What We’ve Learned From 7 Years of 360 Video

Extended Reality Mar 09, 2020
Recently we’ve had an opportunity to try out the new Insta360 One R Twin and it seems like a good opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come, what we expect to see in the coming year or two, and what that means for the education sector.
Insta360 One R Twin Edition

Our first 360 camera was 4 Elmo QBic MS-1’s in a plastic rig that positioned them for overlap. It was unwieldy, low resolution, required manual stitching in proprietary software, and at the time, difficult to import into a VR/XR Game development suite like Unity. We struggled to get good footage, but one group of students managed to make a pretty good lab tour, across a whole semester.

After the stitching nightmare of our first rig, we were looking for an all in one solution. This bought us to the 360 fly, much cheaper and in a much nicer form factor. We captured a lot of footage with this camera, though it only supported a 240 Degree Vertical field of view, careful production choices and positioning gave some impressive results, discounting this nausea inducing adventure (don’t have rapid janky movement in Virtual Reality).

TechLab video footage using 360 fly

The resolution though, as you can see, left a lot to be desired. We tried the Ricoh Theta 360, the Samsung Gear 360, and the Insta 360 Nano; all were fine on stitching but lacking in resolution.

Our next camera was the Nikon Key Mission 360. which came with 3 key benefits.

  1. 4K resolution with onboard stitching.
  2. Waterproof and submersible.
  3. Sub $500 AUD price point.

For a long time this was our go to camera and still has applications due to its waterproof nature. The quality was excellent but there was still on camera stitching that wasn’t too easy to control.

TechLab video footage using Nikon Key Mission 360

You’ll notice in the clip above that  there are very obvious seam lines on the cabinet to your right and the chair to the left. These are exacerbated by the bright light coming through the stained glass in the Carillion room. A lesson learned, sometimes you don't get to chose your location, especially when developing education or documentary material, you will have limited control over the light.

This brings us to our current camera. Once we started to enact the University's VR strategy, we knew we needed to be able to control all of the variables. we came up with a list of requirements:

  1. Maximum resolution, the bigger the better, with detail being the goal;
  2. 3D capability (more on this later);
  3. 3D Spacial audio;
  4. Automatic Stitching that could also be tuned;
  5. Long range remote control (you will notice I’m in the room with the Carillion above by necessity);
  6. Full control of Video settings and real time preview;
  7. Stabilisation;
  8. Live streaming capability at high resolutions.

There were maybe 3 or 4 cameras on the market that met the requirements, however after extensive research we landed on the InstaPro 360 2. There’s nothing quite like 8K 3D VR at 60 FPS.

This camera has become our mainstay, from the work we do in food science with Lion Nathan and One Harvest, or filming break through medical facilities like the CPC hybrid theater,  MRI-Linac or Heart tissue regeneration lab at Westmead hospital. It has journeyed to events and the content from this camera is consumed across the curriculum. However, it is expensive and that makes it hard to scale. Right now, we train and onboard users in its use, and do much of the post production ourselves.

TechLab video footage using Insta360 Pro 2

This is where the Insta 360 One R twin may come in - around 1/10th of the cost, with a tiny form factor. This might be the balance between professional quality 360 content within a University budget. The 3m selfie stick means this can be used to shoot in all sorts of circumstance, the weight is astounding and the built in AI for object tracking is truly astounding in such a small footprint. Seams are all but invisible, and the stabilization is wonderful.

TechLab video footage using Insta360 One R Twin

There is no doubt we will see more and more of this in classrooms over the coming years, immersive learning is becoming the norm, and this technology allows us to provide high fidelity experiences in environment that may be unsuitable or unsafe for students. While ideally students can experience workplaces and labs directly, this is the next best thing to providing insight into other environments when we have cohorts of 200 or 2000. Thanks to the ease of use, and price of equipment, 360 Video delivered in VR or online is now a sustainable solution and our university among others will adopt a VR/XR strategy to leverage it.

But what does that mean is coming soon? Go-pro has the Max on the market, and its a worthwhile competitor, but where they both fall down long term is battery life.  with a 256GB card, you are looking at several hours of footage, with a spare battery you can maybe run the device for 2 hours, editing and previewing on your phone is tedious and also drains its battery.

Battery is the big blocker for a lot of the technologies we work with in the TechLab, wearables, XR Headsets, Mobile Phones, and Cameras will all be improved by the next generation of battery. Lithium Sulfur is promising but is still several years away, Lithium solid state will arrive sooner and this is being driven by safety concerns, thanks to airlines banning Li-Po and Li-ion in luggage among other similar situations. Without delving too far into the future, ambient electric harvesting of radio waves and human nano-generators are all coming down the pipeline though are likely 10 years away.

For now, it's a pleasure to use both the Insta 360 Pro 2 and the Insta One R Twin. Summing up the lessons of the past 7 years I’d say our real lessons are with scalability and process, while previously the TechLab or Immersive Learning Lab had to be greatly involved in order to ensure quality production, now with 5 minutes training anyone can produce a 360 educational video easily and cheaply.

Jim Cook

Manager of Digital Innovation and Strategy—Jim works closely across the University community to provide significant and positive research and teaching outcomes for the University.

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