Seeing things with a 360 viewpoint


Michael Parsons TV-Bay Magazine
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One of the benefits of working in teaching support is you often get opportunities to explore and experiment with lots of new kit that has been purchased for teaching or research. I have spent the past couple of years supporting the activities that take place within the Creative and Cultural Industries TV Studios (CCI TV for short) at the University of Portsmouth, and I assist in all kinds of areas such as live video production, video editing and outside broadcasting. Aside from sharpening my own skills I also get to help others learn and develop as well.

My most recent exploration has involved 360 degree video. I first noticed the ability to view 360 videos on YouTube last year, and like many others I was quite struck by this exciting and novel way to view video on screen. More recently there appears to be an explosion in 360 video with content appearing regularly on my Facebook news feed. When I first came across 360 video, viewing on a mobile phone seemed beyond the technology, but thankfully that's a thing of the past now. There is something magical about moving your phone around in order to explore a scene and location (when using the official YouTube or Facebook mobile application), and of course you can also just swipe with your finger if you're worried about looking silly in a public place! The reactions that I see from people experiencing 360 video for the first time is usually amazement. It really does have that wow factor, and viewers seem more likely to explore a sequence just out of curiosity.

There is no doubt the recent explosion is due to the fact that 360 video recording equipment has also become more affordable. We have been experimenting at the University of Portsmouth with a pair of Kodak PixPro 4K 360 cameras (costing about £750 in total). Each camera produces a 235 degree 4K sphere (which gives some overlap) that can be stitched together to form a full 360 field of view. The quality for the price is quite good, however for best results the focus of what is being filmed needs to take place within a few metres of the camera rig. We have been using our camera’s for a series of experiments, with the prime intention of proving the use and worth of 360 video to our faculty. This is in the hope of getting something of more substantial quality, like the recently announced GoPro Omni Kit.

One of the main things we have used the cameras for is the opportunity to provide a behind the scenes look at some of our outside broadcasting from locations such as Ben Ainslie Racing Headquarters and Portsmouth Football Club’s Fratton Park. Normally our viewers only see what we want them to see in front of the camera, but now with 360 video some of the hard work of the students, the broadcasting equipment and many of the cables and wires can all be revealed! By placing the camera in between our studio and makeshift gallery you can get a full 360 experience of everything that is going on.

However, 360 degree video on a budget is not without its difficulties as stitching and lining up the cameras can take time. I’ve been stitching the video together using the supplied Kodak PIXPRO 360 Stitching Software. This can be a bit of a frustrating process as there will always be a point where if someone ‘crosses the line’ between the two camera’s fields of views you may see some slight ghosting. Therefore the aim of the stitching is to line up the two camera angles with the best possible accuracy to avoid this being visible. Of course you can purchase systems where are the lenses are fixed for perfect accuracy, for example the Nokia Ozo, but at £40,000 it is a seriously expensive option.

Our 360 experiments continue, with one project involving our Performing Arts school and a drama and dance performance using the technology. So far the latter scenario has provided interesting questions of how to direct and move the viewer's attention. We are also using it to produce virtual open days, where prospective students who cannot physically make the journey to our facilities can look round them and see a room full of students hard at work!

Undoubtedly there will be many future applications for this technology, and there doesn’t appear to be any major sign that this technology is no more than a flash in the pan. With live streaming of 360 video to a virtual reality headset just round the corner, the future of 360 video is looking strong, and who knows, we might look back at this particular moment one day and realise it was the point when everything changed!

You can check out some of our 360 video experiment on YouTube at youtube.com/ccitvchannel


Tags: iss115 | tvfutures | portsmouth uni | ccitv | 360 | vr | Michael Parsons
Contributing Author Michael Parsons

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