Google is launching a new, more limited cinematic VR format that it hopes will be almost as accessible as regular YouTube videos. It’s called VR180, a collaboration between YouTube and Google’s Daydream VR division. And it’ll be produced with a new line of cameras from Yi, Lenovo, and LG, as well as other partners who meet VR180 certification standards.
As the name suggests, VR180 videos don’t stretch all the way around a viewer in VR. They’re supposed to be immersive if you’re facing forward, but you can’t turn and glance behind you. Outside VR, they’ll appear as traditional flat videos, but you can watch them in 3D virtual reality through the YouTube app with a Google Cardboard, Daydream, or PlayStation VR headset.
Creators can shoot the videos using any camera with a VR180 certification. Google’s Daydream team is working with the three companies above, and the first of their VR180 products are supposed to launch this winter, at roughly the same price as a point-and-shoot camera. So far, the only image we’ve seen is the one above, a line drawing of Lenovo’s design. It appears to have two wide-angle lenses that can shoot stereoscopic video, and it’s a far cry from the expensive alien orbs that we often see in VR film shoots.
YouTube videographers are supposed to be able to shoot the way they would with any other camera, and will “soon” be able to edit the videos with Adobe Premiere Pro and other standard software. Based on the timeline above, it’ll be some time before you can buy a camera, but Google says creators can apply to loan one from one of its YouTube Spaces, which are found in nine major cities worldwide.
Moving toward 180-degree instead of full 360-degree video has a few big advantages. It doesn’t need the same time-consuming (and often expensive) stitching as videos made with, say, Google’s 360-degree Jump system. You can put a person behind the camera without them appearing in the shot — in full 360-degree videos, filmmakers often literally hide behind objects during a scene. And it could push down file sizes, so viewers are less likely to get annoying buffering gaps while they’re streaming.
A decent amount of VR film is already being shot with a 180-degree field of view — including sports videos from NextVR, which reasoned that viewers would be fine watching action on the field without looking back at the crowd. In practice, we’ve had a mixed experience with this, but it could be a worthwhile sacrifice if it lowers the bar for YouTube videographers.
At the same time, VR180 is further from the goal of full VR “immersion” than 360-degree video, and it lets filmmakers hedge their bets with something that’s easier to translate onto a flat screen. This doesn’t mean VR is in trouble — but at the very least, Google is taking a step back and hoping more filmmakers can catch up.