Low cost immersive headsets have become commonplace in 2015, with Google and other manufacturers offering users a cheap way to experience 360° video using their smartphones. While high end, tethered virtual reality systems have opted for a proprietary approach to distribution in device-specific ecosystems (Oculus Share, Oculus Store, Samsung’s MilkVR), we looked at some of the major platforms competing to become the leading destination for mobile immersive video. Here’s our pick of apps to start feeding your new headset with quality 360° video.
Founded in May 2014 with a focus on immersive video, Vrideo is a hardware agnostic platform based in Santa Monica, accessible via desktop browsers and dedicated mobile apps for Android & iOS smartphones, and Samsung’s GearVR. The Vrideo player allows for playback quality of 480p to 4K, and supports many different panoramic video formats (cylinder, fulldome, sphere, both mono and stereoscopic). The platform has several featured channels and a trending videos section, and offers a balanced mix of professional and quality amateur content.
Founded in 2014, New York based Littlstar is one of the most innovative platforms in the immersive video space, with custom SDK and APIs tying into the developing immersive content ecosystem. Supported by the Disney Accelerator program, the platform has secured distribution deals with premium content makers such as Showtime, Disney, Discovery, PBS, National Geographic, Red Bull, and is also a go-to destination for immersive branded entertainment. To date, Littlstar boasts an impressive catalogue of immersive content, with some of the highest view counts for 360° videos.
Littlstar panoramic photos and videos can be viewed in desktop browsers via the embeddable player (which features various viewing modes, including fisheye and Little Planet), on smartphones using the dedicated app (Android, iOS, GearVR), and – since December 2015 – on television sets using AppleTV (videos can be fully rotated using the Apple TV’s trackpad remote). Littlstar is currently developing apps for the upcoming Oculus Rift, PlayStation VR, HTC Vive and Merge VR systems.
Littlstar accepts a wide range of specific 360° video formats (Giroptic 360, GoPro 360, Ricoh Theta, VSN V.360, Jaunt, Google Jump, Nokia OZO, Bubl, Freedom 360, 360 Heros, and Kodak SP360), as well as native 360 degree exports from 3D and game engines like Unity, Unreal, Cry Engine, Maya, V-Ray, Nuke, and more.
Acquired by GoPro in 2015, Kolor is a French company specializing in panoramic imaging and 360° video stitching solutions. Kolor Eyes is the company’s software suite and publishing platform built around a HTML5 player for desktop (Mac & PC), mobile (iOS & Android), and the Chrome browser.
The desktop version allows for up to 8K video playback and fully integrates with Oculus Rift headsets. The browser player offers various projection modes including Panini, fisheye and Little Planet, and resolution up to 4K.
In terms of content, Kolor Eyes features both professional and amateur videos organized in channels that sometimes feel a little difficult to browse. Although Kolor Eyes has some interesting content on display, view counts on the portal remain pretty low so far.
With its acquisition of Oculus, Facebook has a natural interest in promoting immersive video to its users as a first step towards mass adoption of virtual reality. Facebook started rolling out 360° video in user feeds in September 2015, with an exclusive Star Wars: The Force Awakens video that could be experienced on Android mobile phones. Today, Samsung GearVR users have the possibility to experience Facebook 360° videos within the headset.
Over the past months, Facebook has been very active improving the encoding of bandwidth-heavy videos to make the mobile user experience much smoother. Facebook has been working with creative content makers such as Disney, Discovery, Vice or SNL to spark interest from its user base, while also crafting a guide for publishers to help them create immersive content for the platform.
On Facebook, the experience of content discovery mostly relies on shares, and the dedicated 360° video Facebook page is nothing but a constant stream of unorganized promotional content. It will however be interesting to keep an eye on Facebook’s efforts to bring virtual reality to the masses.
Difficult not to include the behemoth of online video in this list. YouTube may not be the biggest purveyor of 360° video yet, but recent news confirm the company is betting big on immersive video, as its chief of content Robert Kyncl confirmed during this year’s CES: a partnership with GoPro to release a 360° rig, VR cameras in their YouTube spaces around the world, stitching software using their Jump platform, and of course, the Cardboard viewer (over 5 million shipped) and app, designed to make immersive content available directly on YouTube.
So far, YouTube’s current approach to 360° video as a destination is still pretty basic, through a dedicated channel with only a handful of videos to watch. Over the next year, the democratization of 360° cameras will very likely spark a big wave of user-generated immersive content. Not sure how much we’ll actually want to experience shaky footage.
On a more innovative note, Google launched in 2015 a dedicated 360° storytelling platform for mobile phones called Spotlight Stories, which features some remarkable pieces of interactive content that can be viewed on smartphones – with or without headset, by downloading the Spotlight Story app (Android & iOS).
Over the coming months, we’ll be looking at premium content distribution for both 360° video and VR experiences, with platforms that will hopefully shape the market for paid immersive content. Next to leading players such as the Oculus Store or Samsung’s MilkVR, new upcoming platforms embracing quality immersive content are set to deliver in 2016. Zeality, Metta VR (currently in beta) and EEVO look very promising. And we’ll try to answer another critical question: who will be the YouPorn of VR?