Stop Calling 360 Video VR!

In recent years 2D, 360 video is sometimes reffered to as VR.  This is damaging to Virtual Reality. 

To experience a ‘reality’ requires that one has the sensation of being both physically and mentally in a space and that the participant is able to engage with that space in a meaningful way.

Proprioception, the sense of one’s position and movement in space, must be engaged to feel as though one is experiencing a ‘reality’.  Both mediums engage proprioception but there is a notable difference between proprioception that locks a participant to a spatial position in front of a 2D 360 screen allowing only head movement, and the proprioception afforded to a participant who has freedom to navigate and interact with a 3D space.

For a reality to be virtual there are certain attributes required. Virtual Reality is a medium in which the participant has the complete freedom to move around a fully stereoscopic 3D space, not confined to set position within that space, and interact with virtual objects within the space.   

Where the use of the VR title for 2D 360 video becomes damaging lies in the shortcomings of the 2D 360 medium.  2D 360 video has some inherent difficulties in its display medium of choice, the VR headset.  Using a VR headset to display a 2D image confuses the participants brain. Our brains want to see the image as fully stereoscopic 3D. When we put on the headset our brain does everything possible to try to resolve the image as a 3D image, not a 2d image projected on a sphere in space. This causes nearly instant headaches and provides both an underwhelming and painful experience.   

The medium of 360 Video:

360 video allows the audience to look around and create their own framing for a film, this is something that minimizes one of the filmmaker’s key tools of storytelling: framing and layout.  360 video replaces those tools with the ability of the participant to freely look around the scene at whatever interests them. This shifts the balance to be heavily action driven. Framing and layout become bit players used only to set the position in space the participant will be located. It is important to choose this position wisely and ensure the full 360 frame is interesting but relinquishing control over the framing poses difficulties in maintaining the flow of story. This all contributes to 360 video as being a very different medium from traditional film making that requires a shift in thinking.  

As long as 360 video is shot fully stereoscopically, it is an interesting new form of film making with it’s own potentials that have not yet been fully realized and that lay somewhere between Film and VR.