Tag: Virtual Reality


The Top Four 360º Video Cameras at NAB 2017

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It’s become clear that 360º video, along with 360° video cameras, is here to stay. If you attended the NAB Show in Las Vegas this year, it was obvious. Exhibitors, large (e.g. Nokia) and small presented many new technologies to help fulfill the growing desire to produce content in this space. This “360º boom” is creating advancements in capture technology, as creators rush to find the perfect end-to-end workflow.

However, when compared to traditional video, the technology is still very much in a nascent stage. Whereas new technologies for traditional video are all about improving on already great capture technologies (e.g. 4k moving on to 8k, HDR and beyond), new technologies for 360° are more about fixing flaws and fundamental problems.

For example, for years capturing 360° video involved capturing footage from several cameras and stitching it together with external platforms like VideoStitch or Kolor, adding laborious hours to the process, and often preventing us from being able to live stream. Stitching was as much art as it was science, and so results were often hit or miss. Look at much of the 360° content prior to 2017, and the chances are that the average person could identify stitching and/or parallax issues.

As of NAB 2017, and slightly before, multiple companies are offering the ability to either stitch in real-time (e.g. Orah 4i) or stitch for you (Google Jump). It’s a tremendous prospect for creators and tech geeks alike, bringing a new level of reliability to 360° content creation.

These new stitching capabilities are a step in the right direction. In an industry where creators can ill afford the risk of adopting unreliable tools, we are starting to see an uptick in reliability.

That in mind, our team at Marching Penguin (gomarchingpenguin.com) put together a short list of our 4 favorite 360° cameras for NAB Show 2017. They are rank ordered, with #1 being our favorite.

4. Jaunt ONE

You may be familiar with Jaunt as a publisher of premium 360º content. One of their main selling points is the high standard they hold their content to, pushing for cinema-level quality in everything they publish. The Jaunt ONE is their own answer to this requirement, boasting some of the most beautiful looking footage that we’ve seen from a 360º camera. It has stereoscopic capabilities for creating immersive 3D content, and can reach 8K by 4K resolution using its 24 camera modules. Automatic stitching for your footage is available through Jaunt Cloud Services.

As impressed as we are by the Jaunt ONE, the price is equally impressive, coming in at a cool $100,000! This is the sole reason for ranking it at #4 on the list. That fact that, comparatively, you could go out and buy a Tesla Model S for 10k less, was surprising to us. Yes, that’s totally an apples to oranges comparison, but it provides a point of comparison. Bottom line: the price point makes this one of the least accessible 360º cameras for today’s content creator.

3. OZO

Nokia’s OZO is similar to the Jaunt ONE in their aim for cinema-quality 360º. However, the OZO is offered at less than half the price of the Jaunt ONE, coming in at $40,000. With only 8 cameras, it’s lighter on its feet, offering 4K resolution.

The OZO also has a shortcoming that the company has repeatedly underplayed in the past. It has a stereoscopic blind spot in the rear. Nokia claims that most 360° capture is for seated experiences, and so the need for stereoscopic in that area is limited. However, for $40,000 we expected more. It’s like buying a luxury car and not getting GPS. Sure, you can use your phone for navigation, but didn’t I buy a luxury car?

That said, one of the key things that makes the OZO impressive is its live streaming capabilities via the OZO Live software. While this is an extra feature (not free), you’d be hard pressed to stream footage that matches its quality with any other camera or service.

2. Orah 4i

When it comes to accessibility, VideoStitch’s Orah 4i is likely the biggest “bang for your buck” 360° video camera out there. While it doesn’t offer stereoscopic capture, it still maintains a high level of quality with 4K resolution on each of its 4 camera modules. What’s also nice is that it offers live stitching locally, rather than using a cloud-based service, cutting out any potential delays from connectivity issues. The Orah is packaged with a “stitching box” that attaches to the camera. This makes it the first camera with live streaming capability totally built in, without requiring you to configure any additional services. For that reason, we feel it’s a strong play for creators that want to livestream on Facebook or YouTube.

1. Yi HALO (Google Jump)

Our top pick goes to the Yi HALO. Created in partnership with Google Jump, this 360° video camera is a bit pricier than the Orah 4i, but far more accessible than the OZO or Jaunt ONE. It offers a solid set of features, including stereoscopic capability and high resolution (between 5.8K and 8K) using its 17 cameras. As part of Google Jump’s lineup (the other key camera being GoPro’s Odyssey) it includes access to the Jump Assembler service, offering automatic stitching of your footage through the cloud. Like the Jaunt ONE, the HALO does not offer a livestream capability. All the same, its other features manage to rival Jaunt’s for a fraction of the price.

But probably the biggest reason for ranking the Yi HALO as our #1 360° video camera is the quality of the experience. We were able to view footage through a regular Google Daydream (as opposed to a Vive or Oculus) and we were blown away. The stitching was seamless and the experience felt immersive, which is rare for a smartphone-base experience. This definitely made it the winner for NAB in our books.

Want to know more?

If you’re not through geeking out with me on these new technologies, we’ve also put together a comprehensive chart of 360° video camera detailing the features and prices of each one. We get into the more techy aspects, like frame rate, and give you the ability to compare side by side.

Sign up for our mailing list or e-mail us at info@gomarchingpenguin.com and we’ll send you a copy!

 

3 Takeaways from VRLA 2017

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Before I get too far, did anyone else notice that the girl in the image has no way of seeing where she’s going? I don’t think it would be funny for her to crash, but the concept of this picture is hilarious.

On to some (Virtual) Reality and VRLA.

According to the organizers, VRLA is the world’s largest VR and AR expo in the world. Of course, I didn’t have any expectations that this event would even be comparable to something like the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) which, for those that have never attended, is a behemoth held in Las Vegas at the start of each year. CES spans multiple, massive halls at the Las Vegas Convention Center and has more recently taken over numerous meeting spaces at hotels on the Strip.

No, despite being the largest event of its kind, VRLA is no CES. Held at the LA Convention Center, the festivities were contained to a relatively small footprint. All of that said, I was still impressed by the size of the event. There were close to 200 exhibitors and major sponsors like Microsoft (HoloLens), HP, Unity, Facebook (Oculus), HTC (Vive), and many more were active participants.

I had the chance to speak with dozens of exhibitors, experience numerous, well, experiences, and attend 4 different panel discussions. I also listened in on part of John Riccitiello’s (CEO of Unity) Keynote. Overall, I learned a great deal, which is a compliment in that I’m not completely new to VR or the world of immersive content. My company (gomarchingpenguin.com) has worked on several immersive and mixed reality projects. So I wasn’t coming into the event a complete novice.

By the same token, and for the sake of humility, I’ll assert that I’m no “expert”. I say that partially because I think few can truly claim the title of expert at this stage of the game. The space is too new, too experimental, and too undefined. So, while I wish I had a magic ball in front of me to predict the future, all I can say is that these are my well-thought out observations after a couple years in the space:

1. Powerful / Smart / Well-funded People and Companies are backing this movement. This may sound like a no-brainer given some of the names I’ve listed off thus far. However, sponsorship of events or attendance by some industry VIP’s alone is not always an indicator of significant backing at a trade show. Big name sponsors are often a staple at trade shows, simply because it is an advertising channel for them. Why I say that there is proof of major backing is because of the depth of the information, case uses, and case studies that were represented.

For example, Riccitiello’s Keynote itself focused less on the flash and sizzle of immersive. Rather, it was a jumping off point for discussing infrastructure for the future of immersive. Riccitiello spelled out a well-articulated roadmap with a long-term horizon, predicting that we are still 2 years away from really having the pieces together for convincing and adoptable immersive experiences. 2 years, in technology world, is a long horizon! In taking this position, Riccitiello indicated that Unity, along with all of the major players in the space, are truly eyeing this as the next big thing. And he was clear, there is still a lot of work to be done.

2. Immersive is nascent in a way nothing else has ever been in consumer technology. New technologies and platforms predictably go through life cycles. They start small, driven and supported by early adopters, and from there they gain momentum. This is nothing new. What’s different about immersive is how much it is pushing the boundaries of our technical capabilities. It is the convergence of multiple technologies and fields. Immersive is video production, CGI, development, manufacturing, haptic technology, psychology, anatomy and more. This convergence is all further complicated by the need to deliver immersive in a real-time fashion. It all translates into a laundry list of challenges for the major players. You have limitations with CPU processing power, GPU processing power, camera capture resolution, stitching and more. These technical limitations breed a host of consumer challenges like cost (e.g. computer, headset, content), health (e.g. people getting dizzy / sick) and portability. It’s a lot to think about, work through, and get right.

So, I wasn’t totally shocked to see that many of the experiences I went through at VRLA had issues. Several of them crashed or had to be re-started. Some had resolution issues. Others had basic stitching issues. And one in particular made me so sick that I was still lying on my bed with a headache 6 hours after the experience on a Friday night. I’m not naming any of these experiences by company because I know first-hand how hard it is to do what they are doing. I also know how limited they are by technology. And so, that’s why it’s re-assuring that we have #1 above. We need better infrastructure to get to the next level.

3. Augmented Reality (AR) is coming fastest. The event is called “VRLA” and yet there were exhibitors for 360° Video, Augmented Reality (AR), and Virtual Reality (VR). From a marketing standpoint, I get why the organizers chose “VRLA”. If I was in their shoes, I probably would have done the same. There is a tendency to group these technologies together and refer to them as VR. The alternative is “immersive”, but ImmersiveLA doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as nicely. The semantics aside, defining what we are talking about when it comes to immersive, is valuable, important, and a logical next step in the process. It’s important we start to differentiate these technologies both as industry practitioners and consumers. That way, we are better able to talk through what we’re building and experiencing. For more on definitions / distinctions within immersive, you can refer to an article I wrote last year: 2016 is the Year of 360° Video (and VR).

Perhaps the most important reason for distinguishing the “what” is the fact that AR deployment and use is going from walking to running while VR is just starting to crawl. The funny thing is that most of us aren’t even talking about AR. While Microsoft quietly builds its network for HoloLens, Snapchat has built its entire business around AR with more than 160 MM active users and Facebook is quickly following suit with its close to 1.9 Billion active users. Meanwhile, even optimistic estimates of VR active users capped out at less then 50 MM in 2016. So, it is almost an understatement to say that AR has already arrived (even though it’s masquerading as the rebellious step-child of social media). With AR many of the technical challenges I referenced in #2 above either aren’t an issue or have already been taken care of. Adoption is natural and more attuned to everyday life. You need a smartphone and nothing else. No headset. No pimped out computer. So if anything, it may be time for 360° Video and VR to take more cues from AR. Because pretty soon, Augmented Reality may just be referred to as Reality.

2016 is the Year of 360° Video (and VR)

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If you’re part of the advertising industry, you know we’re guilty of “shiny object syndrome.” Brands, agencies, and vendors all chase after the next big trend, often without carrying out the proper due diligence to make sure that trend is not a fad. However, after a few years of experimentation, some “shiny objects” gain staying power.

Personally, I’m excited about the prospect of 2016 (0r 2017 or 2018 for that matter) being the Year of 360° Video. It’s not only right in my company’s wheel house, but it’s a very exciting medium to play in professionally. It involves new technology (e.g. cameras and headsets), new workflows (e.g. software and skill sets), and new distribution mechanisms (e.g. 360° video players). There is so much to learn about and so it is, by definition, a shiny object.

From shiny to mainstream.

It also happens to be a mine field for marketers. As fun as 360° content is for consumers, it is equally as challenging to create. So much of the challenge comes from the fact that we’re so new at using this medium for mainstream purposes. And logically, but incorrectly, we use our current knowledge of video production as a reference point.

Let me explain through an example. Let’s take the concept of editing footage together. We are used to non-linear editing systems that allow us to cut from camera to camera. We are spoiled in that we can remove or add in bits and pieces of footage to our hearts content. However, this whole concept of editing is predicated on the fact that a camera is only capturing part of a scene at one time. So if I’m shooting a romantic scene between a man and a woman, but the man makes a funny face at the wrong time (oops), I can more than likely just “cut that out” in post-production. The challenge with 360° is that the “camera” is capturing everything around it! I can’t just remove or add in bits and pieces, or I’ll create a really jarring piece of content. I can’t simply cut out the funny face in a 360° video; I have to capture an entirely new scene if I don’t want to subject my audience to it.

Shifting our editorial mindset is one of several shifts that have to happen for marketers to get 360° video right. We also have to consider consumption and distribution. Currently, only Facebook and YouTube offer 360° video players on social platforms. For Google Cardboard, you need an app that has a stereoscopic output. YouTube offers that, but only on Android phones. Oculus just started shipping headsets and Sony is on the way with theirs soon. So all in all, we’re making progress, but we’re far from ubiquity at this point.

On the path to ROI

I’ve touched on some of the challenges of 360° video, but the real story is about the opportunity the medium offers. Travel, Hospitality, Food & Drink, Live Events, and Automotive are all verticals that can very quickly apply this technology. You can transport consumers to different parts of the world, showcase how it feels to be in a space (e.g. a hotel lobby or inside of a car), and capture the atmosphere of an event in a way that regular video cannot. To put it another way, you can drive greater engagement from consumers by giving them something to experience.

But where’s my ROI? That’s the question we all have to ask as marketers. Ironically, we never really get there with any medium, but we’re always on the hunt for it. So at a minimum, we need to establish that this has some kind of impact on our purchase funnels.

Establishing impact starts with grounding our use of 360° video in existing marketing activity. It cannot be a stand-alone initiative or it will die a slow painful death of internal scrutiny and politicking. Here are a few examples of grounding 360 in existing marketing activity:

1. When creating branded content with regular video, create a 360° video extension(s).

2. Use 360° video to accomplish an existing to-do, like a virtual tour or overview video.

3. Bring an offline activity / event to life with 360° video. You can not only live stream it, but you can capture it for others to view in the future.

Bringing it home

Will 360° video move from shiny object to mainstream marketing tactic? I hope so. There is so much potential for this medium to help with engaging consumers, telling better stories, and getting people to experience things they never have before. The key to success will ultimately depend on whether we can tie 360° video to our greater goals as marketers and business leaders. If we can see it in a light that applies to our own businesses, then we can make it part of our toolkit for years to come.