Comparing 360 Video vs. Virtual Reality

With the growing interest and popularity in immersive technologies, it’s important to make sure our terminology aligns. Chances are you have heard a few different terms – extended reality (XR), computer generated imagery (CGI) virtual reality (VR), and augmented reality (AR). How do we compare 360 video vs. virtual reality?

XR refers to all modalities under the immersive technology umbrella, like AR and VR.  AR is the digital overlay of information onto the real world. The key term in this definition is “real world.” AR keeps you grounded in your existing space while incorporating your surroundings into an enhanced experience. The real-world characteristic allows it to stand alone from its immersive technology siblings. AR is experienced through apps and browsers on mobile or wearable devices. These wearable devices are typically lightweight and do not eliminate your ability to see your space. 

Once we decide to put on a headset, definitions get a touch murkier. Of all the XR terms, VR is the one used most inconsistently. The tendency by most is to encompass anything consumed through a wearable headset as VR. In many cases, this leads to both CGI-based virtual reality and 360 videos placed in the same definition bucket. Combining these under the same term does a disservice to both mediums and confuses clients and colleagues new to the technology. This confusion can lead to expectations not being met and goals and objectives not hitting the mark. Worst of all, for many, it causes their first foray into immersive technology to be a not-so-pleasant one. 

Our goal here is to add some clarity to the definitions and properties of CGI virtual reality compared to 360 videos. While they seem similar at 50,000 ft, it’s essential to recognize a few fundamental differences between them so you can be better prepared and informed when planning your next immersive technology project.

360 Videos

360-degree videos are immersive, spherical video recordings captured by an omnidirectional camera. They project a post-production view in every direction simultaneously. 360 video capture happens with a camera. The fidelity will be close to a home video and provide a more realistic environment mirror. Since you will be working with a video, what you can do and experience will be limited to that medium. Traditional editing methods provide the length, image, and story you wish to convey. With authoring tools, you can provide interactive hotspots or additional text and imagery in the scene, but it will always remain a static video. Wearables, mobile devices, and web browsers are used to view and interact with 360 videos. 

This medium allows you to become an observer of the actions happening in the video. The camera placement and capture dictate your role in the story. Are you in the activity or the crowd? The camera captures the vantage point they want the user to experience during playback. In 360 video, user-interactivity is very limited. Users cannot physically move around within the video and cannot directly interact with any objects. They can not pick anything up, push or pull things, or move levers. 360 video, also known as spherical or immersive video, is suitable for virtual tours, immersive storytelling, and high-level hot spot interactive engagement tools. 

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality is fundamentally different than 360 videos. Virtual reality is a computer-generated, fully immersive, interactive three-dimensional replication of an environment and its objects. CGI virtual reality is entirely adaptable to the user’s needs. VR mimics the natural world and your ability to interact with it. An essential distinction of VR from all other immersive options is that it is an entirely computer-generated virtual space. VR experiences rely on high-end graphics and visuals to be as true to life as possible when recreating scenes. Even with that ability, they are still distinguishable from a live environment. Developers and 3D artists create virtual reality environments in authoring and design tools typically used in video game design. 

In virtual reality, you are an active participant in the experience. Your vantage point is entirely within your control. You can change your viewing angle and location by using a controller. In addition, you can pick up, throw, break, repair, or move objects inside the experience. In VR, you can take part in anything that is happening in the scene. You are in complete control of your view and how you interact with the experience.

360 Video vs. Virtual Reality

Comparing 360 Video vs. Virtual Reality 1Comparing 360 Video vs. Virtual Reality 2
Camera captured environmentComputer produced environment
Real-world fidelity (video quality)Digitally created game environment
Accessed on mobile, web, and wearablesAccessed through wearable headsets
Immersive video engagementInteractive scene
Passive viewingActive engagement
Movement and location are limited to camera location and perspective (3 degrees of freedom)User fully controls movement and location while in the experience (6 degrees of freedom)
360 Video vs. Virtual Reality

As you can see, there are significant differences between 360 videos and VR. Both have their place and can provide success depending on the project’s needs, but labeling both of them to be VR is not entirely accurate. To put a final point on the differences, each one also has a unique development cycle and production efforts. Your 360 video project will run like a video shoot with post-production efforts, and your CGI project will require 3D artists and developers working together to create your immersive environment. There are different development paths and costs associated with each. To ensure the success of your project and that your clients are satisfied with the outcome, keeping these differences in mind will be essential.    

Are you considering VR training but would like to see more proof of its benefits?
Download our white paper: The Case for Immersive Training.

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Destery Hildenbrand

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