When I was growing up, TV regularly predicted the future with regard to new technology and how it would irrevocably change our lives. We were assured that the rapid pace of technological innovation would mean that by the year 2000, robot servants, artificial intelligence and virtual reality would be everywhere.
But the millennium came and went and nothing seemed to change. We got the occasional inkling into the new paradigm: the smartphone; the tablet; inter-active TV. But these were just snazzier versions of already existing media, the phone, the desktop computer; the telly, which had been with us for decades.
Six months ago, though, that all changed for me. A traditional 2D filmmaker, I was introduced to the latest development in virtual reality: 360° video.
I can tell you the future envisaged in our childhood is here, right now.
But let me first say, marketing has missed a trick, here, for this isn’t just 360-degree filming: it’s the visual equivalent of surround sound, providing a visual global panorama. For the 7-camera rig doesn’t just pan through the 360 degree of a single complete sweep, it also captures the vista above and below and any angle in between.
In other words, it mimics what any human being can do at any moment: look in the direction he or she chooses. (This creates enormous problems for the cameraman as he has to find a way of staying out of shot!)
As an experienced documentary filmmaker I saw the potential for story telling and capturing people’s attention like never before.
Viewing the end product
But first the technicalities: there are two ways in which our target consumers can watch a 360-degree production.
Either, they view the end product on a 360° player with a 2D screen. Here, consumers become their own director, choosing from moment to moment the angle from which to view the unfolding scenario, by moving their mouse or mobile device around.
Or they don a virtual reality headset like we’ve all seen before and immerse themselves in the virtual world.
I have to say the first time you put on a headset it takes some getting used to. This is not like Google Glass, where you turn your head and the screen stays in front of you. When you turn your head – or look up or down – in 360-degree, you immerse yourself in the multiple vistas of your surroundings.
In my case, I was in a racing car driving out of the factory and onto and around the track. After a while, you really do feel like you’re actually there.