It is impossible to deny that virtual reality and social media are beginning to form a very special partnership. Five years ago the thought of consumer based virtual reality technology was unheard of, and two years ago the thought of putting virtual reality content on the internet to share with others wasn’t even a thought. Now, more and more VR content is starting to appear on the world’s most popular social media platforms. There are even some newer social networks that are dedicated solely to just hosting 360° VR content for people to view. Although there are still many limitations to publishing high quality VR content on social media, we are at a point where the people creating VR content on the ground floor have a unique opportunity to refine and perfect content on these social networks before the technology becomes mainstream.
What social media channels can host VR content again?
I would love to say that the options for publishing VR content on social media are endless, but i’m not a real fan of bold face lying. The truth is that currently there are only two prominent social media platforms that can adequately host 360° VR content; YouTube and Facebook. Although each channel hosts content in a similar way there are unique differences with both that offer advantages and disadvantages to VR content creators. Let’s start with YouTube.
YouTube was the first of the two platforms to offer support for 360° VR video. In March of 2015 YouTube officially unveiled its support for 360° video content that anyone who accessed YouTube could stream. When the service launched, 360° VR video would take up as much as 4 to 5 times the amount of internet bandwidth as compared to a normal video. The quality of 360° VR videos was also poor in part because of bandwidth lag, but also the resolution that 360° content was produced in. Most 360° video content is produced in 4K resolution or better. At the time YouTube did not widely support 4K content which led to many uploaded VR videos looking blurry and distorted. However, in 2017 YouTube has addressed these issues by reducing the amount of internet bandwidth needed to stream 360° videos and offers dedicated 4K video support.
Once a 360° VR video has been processed it typically is rendered in an equirectangular format (this is the only format that YouTube recognizes for 360° VR video). Content creators must also inject a line of metadata into the video in order for YouTube to recognize the video format. Videos can be uploaded directly to YouTube and processed just like any other video. Once a video is processed music, captions, and some basic effects can be added to the video using YouTube’s creator options. Once a video is uploaded people can explore the video by clicking and dragging on the video image, or if the video is being viewed on a smartphone the phone itself can be moved in 3D space to view different parts of the video using the phone’s built-in gyroscope. YouTube will also automatically render the video viewed stereoscopically through an appropriate VR headset. YouTube has the ability to connect thousands of people with your video in a very short period of time depending on the shareability of the video’s content. You can view an example here.
Following the launch of 360° video on YouTube, Facebook was quick to follow suit by launching 360° video capability on the platform in November of 2015. Initially, Facebook faced some of the similar challenges that YouTube did with internet bandwidth and video quality. Facebook quickly tackled the bandwidth issue, but unfortunately does not support 4K video resolution which most 360° videos are rendered in. The advantage with 360° videos on Facebook is that once a video is uploaded the video is immediately placed in the Newsfeed of all of your friends for them to view, like, comment, or share the video.
Videos are uploaded to Facebook much in the same way they are to YouTube. 360° videos must be rendered in an equirectangular format with Facebook metadata injected for the website to recognize that video being uploaded is indeed 360°. Once uploaded the content creator can choose a thumbnail to be displayed for the video, and captions can be added if there is vocal audio. Recently, Facebook has unveiled that 360° video content creators can now live stream their videos to Facebook via Facebook Live with a compatible camera. This innovation merges two very distinct technologies together to offer a truly unique experience for video viewers.
What does the future hold?
Given the current states of both social media and 360° VR video technology the future will continue to be bright for 360° VR video content and social media integration. It will be interesting to see if 360° video technology begins to pick up the pace in the consumer mainstream, along with the expected price drop of high-end virtual reality headsets. If 360° VR video content does hit the consumer mainstream it is feasible to assume that at some point in the future all video content shared on social media (and in general) could be 360° VR video.
Nick Myers is a Partner at RedFox Creative. For more information, or to leave a comment visit www.redfoxcreate.com. We’d love to hear from you!