Virtual reality is a three dimensional representation of reality that is convincing to the user. It is often experienced with a VR headset. The virtual environment convinces the user of the alternate reality by responding to the user’s movements. For example, the projected image will “move” as the user turns his head. As virtual reality has become more popular, 360 video production has as well. 360 video allows the user to see an entire recorded environment and react to it. With a headset, a user can look around a scene as if they were actually there. This gives a sense of realism and autonomy not experienced in traditional video recording. If virtual reality is the reconstruction of reality, 360 video (being a direct response to VR proliferation) also tries to convince the user of an alternative reality experience. As creating 360 video has become more accessible, newer technologies such as 3D 360 video rigs have also been developed. The jump to 3D is the next logical step for 360 videos that try to emulate reality and convince the user that they are in the new environment. But how does 3D 360 video work? And why is it important to the illusion of reality?
In order to mimic reality, it is important to understand how vision works. Humans have binocular vision. This means that the brain interprets a three dimensional image by processing two different images, one from each eye. Because the eyes are in two different positions, the image that each one captures is slightly different. The brain then analyses the differences in these images to interpret relative distances and depth.
If VR is the representation of reality, then stereoscopy is the representation of binocular vision. The basic premise of stereoscopy is that each eye is presented with the same image, but from two different but similar angles. This is similar to how your eyes capture two similar images but from different angles. By isolating each image to only be seen by one eye, the illusion of depth can be perceived from a two dimensional image.
How are these images isolated? Early on, stereoscopy would require users to look into two lenses that isolated the image, similar to a pair of binoculars. Each eye would be presented with similar 2D images that would give the illusion of depth.
Anaglyphs were also used, where one of the two images was coded red, and the other cyan. These were then merged into a single image, and presented to the user who wore anaglyph glasses. The glasses would have one red lens and one cyan lens that would filter out their respective colors and present the user with a seemingly 3D image.
The success of stereoscopy as a principal led to its use in motion pictures and VR.
3D video cameras actually use two different cameras, spaced around 60-65 mm apart (the average distance between human eyes), to record scenes. The result, like with stereoscopic stills, is the same scene from a slightly different angle to each other. The illusion of depth results when each of these images is isolated by each eye.
360 cameras that record in 3D are just beginning to hit the market, and they use the same stereoscopic setup to create 3D video. An example of this is the Vuze+. This camera has four sides, with two cameras on each side. The cameras are set 65mm apart to mimic the distance between human eyes. All the video recorded from the right cameras are stitched together to form a single 360 degree video. The same is done for the cameras on the left, which record the scene at a slightly different angle. When each video is isolated in a VR headset, the illusion of depth occurs in a 360 degree video.
In the pursuit of reality in VR video, 3D stereoscopic footage is the next big step toward realism. VR production companies that successfully mimic how people actually perceive depth will no doubt make the best 360 video possible, just as stereoscopic animation improves computer generated VR experience. As technology improves and cameras become more powerful, this type of technology will become easier to record and use. 360 video production companies will, in the future, have an easier time recording and distributing 3D 360 degree video.
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