it. Not exactly organisational rocket science.

But what did I bring back to the BBC? With the backing and encouragement of the Director of News and Current Affairs, James Harding, I’ve been working hard to help launch a new mental health campaign for the whole of the BBC. Great work is already being done by the Health and Wellbeing team here but I was keen to use the momentum of my project to reach as many people as possible.

Our aim is to ensure that everyone knows the BBC is a safe place, where you can open up and talk about your mental health and wellbeing. This goes for whether you personally have a mental health problem, someone close to you is dealing with an issue or you are simply going through one of life’s challenges.

We’ve created a new area on Gateway (accessible to BBC staff) bringing all the BBC’s mental health resources into one place and have made some powerful videos with BBC staff who want to speak out to help support their colleagues.

This is only the beginning I hope. Above all we need to change our attitudes. Sleep is more important than emailing until midnight. Avoiding stress is not a sign of weakness. Working until you drop is not productive.

I will continue to champion the cause at the BBC and have recently been asked to be an expert adviser on the government’s independent review of mental health in the workplace. We still have a long way to go.

Matthew Shaw: back from the States

More from the BBC Academy on mental health and well-being.

Attacks on the press: the rise of ‘Repression 2.0’

“This is the most dangerous time in history for journalists.”

That was the warning given last week by the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Joel Simon, at the launch event in Oxford of the annual Attacks on the Press report – a study based on information from journalists, academics and activists across the globe.

More journalists have been jailed than ever since records started in 1990. In the past six months BBC journalists have been shot at in Ukraine and Mosul, attacked in China and forced to sign a confession for conducting an ‘illegal interview’, detained in Turkey without explanation and branded ‘fake news’ by US president Donald Trump’s administration.

In the light of new technological forms of censorship, the US president’s unprecedented assault on the media, and a recent shift away from democracy in Turkey, panel members at the launch argued this year’s report is more essential than ever. Alan Rusbridger, former editor in chief of The Guardian, highlighted recent challenges to media freedom in the West: “for the people who used to be held up as the guards to press freedom to be behaving as they are, think what kind of example that gives to Turkey, or Kenya, or anybody else”.

From left: Jon Williams, RTE; Joel Simon, CPJ; Lindsey Hilsum, Channel Four News; Alan Rusbridger, former Guardian editor; Razia Iqbal, BBC.

There are three new challenges to global information identified in this year’s report.

The first, labelled ‘Repression 2.0’, is the use of the online technology to extend previous methods of control, from state censorship to the identification and subsequent imprisonment of critics.

The second, named ‘Masked political control’, is when, as Simon put it, “political leaders try to hide repressive policies behind a democratic façade”. He cited the Turkish president Erdoğan’s recent referendum on adopting a presidential system of government as an important example.

Finally, ‘Technology capture’ means using the latest technology to disrupt journalists and stop people’s media access.

The report says all pose significant problems for journalists across the world.

Censorship has taken on a more elusive guise in the digital world. Censorship systems of the past were clearer to pinpoint whereas in today’s world, as Joel pointed out: “we don’t always know what we don’t know.

”Journalists need to find a way to persuade people that amongst the continuous hubbub of online chatter, they are the ones to listen to. As Rusbridger put it: “we have to find a reason why people would come to us rather than the multiplicity of sources available elsewhere.”

The BBC, Channel 4 and The Guardian have recently set up platforms to identify and debunk ‘fake news’. Journalists will undoubtedly be seeing an increased focus on techniques like this in future.

Another growing problem for journalists, identified in the report, is the difficulty of guaranteeing safety to their sources because of increased surveillance. “It is almost impossible now to guarantee a source or a stringer anonymity”, said Rusbridger.

The report claims that the Chinese authorities are trying to stem criticism by affecting the credit rating of dissenting voices.

Australian protest against online censorship in China

The panel agreed a normalisation of hostility towards journalists and downgrading of the value of facts themselves has taken place across Western countries, including in the UK, which has fallen to fortieth in the World Press Freedom Index. This is a significant drop of ten places since 2013.

Lindsey Hilsum, Channel 4 News’s international editor, argued that much of the press themselves have adopted a negative attitude to freedom of speech – citing recent headlines from the Daily Mail such as ‘crush the saboteurs’.

The unanimity of the room was challenged by a point from Hilsum, asking how many people present regularly read the Daily Mail. Only one person in the audience raised their hand (admitting only to reading the paper for research purposes) – highlighting the substantial cultural divide between much of UK society and media professionals.

The event took place on 25 April at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, University of Oxford. More detailed information about the study and the impact of technology on journalism is available on the University of Oxford’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism website.

 

Related Links:

BBC Academy: Safety for women journalists

BBC Academy: Trauma in journalism

BBC News: Facebook ‘observed propaganda efforts’ by governments

BBC News: Donald Trump attacks US media at 100-day Pennsylvania rally

BBC producers preview the future

Since the 1930s, BBC Research and Development (R&D) has been at the forefront of developing new broadcasting technology. Now, the sheer pace of innovation means it’s hard for most programme producers to keep up with all the latest developments.

And how can you start brainstorming ideas for cutting-edge content if you’re not aware of all the platforms and technical possibilities?

Through Connected Studio, R&D works specifically on developing digital and online pilots. I joined a recent workshop where producers from around the BBC were introduced to some fascinating projects to help them start thinking about what’s next in content production.

Innovations ranged from a smarter way of searching to mixing audio for immersive experiences. The focus was on four very different initiatives:

  • Nearly Live Production
  • Editorial Algorithms
  • Venue Explorer
  • Spatial Audio for Broadcast 

Below are my notes on each. For more details, the link on the heading will take you to the relevant page from BBC R&D.

Nearly Live Production

Here, static UHD cameras at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival were used to increase BBC event coverage with only a short delay from actual live broadcast. R&D’s Ian Wagdin demonstrated how it worked with three small cameras hooked up via ethernet to a live feed – of the inside of the room and looking down from a balcony onto a building site outside.

With each camera, you could also crop to and add a more zoomed-in frame, giving the editor six streams to choose from. Users can vision-mix as they go, and go back and swap or clean up shots before the content goes live.

With no camera operators and the streams going to a cloud-based server, this means producers can edit for almost-live broadcast on a laptop – perfect for something like the Fringe, with its tiny venues.

The producers present were certainly excited about the potential: “You’d be able to cover so much stuff and generate such a huge amount of content… For short-form content it’s a godsend,” was one observation.

Another colleague remarked: “We do Facebook Live and we’re always wondering if we can do more. For drama, we could shoot live behind-the-scenes and get interviews from actors and directors. It’s interesting to get the conversation going about how we can do things differently.”

Editorial Algorithms

Exec producer Olivier Thereux and colleague David Man have been trying to understand how curators work. Can a computer program ‘understand’ what someone was searching for in the same way a human does – by knowing more about the context of a particular search term when combing through a database of news articles?

Take ‘New Zealand’. What would someone mean by that? News pieces might mention cities or political parties, but not the country, so they wouldn’t necessarily show up in a regular search.

BBC Monitoring advised the team that there are people, places, organisations and other ‘free text’ possibilities (such as acronyms or locally-known people who aren’t otherwise tagged in the system) that are related to the concept ‘New Zealand’.

“Once you’ve got that, you’ve got a universe of things that are relevant to the topic you’re interested in,” said Thereux. In this case, the algorithm could cluster information like ‘New Zealand politics’ or ‘New Zealand culture’.

The group tested building a search around the concept of ‘cubism’. Cubism and cubist sculpture came up, and they added other related terms like Picasso, Picasso museums, Guernica, etc. Then they could filter results by relevant news sources such as Guardian Culture or NPR Arts.

They could also manually go through search results deleting articles that weren’t relevant, thereby ‘teaching’ the algorithm what they mean when they look for ‘cubism’ in the future.

Again, the producers were excited by the technology and wished they could implement it immediately. “This would make it a hell of a lot quicker for research,” said one enthusiast.

Venue Explorer

Senior R&D engineer Paul Debenham showed how interactive content can be overlaid onto online livestreams. This can be as simple as being able to zoom and pan around a venue during a show, or as complex as having a musical score and performance notes available at the appropriate time during the stream.

It’s done by having the content prepared and ready beforehand, and then ‘triggered’ by an editor during the show.

Aside from a test with the BBC Philharmonic, the same technology was used during the Commonwealth Games, Debenham explained. The team had the starting line-ups and schedule for the day, so when a user panned around a livestream of the stadium, they could zoom into the track and get a schedule for the next event and switch to the appropriate audio commentary and video stream.

One producer immediately saw the potential for GCSE study, particularly of set texts – say, Julius Caesar. That spun off lots of other ideas within the group, including teaching people how to do things like follow recipes on cookery shows or learn dance moves.  “Imagine if it was on Strictly – you’d get the country on their feet!” was one prediction.

Another producer suggested that having news broadcasts supplemented with extra information could be really helpful to the audience. What about a “Trump-checking” feature, for instance? The consensus was that some extra ‘what is the president talking about, what does he mean?’ context would be in high demand.

Spatial Audio for Broadcast

Audio expert Tom Parnell invited producers to immerse themselves in The Turning Forest, a virtual reality experience with 360 audio, where the sound moves all around you and changes volume as you turn around.

Although this sounds like technology you might only get with high-end VR hardware, radio fans listening to BBC iPlayer on headphones have already been treated to binaural audio at the BBC Proms and on Radio 4’s Fright Night, which Parnell also demonstrated.

Additionally, YouTube’s spatial audio spec and Facebook’s Spatial Workstation support 360 audio in some web browsers, making audience reach easy.

One producer wanted to know if you could navigate through a virtual world, hearing a different story depending on where you were. Parnell confirmed that simple panning could send different audio to different areas of the environment – something that could certainly have interesting implications for new types of storytelling.

All in all, it was a fascinating look at how quickly technology is moving and how the BBC is working to stay on top of latest developments – trying and refining what works best in the real broadcast and digital world.

And it’s only April. Let’s see what else the year brings in experimental content production.

 

BBC Connected Studio

3-D surround sound for the headphone generation

Personalised cookery show from BBC R&D is a piece of CAKE

Search techniques for investigative journalism

360 video: Editing in the round

In my previous post I wrote about my first experiences filming on a 360 camera. Here, I want to follow up with what happened when I tried to edit – on Final Cut X.

The first question: how do you get the right file to edit?

It might seem best to take the SD card from the camera, insert it into the side of your laptop and copy the original files across. But that doesn’t work: you’ll find MP4 files to import on the SD card, but sadly, they won’t play on Final Cut.

That’s because, as I mentioned in the previous post, the process of saving the files from the camera onto the phone also converts them into a readable 360 format – and those are the files you want to edit with.

To get access to the files easily on your laptop, you can use Android File Transfer on the laptop. Then, when you plug the phone into the laptop, you’ll see a file structure view of the phone memory and will find the files you’re looking for in the DCIM folder. Transfer those files to your laptop and import into Final Cut.

Now you’ll be able to view the shots – not in 360 but in a panoramic view, which is good enough to identify the cut points you want, plus, of course, you’ll be able to hear their audio to help with that.

From here on, you’re editing just as you would with non-360 footage. You can even add titles and effects, as I tried here, combining my two experimental shots:

A couple of things haven’t quite worked as I expected:

Somehow the 360 sphere has turned into the inside of a cylinder, with a black hole at the top where the sky ought to be.

And second, the titles are much bigger than I was expecting. On reflection, I think that’s because I was judging them, as usual, in relation to the width of the editing screen, whereas here the shot, in its panoramic view, was much wider once it came back into 360 mode.

Having made your edit, the next job is to export the finished product. I first made a .mov file, which I used my Android File Transfer to put back onto the phone, so I could view through the Gear headset. But it turns out that Gear doesn’t recognise .mov files, so that was no good.

So I went back to my laptop and converted it to an mp.4, using Mpeg Streamclip, and put that on the phone. Now it could be recognised and played, but it wasn’t in 360.

One more process was required. It involves ‘injecting’ data into the file, to label it as 360. It’s explained in this page of YouTube help. The important part is downloading and using the Spatial Media Metadata Injector. It’s actually very easy: just check a box to say you’re going to be showing it a 360 video, and it will remake the file to include that information.

Now if you view that file on your phone, you can have the full 360 experience on a headset with something you have edited, or you can upload to YouTube, as I did with the video above, and watch it on your phone.

I’m not sure how to avoid the cylinder problem with 360 editing, but apart from that, the process from filming to edited video worked pretty well once I’d understood what I was trying to do.

You can read about the filming process here.

 

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

 

360 video: Filming in the round

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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