At the annual F8 Facebook developer conference in September, CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg unveiled something new coming to your News Feed. It’s called 360 Videos, and Zuckerberg thinks it’s the future of watching videos.
In a nutshell, 360 Videos is Facebook’s name for 360-degree videos, a new type of interactive video that is gaining popularity. Earlier this year, YouTube started supporting such videos too, and the technology to create them has been gaining popularity.
It’s an immersive experience that’s bound to be best when paired with virtual reality headsets like the Oculus Rift, which Facebook now owns. But you don’t have to wait for the future; you can start watching these videos on your desktop browser or Android app right away.
What is a 360-Degree Video?
Cameras today can generally capture anything that’s within 170 degrees in one direction. If you want to see what’s happening behind the camera, you could add another camera on the back to get another 170 degrees. By outfitting six cameras (front, back, left, right, up, down) into a single unit, you can capture what’s happening in all directions from a central point.
That, in essence, is what a 360-degree video is. It’s actually six videos that are stitched together by smart algorithms to form a seamless single video. The view is like being at the center of a sphere, and you can look in any direction. To look in any direction, you click and pan like in Google Street View.
Normally, 360-degree videos are the domain of virtual reality, partly because the equipment to make them is expensive. But as camera technology gets better, the existing tech is becoming cheap enough to bring 360-degree videos to the mainstream.
Using Facebook’s 360 Video
What does this mean for Facebook? Well, the social networking giant believes such interactive videos are more compelling to watch because viewers feel like they are part of the action. Facebook wants to bring this immersive experience to everyone in the form of 360 Video.
On the face of it, a 360 Video looks exactly like a regular video uploaded to Facebook. Your only clue that this is different is through a small “360 Video” icon that appears in the bottom-left corner of the video before it starts playing.
Currently, 360 Videos can be watched through the desktop browser or through the Android app. Facebook has said they will be coming to the iOS app soon.
To Pan and Scan a 360 Video:
On desktop: Click and hold your left mouse button, and drag the mouse in the direction opposite to the one you want to go in. It’s just like Google Maps and you’ll get the hang of it in no time. If the clicking and dragging is a little difficult (I found it painful on a trackpad), then use the arrow keys or W, S, A, D keys to look up, down, left, and right respectively.
On Android: Tap and hold your finger, and drag it in the direction opposite to the one you want to go in. Again, it’s super simple and you’ll get the hang of it in no time. This requires the official Facebook app, and it doesn’t work via a mobile browser or in the lightweight Facebook Lite app.
Alternately on Android, your phone’s gyroscope sensor (if it has one) can learn your current orientation. Once it does that, your current orientation becomes the center point and you can then move the phone for it to automatically pan and scan in that direction. It’s quite awesome!
Where to See 360 Videos
360 Videos haven’t yet caught on massively on Facebook yet, but you can already check out quite a few of them. The Official 360 Video page lists all the best ones surfacing every day, and you can click below to view a few of our favorite ones:
- Take a 360-degree test drive with Top Gear’s infamous The Stig
- Look all around in an active war zone in Aleppo, Syria
- LeBron James during his training
- Discovery’s MythBusters go underwater with sharks all around them
- Speed across the Jakku desert in the new Star Wars movie
How to Make and Upload Your Own 360 Video
Right now, 360 Videos can only be made with a special spherical camera rig. Surprisingly, you can get some good 360-degree video cameras for less than the cost of an iPad.
Several reviewers recommend the 360 Fly, a new tiny and inexpensive camera that multiple writers have likened to being the GoPro of 360-degree videos. The 360 Fly costs $399, shoots in all angles (although it loses a tiny bit of sight at the bottom of the rig), and delivers decent image quality too.
If you want better quality, you’re going to have to shell out a bit more. The good rigs aren’t cheap, but your best bet is getting the $295 360Hero plug-and-play kit, and fit six GoPro Hero 2, Hero 3, or Hero 4 cameras into it. Even the cheapest GoPro Hero 2 costs $185 though, so you’re looking at serious cash here. Before you buy those, you might need to know a few things.
Once you have your 360-degree video, you need to make sure it has the appropriate metadata. If you’ve used a dedicated 360-degree video camera like the aforementioned 360 Fly, you needn’t worry. But if you’ve hacked together your own rig, then follow these instructions to add metadata to your video file.
Now you’re ready to upload your 360 Video to Facebook. It’s just like uploading any Facebook video, but just make sure you tag it with #360Video so it’s easier to find. Also, note that Facebook limits 360 Videos to 10 minutes length and a maximum size of 1.75 GB.
- Have you tried Facebook 360 Video yet? What did you think?
- If you’ve made a 360 Video and uploaded it, share it in the comments!
- Is this just a gimmick or is this actually useful?