Some thoughts on YouTube 180

Google introduces new YouTube 180 format

With YouTube’s major announcement on Thursday about their YouTube 180 video format, we’re hearing from customers who are interested in it, and what it might mean for their work and 360 video.

It’s an audacious move by YT, and is effectively YouTube saying “360 is too hard”, so we’ll make it easier for a whole swathe of people (read… consumers) to produce. They are not giving up on 360, which will continue to be supported.

YouTube 180 Format

We think it’s this consumer content acquisition factor that is the main driving point behind YouTube 180. They want regular people to make 180, because that’s easier in equipment terms than 360. In the announcement YouTube say that compatible YouTube 180 cameras will be forthcoming this winter from the likes of Lenovo, Yi and LG, and say how ‘easy to use’ the cameras will be. This is clearly aimed at consumers.

180 video simplifies content acquisition, at least at first glance. The YouTube 180 format involves two side-by-side cameras, with fisheye lenses, producing very wide angle stereo. It’s the same format as regular side-by-side 3D cameras, which first appeared 175 years ago.

19th Century 3D camera

But as any professional stereographer will tell you, it’s not quite that simple.

Most people assume the inter axial distance (IA) for a 3D camera should approximate that of the human eye – about 65 mm. But the reality is this only works for subjects that are 10-15 feet away or more. The typical IA used for professional 3D image capture is 10-30mm, and varies with each shot, and even during a shot. This is impossible to achieve using large fisheye lenses in a side-by-side configuration. You can’t get the lenses close together enough.

So from a professional stereographer’s point of view, the new YouTube 180 format and what it means in terms of the proliferation of consumer grade (and prosumer) fixed IA cameras, and the stereo they produce, is poor 3D quality. This will result in eye strain and perhaps consumer antipathy as before.

Graham Clark, stereographer on movies like Avengers, Titanic and Jurassic Park had this to say today… “Fixed IA 3D cameras are like fixed focus lenses, it’s a compromise that inevitably leads to very few shots that are comfortable and engaging, with most shots being low quality stereo”.

So we can expect a lot of poor quality, consumer stereo 180 to proliferate.

There are however benefits with the 180 format for professionals. Anyone with an existing modular 360 camera rig like a Mini EYE 4, can now turn it into two Mini EYE ‘2’s, simply with the use of new rig frames. We’re exploring this as a product, and if you are interested please sign up here.

For live and non-live use, 180 video simplifies or eliminates stitching, and in general production terms you won’t need to worry about ‘hiding the crew’. You can frame shots just like a traditional production, although we’ve been saying for ages this is equally as important for 360 video. In fact, you can avoid the problem that YouTube cites (viewers prefer not to look behind), simply by framing your 360 shots like traditional camera shots.

Some other key points…

  • 360 remains the future – assuming you believe in the continuing proliferation of VR headsets
  • 180 video is a half way point – it’s ultimately a compromise
  • Capturing 360 video future-proofs your productions. 180 is likely to become our industry’s ‘Black and White’
  • 180 video is disappointing when viewed in a headset. “Where is the rest of the video?”
  • For professional productions, 360 video will remain the preferred option in most cases, as you will inevitably want to share to other 360 platforms besides YouTube, and you can ‘down convert’ to YouTube’s 180 if necessary
  • Given the same bandwidth constraints (e.g. mobile), the quality of a stereo 180 video will be no better than the quality of a mono 360 video. Discomfort and eye strain due to poor stereo is going to rise considerably however.
  • 3D didn’t work the last few attempts, is YouTube really going to make it popular this time?!
  • What are other big companies going to do? Will Facebook and Apple follow Google’s lead?
  • 360 video is still going to be supported by YouTube (both live and non-live), so it makes sense for the industry to continue developing it.

As mentioned, if you are interested in the YouTube 180 format, and future compatible equipment we are exploring, please sign up here.