360° Video vs VR: why the distinction is important
In an industry like ours, buzzwords abound, often bandied around with scant regard for their true meaning. So it is with VR and 360° videos. These terms are used almost interchangeably when there are distinct differences.
Ever since watching the visions of VR in 90s TV shows such as Cyber Zone and Knightmare and films like The Lawnmower Man, people have been excited at the idea of realistic virtual worlds. Today, we are closer than ever to this dream but, in the intervening years, virtual reality has taken a hiatus.
With advances in technology finally catching up with people’s desire for immersive and realistic experiences, VR is back with a vengeance. However, the re-emergence of VR has run concurrently with other similar experiences, such as 360° videos and spherical photos being shared on platforms like Facebook. Now, while it’s true this content can be experienced using a VR headset like the Oculus Rift, or a head-mounted display like Google Cardboard, the distinction between these executions and true VR is important. So…
What is VR?
Virtual Reality (VR) is an interactive simulation of a three-dimensional world. I used italics in the previous sentence to hammer home the point that true VR is both ‘interactive’ and a ‘simulation’.
The world in a VR experience has to be created, fabricated using a combination of software and hardware to present a realistic environment for users to interact with. Often you will be able to move freely within this environment and you will have an element of control, such as buttons to press or objects to pick up.
How is that different to 360° video?
360° video, is just that… a video. It is captured using a camera rather than built using 3D-imaging software. It means your viewpoint can only go where that camera went. So think live action, not animation.
Crucially, you will have no way to interact with the environment and alter it with your actions.
Why should I care?
Mostly because getting halfway through a project scope and realising you’ve been talking about entirely different things is very, very frustrating.
Building a believable and fun VR experience can be a big investment, requiring niche skill sets and some powerful – and often expensive – software. Making an immersive 360° video can be just as complex but can also be as simple as fixing a 360° camera to something exciting (see below).
What’s more, 360° video is far more accessible to audiences. 360° videos can be shared and enjoyed on Facebook or YouTube, without the need for a headset. To enjoy a VR experience, your users will need an often prohibitively expensive set-up – around £1,200 for an entry-level Oculus Rift and PC bundle, or £750 for a PS4 VR bundle.
Is VR or 360° right for my business?
If you are looking for decent engagement levels and a very broad reach, then I would recommend 360° video. It can be viewed through your audience’s existing social media channels and the technology barrier to entry is very low. So far, 360∞ videos have tended to be adrenaline-fuelled or narrative-driven experiences, opportunities to offer audiences a glimpse of the more exciting or exclusive elements of a business.
Are you a manufacturing giant? Invite your audience to feel what it’s like to stand next to your most impressive machines at full tilt. Are you an interior design agency? Take the user on a guided tour of your latest projects.
VR, by contrast, is currently an opportunity to engage an early-adopter user in an arguably more meaningful way. Most VR experiences on the market at the moment are games, although VR has far more applications in the offing. Virtual training, virtual ecommerce stores, virtual test drives – they’re all on their way.
Looking at the same industries as before, a VR experience for the manufacturer’s audience might be a world in which the viewer could operate the machinery to create the product and, for the interior design agency, virtual rooms could be created with the same dimensions as each of its clients’. They get to create their own interiors by moving furniture into a room and arranging it in different set-ups and colourways, plus being able to switch lights on and off to see the effects, close curtains, move paintings around etc.
Three questions to ask your agency to make sure they know what they’re talking about…
- Where will the VR/360° content be housed e.g. Facebook, Steam, YouTube?
(Facebook or YouTube, it’s a 360° video)
- What will my audience need to enjoy this content?
(If they say ‘a phone’ it’s probably 360° video)
- How will you create the experience?
(If they say ‘with a camera’ it’s not VR)
Take a spin (at your desk)
Here at Made by Sonder, we’ve found 360° videos to be a perfect fit for our Triumph Motorcycles blog. So you want to go cruising around London during the very dapper Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride, try this out (it works brilliantly on mobile – particularly if you’ve got one of those chairs that spins 360°).