Thursday, October 20, 2016

360 video is here to stay: 8 reasons to use 360 video



     360 photos and videos are one of the biggest trends of 2016.  However, a popular YouTuber named Derek Muller (2veritasium) argued that 360 video is just a fad and is "a bad idea."  He's wrong and I will establish why 360 video is here to stay.
     In this first part of this post, I will lay out 8 reasons to use 360 videos.  In the second part of this post, I will address Derek's arguments point by point.
     I invite you to look objectively at the facts and the reasons supporting both sides of the arguments, and decide based on the evidence.


8 REASONS TO USE 360 VIDEO
     Before I begin, I want to clarify a very important point: NO ONE is suggesting that 360 video is going to replace all videos, or will even be the dominant form of video.  360 videos are just one medium and there are some situations in which it excels, and other situations where it does not.  Here are 8 situations where 360 videos do an amazing job, and some 360 videos that illustrate those uses.

1. A SPECIAL PLACE
If you are at a special place and you want to capture the beauty all around you, 360 videos are an ideal medium.  360 videos are perfect for travel, especially for that once-in-a-lifetime vacation.  Here's a travel video by Qantas Airlines:


2. A SPECIAL TIME
Whether or not the place is special, you may want to record it with a 360 video if it's a special time.  360 videos are therefore ideal for weddings and other special occasions.  Here's a 360 wedding video by Harishankar Photography:

3. JOURNALISM AND VLOGGING
360 videos capture everything and can be brutally honest.  It is therefore an excellent medium when you want to convey authenticity, as for journalism or vlogging.  Check out this 360 video by Casey Neistat.

4. OBSERVER VS. PARTICIPANT
In a typical video, the viewer is an observer, often detached from the action.  360 video brings the viewer into the action as a participant.  An example of this is the Lion King 360 video, which puts the viewer in the middle of the stage with the performers, instead of being merely a passive observer.

5. EMOTIONAL INTENSITY
Because viewers feel immersed, a 360 video can be more emotionally intense than a non-360 video.  For example, in a 360 horror video, you could feel as if there's something creeping up behind you, or you might feel that there's a creature standing right in front of you.  This 360 video based on the Conjuring 2 is only about 3 minutes long, but it's not so easy to sit through it.


6. EMPATHY
360 videos can help generate empathy by placing you in the shoes of another person, in a way that is more intimate than with a non-360 video.  In this 360 video by the National Autistic Society, you can get a sense of what it's like to have autism and be overloaded with information.


7. CHANGING BEHAVIOR
All of the factors I cited above come together to make 360 videos a powerful medium for changing behavior.  An excellent example is Charity: Water's 360 video, "The Source," which is about a young girl in Africa who has no access to clean water.

After watching this video, a donor who had already pledged $60,000 to provide access to clean water was so moved that he increased his donation to $400,000.

8. VR
Perhaps the most pragmatic reason to use 360 videos is that it is a natural fit for VR.  VR headsets are becoming more popular, thanks to headsets such as the Samsung Gear VR, Playstation VR, and the upcoming Google Daydream.  Even though 360 videos are not strictly speaking VR (because you don't have 6 degrees of freedom), VR headset users would prefer to see a video in 360 than in a non-360 format.

Let's now turn to Derek Muller's arguments...

RESPONDING TO 2VERITASIUM'S ARGUMENTS
Suppose I'm very experienced at oil painting.  One day, I see someone use watercolors.  I go buy a set of watercolors. I don't bother to learn watercolor techniques.  I just make a watercolor painting using my oil painting methods, and then point out how it is inferior to oil painting.  How much credibility would there be about my opinion on watercolors?

According to Derek, he made up his mind about 360 videos when he went to a scientific convention where they exhibited a 360 video documentary.  After watching the video, he decided that 360 videos are a bad idea.  He then got a 360 camera with low-res video capabilities (seems like the Ricoh Theta) and then used it to make a video about why 360 videos are bad.

Derek made 7 arguments why he thought 360 is just a fad.  I'll discuss those arguments below.  There's an element of truth (cough cough) in his arguments, which is why they could be persuasive to someone unfamiliar with 360 videos.  However, his conclusion does not follow for the reasons set forth below.  FYI, the arguments are overlapping but I'll try to respond point-by-point.

1. RESOLUTION AND BANDWIDTH.
Derek's first argument is that the resolution in a 360 video is too low.  It is true that a 360 video will always appear to have lower resolution than a non-360 video with equivalent resolution.  This is because the video is spread out over 360 degrees, and you're looking at only a portion of the 360 video at any given time.  The solution, as Derek himself acknowledged, is technology.  Derek used a 360 camera with 1080p resolution, which was amazing in 2015, but in 2016, 4k is where it's at.  There are 360 camera rigs with 8k resolution such as the Gopro Omni, and they will definitely be more common, with upcoming cameras such as Insta360 Pro.

Derek's follow-up argument is bandwidth.  He argues that even if we make 360 videos with very high resolution, the videos will take up a lot of space and will use too much bandwidth to transmit.  It is true that 360 videos take up a lot of space.  However, the answer again is technology.  There are codecs with more efficient compression.  For example, H.265 (HEVC) takes up 25% to 35% less space with equivalent quality.  This addresses both the storage and bandwidth issues.

Moreover, new technologies are being developed to further increase efficiency of 360 videos.  For example, foveated rendering is one technique which tracks your eye movement and uses full resolution only for the part of the video that you're looking at, with no perceivable difference.  The result is that it uses up to 90% less processing.

These and other technologies are being developed and refined.  To claim that resolution or bandwidth is a reason that "360 is a bad idea" is tantamount to betting against human ingenuity and technology, which is a losing proposition.

2. WIDE ANGLE.
Derek's second argument is that in 360, everything is wide angle and far things look small.  Moreover, you can't "zoom in" due to the limited resolution.  Again, this is mostly true.  Of course, the same is true for ultrawide angle and fisheye lenses.  It does not mean that ultrawide, or fisheye, or 360 are "a bad idea."  It just means that they are used differently from telephoto lenses or lenses with a normal focal length.  For example, when taking a portrait, you wouldn't try to use a 360 camera to "fill the frame" with the person's face.  Instead, you would use a 360 camera to make an environmental portrait.

What if you're making a documentary and you want to show something close up?  There are several ways to do it.  For example, you could bring the camera closer, or you could use picture-in-picture, as Derek himself did in his video.

3, 4, 5, and 6.  TOO MUCH INFORMATION.
Derek next made four arguments that are overlapping, so I'll handle them as one point.  First, he argued that our brains don't work in 360.  Rather, we focus on one thing at a time.  "360 doesn't add much to storytelling."  Next, he said that a filmmaker normally wants to control the viewer's attention.  With 360, he argues that the viewer's attention cannot be controlled.  He also argued that 360 is distracting, and that it's better if the filmmaker eliminates clutter by forcing the viewer to focus on one thing, rather than giving the viewer everything and leaving it to the viewer to find the relevant information.  Lastly, he argues that artistry is in knowing what to show and what not to show, and that 360 removes the creator's control.

All of these arguments are just different ways of saying the same thing: he's arguing that 360 video includes too much information.  Again, as with previous arguments, Derek's observations are mostly correct.  When used carelessly, 360 cameras, just like ultrawide angle lenses, can produce images that have many things going on, confusing the viewer about the artist's actual intent.

Again, just as with ultrawide angle lenses, a skillful videographer can guide the viewer's eyes toward the intended object of interest.  For example, in the video Invasion! by Baobab Studios, the protagonist is a rabbit and at parts of the video, the rabbit looks intently at an object.  The viewer naturally follows the rabbit's eyes to see what the rabbit is looking at.  A videographer can also use sound cues, especially 360 sound, to guide the viewer's attention.

You may be wondering, why go through the trouble of having to direct the viewer's attention?  Why not simply use a conventional lens that effectively puts blinders on a viewer so they can see exactly what the director wants them to see?  Simply put, allowing the viewer to look around increases the viewer's sense of immersion.  It's because they can look around that they feel as if they are truly there.  It's analogous to a painting with many fine details that most viewers would not notice but those details as a whole nonetheless contribute to the painting's realism - consciously or unconsciously.

7. 360 VIDEO HYPE
Derek's final reason is not much of a reason at all.  He says that 360 video is new and novel technology, so the attention around it right now is nothing but hype.  Interestingly, he analogizes 360 videos to motion pictures when they first came out.  Well, we know how that turned out. :)
Logically, this non-reason could be used against anything, even a hypothetical time traveling machine.  Of course there would be a lot of hype about such a machine.  Just because there's hype does not necessarily mean the hype is unwarranted.  So, for this reason to be valid, Derek would have to show that the hype for 360 videos is undeserved, such as through the arguments he made previously, but I have already rebutted those.

SUMMARY
In summary, 360 videos are not intended to replace conventional videos.  Just like any medium, they have uses that are appropriate and those that are less appropriate.  I have provided examples of effective uses for 360 videos.  I have also analyzed Derek Muller's arguments and explained why his observations are somewhat correct but they don't support his conclusion.

In closing, if you're evaluating 360 videos as a medium, it would only be fair to judge 360 videos by their best exemplars to see what this medium is truly capable of.  For best results, please view on a VR headset:
Introduction to Virtual Reality (Felix & Paul Studios)
Follow My Lead: The Story of the 2016 NBA Finals - an example of a long format 360 video