Yahoo joins Facebook and Google in immersive content race

by Ian Hamilton • September 14th, 2015

Photos viewable in 360 degrees are clearly the lowest common denominator with immersive content, followed closely by 360-degree videos. You don’t really even need a VR headset to see these panoramic photos or videos. To see the panorama you can just hold your phone out and rotate your body in a circle, or on a PC use a mouse to drag around the view. So the opportunity for reaching a large audience through cross-device compatibility is huge. Using software to wrap around a photo so it can be viewed in a panoramic sphere is relatively easy, so it’s also not that hard to offer a large library of content. For this reason it seems like everyone is offering software, services or hardware to make more, and better, panoramic content.

There are a number of apps like Google’s Photo Sphere for making this wraparound content and VRCHIVE is offering “a content distribution platform that connects 360° photographers with VR consumers and empowers anyone to be a VR content creator.” Mattel is entering the space with its updated Viewmaster. Oculus offers 360 photos and videos apps. Samsung has the MilkVR app for video content. Now, even Yahoo, through its Flickr photo management company, is the latest to enter the space using a DK2 to view panoramic photos. According to Engadget, the functionality is only a few weeks old but the company might eventually add a button or link you could click next to all panoramic photos to view them in a head-mounted display.

When it comes to panoramic videos, Google is at the forefront. The company’s “Jump” video-stitching service will soon see its first compatible camera system hit the market, the $15,000 GoPro Odyssey. There is also the low end too, with the Ricoh Theta S selling for $350 to shoot up to 25 minutes of panoramic footage. There are even a variety of iPhone camera accessories to produce 360-degree videos. Google, however, seems intent to be dominant here. The company’s cross-platform Cardboard app, Jump and the Youtube video platform represent an end-to-end pipeline to deliver panoramic videos viewable on practically any device.

That said, it appears Facebook might be trying to prep some answers to Google’s efforts to break into VR via this lowest common denominator. The Wall Street Journal reports Facebook is working on a 360 video app that “would work on many platforms including Apple Inc.’s devices and those using Google Inc.’s Android operating system.” While all Oculus employees are technically employed by Facebook now, the only session at Oculus Connect next week presented by a Facebook employee is one about 360 videos. Here’s the description of the session happening on Sept. 23 at 1 p.m. PST presented by David Pio of Facebook:

“More content creators are filming immersive 360-degree VR video content than ever before. However, VR video today requires high resolutions and high bitrates that stress the limits of video decoders and modern CPUs. These requirements make it challenging to stream high-quality VR video over typical wifi. We’ll reveal new techniques and transformations you can use to reduce the resources required to stream and decode high-quality VR video for playback on Rift and Gear VR.”

That session certainly sounds interesting as downloading gigabytes of data to view even a short panoramic video is a huge pain. I’ll be closely watching these services in the coming months to see if any of these efforts offer leaps in performance or see rapid adoption.

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