YouTube Launches 180-Degree VR Videos, Partners with LG, Lenovo, Yi on Daydream-Ready Cameras

daydream view
Courtesy of Google

YouTube thinks it has found the key to taking VR video mainstream: The Google-owned video site announced the launch of a new 180-degree 3D VR video format at Vidcon Thursday. It also partnered with major electronics companies to launch 180-degree video cameras in time for the holiday season.

“YouTube is very much invested in the future of immersive video,” said YouTube lead VR product manager Erin Teague during a recent interview with Variety.

VR180, as the new video format is officially being called, offers users of Google’s Daydream or Cardboard headsets as well as PlayStation VR users the ability to experience videos in immersive 3D, complete with the ability to look around. However, unlike 360-degree video, users won’t be able to look over their shoulder to spot anything behind them: Half of the 360-degree sphere surrounding them is simply blacked out.

On the web or traditional phones, these videos play back monoscopic, just like any other YouTube video. And because they’ve been cropped to be rectangular, there’s no need to scroll around or tilt your phone to catch any of the action — everything is happening right in front of you. Videos will be marked with the Cardboard symbol, and also be listed on a special YouTube VR channel.

YouTube premiered the new format with a handful of videos from YouTube creators, including one showing the What’s Inside-family destroying a giant rubber-band ball.

180-degree VR video lends itself  well to some of the content formats that are already popular on YouTube. Video blogs, for example, can become a lot more immersive with VR180, but there’s never really been a good reason to look the other way when you watch a video of someone talking straight into a camera.

Teague said that make-up tutorials may also benefit from the addition of stereoscopic 3D through VR180. “You can get really close to the camera,” she said — something that often can’t be done with 360-degree video cameras.

This also means that making VR180 video is easier for creators. Scenes recorded with a 360-degree camera have to be meticulously planned, as every little detail is in the shot. 180VR videos on the other hand can be shot pretty much like any other video. And since they don’t require any stitching, post-production is also a lot easier and faster.

YouTube is pushing creators to embrace 180VR through its YouTube Spaces studios, which will soon give out compatible cameras as loaners. The first batch of these 180VR-certified cameras comes from Chinese manufacturer Shenzhen ImagineVision Technology Limited, which is better known under its Z Cam brand. “I am very excited that the VR180 era finally comes and we are very committed to enter this market,” said Z Cam Founder and Chairman Jason Zhang in a statement.

Later this year, consumers will also be able to buy their own 180VR-compatible cameras through a partnership between Google and a number of consumer electronics companies, including LG, Lenovo and YI, which previously also cooperated with Google on the latest JUMP camera. These cameras will be priced like regular point-and-shoot camera models, but come with two lenses to allow for stereoscopic 3D capture. They’ll be branded as “with Daydream” to signal support for 180VR.

These cameras will also come with support for VR180 live streaming, which YouTube launched on Thursday as well. Creators will be able to go live with 180VR from YouTube Spaces studios from day one.

Despite the new format, YouTube will continue to support 360-degree VR videos, something that Google has been investing in with its own camera and cloud editing solution dubbed JUMP. “We think there is a place for both on the platform,” said Teague. “The goal is really to give creators more choice.”