Virtual Reality Video Formats Explained


Not every VR experience is similar. Did you know there are multiple VR formats? If we mention terms like monoscopic 360, or stereoscopic video, do you understand the difference? It’s challenging to keep up with the advancements in VR tech, and it seems like there is something new coming to market every quarter.

VR is accelerating at breakneck speed, with more industry applications for the tech coming up with every month that passes. After the launch of YouTube 360-video support in 2015, the masses experienced the premiere of this immersive technology – and the response was overwhelmingly positive at the user level.

Since its unveiling, releases of altered formats of 360-video began implementation, such as the use of 3D-stereoscopic 360, and VR180. It wasn’t surprising to see the social behemoth Facebook get on board. They welcomed the new formats and provided the support needed to get the tech into the hands of millions of keen tech-heads.

We know it’s challenging to wrap your mind around the different VR formats and how they work. Fortunately, we decided to help you out with your understanding of the subject today but putting together this brief guide to VR video formats that will give you everything you need to know about the topic.

Monoscopic 360 Video

This VR video was the original format that took the world by storm, introducing users to an immersive virtual realm experience. Mono 360 video typically uses a 2:1 aspect ratio, with rectangular resolutions of 3840×1920, 4096×2048, 5760×2880, and 7680×3840. The best way to get an idea of this format is to imagine taking a globe of the world and flattening it out.

Example – Mono 360 Frame

Mono may mean singular, but it only refers to the single video channel available with the tech. It’s important to note that the video still plays to both eyes through the headset. Stereo 360-video features two channels, giving you a slightly different perception through the headset. With stereo, you get more depth and texture to the video, similar to what you might expect from a 3D-movie at the cinema.

As a drawback, while the 360-video format is typically 4K, it still can look blurry. With 360-video, the user is viewing only a small section of the 360-footage at any time. This format results in a 3840×1920 video only showing around 1280×720 in the viewing area at any one time. It’s for this reason that 360-video content occasionally looks like you’re watching TV back in the 90s.

Stereoscopic 3D 360-Video

Stereo 3D-360 video is different from mono in that it utilizes two video channels in the same VR headset, one for each eye. This viewing perspective provides the user with greater depth and separation of objects between the background and the foreground.

Most stereo VR formats for 360-video platforms are top-to-bottom, or side-by-side. As a result, they contain identical video content from the same file, with differing perspectives. Creators use specialized cameras to capture both of these perspectives simultaneously. As a drawback for creators, these stereo cameras have a high price tag, and the footage is time-consuming to work with in post-production.

3D and 360-Stereo Perspectives

3D stereoscopic video creates a sense of depth in animated video files by creating a shift in perspective. This shift occurs due to the channels receiving storage in the same container, cutting resolution in half to the user.

Stereo 360 compensates for this drop in resolution by delivering content at twice the resolution of mono. Unfortunately, this type of format is challenging for both hardware and streaming platforms to utilize.

Typical stereo 360 resolutions include; 3840×3840, 5120×5120 and even 7680×7680. Lower-end hardware receives delivery in 3840×2160 resolution, and the stretched stereo channels packed into a single headset. Unfortunately, at this level of resolution, we lose a significant amount of detail in the video.

Stereo 3D x 360-Frame

With these types of frames, we notice two independently stacked videos in each eye inside the VR headset. This format supplies 3D 360-video at a resolution of 4096×4096.

By now you’re probably wondering how anyone can play 7680×7680 video on a device? VR companies Visbit and Pixana developed viewport-biased 360-players for this exact reason. These two platforms display the pixels in your viewing field at the highest resolution, while preserving processing power and bandwidth by generating out-of-view pixels at a lower resolution. When you move your head, the feed adapts seamlessly, with no blurring.

Unfortunately, these player technologies do not have the same type of industry reach that permits use on platforms like Facebook and YouTube. It’s also critical to note that users need to be wearing 3D glasses or a VR headset to view the 3D. If the user sees the content on a standard screen, it appears like any other standard monoscopic 360 videos.

180 3D or VR180 Video?

In recent months, video platforms like Facebook and YouTube began to provide users with support for VR video content in 180 degrees. VR180 describes a video file that contains two channels of video, with one for each eye. However, the medium only shows the user the front-facing field of view in 180-degrees.

Example of VR180 Frame

Front-facing field of view is the best type of content that suits this format. It doesn’t have the same immersive qualities as a complete 360-experience. However, the format does provide the user with a sense of presence. They can move their head around, and experience other areas of the virtual realm you’re experiencing.

At the moment, VR 180 has most of its applications in adult content. However, its gaining traction as a medium for storytelling as well. VR180 doesn’t have the same restrictions on file size and bandwidth as stereoscopic 360. As a result, the user gets more detail in their VR experience, because you aren’t wasting processing power or bandwidth to generate the pixels behind the user.

Deciding on the Right Format

Deciding on the VR format to use in your projects ultimately depends on your needs as a creator, and the requirements of your task. Don’t fall for the misconception that one format is better than the other – it ultimately comes down to a creative decision as much as a technical perspective.

If you’re working on a project where you have total control, over both the actors and the set, then stereoscopic 360 will be more than sufficient to handle your requirements. In most cases, you get the best results out of this format when the user can appreciate the depth in the video file. With this format, the actors or objects on the set that is in the background, won’t appear in 3D.

You’ll need to position your actors and objects between stereo pairs of lenses, providing you with the optimal depth-effect. Areas that experience overlap of perspective is not ideal for use with this format, causing “dead zones” that may cause discomfort and strain in the user perspective.

Moving the camera around in stereo 3D creates stitching anomalies that cause motion sickness and eye strain in the user that’s viewing the content.

VR180 Cameras

As VR tech continues its rapid acceleration toward a digital future, the hardware costs are starting to come down for creators. The Vuze XR camera transforms footage from 180 to 360 on request. This camera format features similar design specs to those that make cinematic 3D movies. The camera has two lenses in a side-by-side mounting, with the difference being that the lenses are at wider angles.
As a result of the growth in VR camera technology, you can pick up cheap models for around $100, with the professional hardware costing upwards of $10,000. As with any form of technology, the price tag typically determines the quality of the camera.

Stereo 360 Cameras

If budget is your top concern for your project, then you must understand 360-production is far more costly, and the cameras have higher day-rates when hiring. The production crew may also need to be on set and in post-production for longer periods to ensure the shots come outright. You’ll also need to implement a live monitoring solution to ensure actors hit their cues.

Since you’re dealing with two channels in post-production, you are doubling the workload. Text, titles, and logos all require proper set-up for a 3D display, which adds more time to your set costs as well.

While VR180 reduces the stereoscopic workflows tremendously, it results in the lack of a fully-immersive 360-degree scene. Since the post-production relies only on position and calibration and doesn’t involve any stitching, this saves you time and money on your production budget.

360 3D-Video has minimum distance requirements. Stereo 360 Cameras, such as the Samsung 360 Round, require the camera to be less than 5-feet away from the subject when filming.

Mono 360 Cameras

If you’re filming in chaotic environments, such as extreme sports events, documentaries, and other live events – where you have to track the action, shooting in 360-mono is the better choice. Nature scenes, wide shots, and landscapes are also better for 360-mono, due to stereo having no effect beyond a range of 20-feet.

Since there’s no splitting of the pixels to display dual channels in the same headset, the scenes have a higher resolution and look much sharper in mono. With mono, it’s easy to shoot with a seamless stitch, allowing you to move around without ruining the shot.

It’s challenging to decipher depth in motion shots using stereo, so it’s a waste for these applications. The natural inclination is to ask then why you shouldn’t shoot in stereo and then convert it to mono afterward. With this option, you get to deliver content in stereo if everything goes to plan. However, there’s a significant tradeoff that you need to understand.

Stereoscopic 360-video cameras have a greater parallax distance between the lenses, and they are typically larger. As a result, its far more challenging to get an acceptable stitch in monoscopic format. It’s for this reason that we recommend you shoot in mono if the project calls for this format.

6DoF and into the Future

It’s common for tech-heads to refer to their VR experience as either “3-DoF” or “6-DoF.” This abbreviation stands for 3-degrees or freedom, or 6-degrees of freedom.

Users experiencing 3-DoF get to look around in a 360-degree environment, and with 6-DoF, they get more freedom to move around. If immersed in a 6-DoF experience, you can lean down to look at the details on a rock, or take a few steps toward a tree.

Most 360-video experiences are only available in 3-DoF, with 6-DoF reserved for animation or gaming graphics content. Since games are 3D-generated worlds, it’s easier to produce them in 6-DoF. That still has not put a definitive ceiling on the 6-DoF tech, and many photographers and videographers are currently experimenting with 6-DoF 360-video and photography.

The thought of being able to witness an authentic photo-realistic VR mainstream experience in 6-DoF is mind-blowing. When tech companies finally pull it off, it will be like watching the holodeck on the Starship Enterprise. Unfortunately, experts agree that it’s still far off in the future.

Photo-realistic 6-DoF is incredibly hardware-intensive. As a result, the current capture technologies available today are not a practical solution for most production projects. 6-DoF also has severe limitations on movement during use. Even a slight change in height or pitch may result in warping that destroys the shot.

As a result of the deficiencies in 6-DoF, most of the experiences available are still in the development phase, or only available as demos. Still, there are tech behemoths carefully investigating the use of 6-DoF. Check out Google’s “welcome to light fields,” project – there is plenty of details on the project available in their blog. The RED Manifold project is a 6-DoF collaboration between RED and Facebook that looks enticing.

Wrapping Up

We hoped you enjoyed this walkthrough of the latest VR formats currently available. With the latest 6-DoF headsets you can easily view VR content seamlessly yourself, give it a try! Select one of the formats in this walkthrough for your next VR project, and experiment with different formats until you get the results you desire.

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