Keeping up with what’s what in a world of constantly changing technology can be very difficult. The second that we think that we’re standing on firm ground, a game changing shift often comes along to deliver a shakeup. Sometimes this can be a massive shift, and sometimes it comes in change within the form of subtle, nuanced distinctions.
For all of the great qualities that the digital realm has brought to the table, it can be hard to tell what’s what, especially because the chorus of voices putting different information into cyberspace seems to have a lot of contradictory opinions. This has been exactly the case in determining some specific information between 360-degree photography and Virtual Reality. Mostly, the merit behind the opinion that these terms are actually synonyms of each other, as has been commonly supposed by many, is now coming under scrutiny.
So, what’s the deal?
Here’s what I’ve been able to figure out.
Although both VR and 360° photography provide an immersive experience where the user can move their point of view at their own will and explore the spherical photo in 360 degrees, the debate that has taken place about this does seem to have formed some distinctions, due to rather passionate Internet Warriors arguing that 360° photography does not necessarily imply VR.
In fact, there are five minor points that I was able to find that would justify that there are differences between these technologies– it may feel like nit-picking, but these are what differentiate VR from 360° videos.
The 5 differences to be aware of between VR and 360 photography
If you are planning on being “in the know” on this technology, it will be important to be aware of what makes each of these two technologies unique from each other.
In 360° videos and photos, you can explore what is around within the 360 cameras point of view, but it is not possible to freely move and wander within that sphere. With Virtual Reality capturing technology, this freedom of movement is possible, and even considered to be essential to the VR experience.
Similar to first point, 360 videos and photos are more limited in the way that the user is able to interact and connect with his environment. In virtual reality, the user forms a connection with their environment that is more intuitive, and emotionally stronger, because the depth of their level of interactivity with the digital environment is more substantial.
Because the VR experience is running on a game engine, it is possible to design VR technology so that the user has consequence on the world that they are exploring, rather than just looking at unique dimensions of a photo or video.
This is a big deal.
The means of content consumption is quite different between 360 and VR. 360 videos and photos can be enjoyed casually with your smartphone or computer browser, whereas VR content actually requires a very specific headset.
As far as creation content goes, the means of doing so between VR and 360 are drastically different.
Virtual Reality content is actually computer generated content which is created by digital graphics, and is quite similar to video game development. 360 video content is considerably simpler, and even the process for photos is less extensive.
The contrasting ways in which content is created is also complex, simply because virtual reality technology does have certain advantages that basic 360 methods can’t quite emulate; most people think of monoscopic video when considering 360, but stereoscopic 360 video is a unique form which is a bit different.
Stereoscopic video is an immersive form of content created when two cameras are recording at the same time, as if each was recording video for one eye, are able to add extensive data into the foreground and background. This style of 3D content creation can only be enjoyed with a VR headset, and it is a version of what is used by Hollywood producers in their 3D efforts.
The possibilities within virtual reality videos are far more expansive than the more straightforward 360 videos. Using 360 video, the timeline and storyline cannot be as creatively manipulated, and the video will have to play conventionally.
With VR, the timeline and storyline is less rigid, which allows the content to be way more interactive, and allows the user to explore the environment that is presented to them in their own unique ways. Again, the interconnection between the user and their environment has an impact on the timeline in which facets of the content are explored, just like it can make an impact on the environment itself.
Basically, VR is a slightly more sophisticated technology in its ability to be far more responsive to the actions of the engaged user. Within a VR headset, an ideal and accessible world of virtual is created by allowing the user to have consequence on their environment.
Meanwhile, 360 photos and videos are impressive in their ability to explore the spherical content, but far more limited in the ways in which the user can explore.
So, what does it all mean?
It means that, just because something is shot in 360 degrees, it does not necessarily mean that it can constitute as virtual reality. Virtual reality, in the purest sense of the term, goes far beyond a 360 image and becomes a fully immersive environment in which the user forms a stronger emotional connection through exploring and effecting the expansive data within the foreground and background of the reality.
Still, I predict that you won’t see people halting the normal pattern of putting them into the same category any time soon… There are major similarities between these two mediums, and the precedent has been set to speak of the two styles of content creation and exploration in tandem with each other.