I’ve been playing around with 360-degree videos for a few months now, and I think I’ve gained a fair amount of knowledge about the subject to do a little write up. First of all, let me just say that this is not in any way a tutorial, but rather an overview about the subject. Here’s what I will cover:
- 360-degree camera mounts
- Best GoPro settings for 360-degree videos
- 360-degree video Software
- Synchronization methods
- Viewing and Sharing
I first heard about 360-degree videos/pictures back in late 2013. Someone was hired to capture 360 videos and pictures of an event; he was using the Ricoh Theta 360 camera. He shared some of the final pictures with me, and I was blown away. What he showed me was a full 360-degree picture, converted into a little planet. If you’re unsure what a little planet is, don’t worry, I’ll talk about it a little bit later. The Theta 360 does come with some limitations, one being the resolution. Fast forward to 2015, the idea of 360 has come a long way. Companies have built custom 360 mounts which support GoPro cameras, and YouTube is now capable of displaying 360 content.
360-degree camera mounts
I’m going to quickly talk about two companies that are creating quality 360 mounts. There’s Freedom360, which is the mount that I use (holds 6 GoPro’s), and 360Heroes. Freedom360 has only a handful of choices for mounts, while 360Heroes has many more options. These mounts are pricey, and range anywhere from $400 to $1,000. 360Heroes even has a 14 GoPro camera mount which supports 3D 360 videos, and that goes for $995.
If you are just starting out, I would recommend the Freedom360 mount or the H3Pro6 by 360Heroes. Both of these mounts hold 6 GoPro cameras and they’re capable of capturing a full spherical view (360 x 180).
Before we go into the next section, I just wanted to mention that GoPro and Google have teamed up to create what’s now called the Odyssey camera. It’s actually not a camera per se, but it’s a mount that holds 16 GoPro cameras. Yes it can hold 16 HERO4 Black cameras capable of 3D 360 videos at 8K30, but what makes this mount superior to all others, is synchronization. I’ll explain later in the synchronization methods section.
Best GoPro settings for 360-degree videos
First of all, let’s assume you have 6 GoPro HERO4 Black cameras. If you didn’t have any prior experience with 360 videos, you would probably choose the 4K30 mode, right? After all, it is the best setting you could possibly choose on the HERO4 Black. Well, let me tell you why you would be wrong. 4K30 has a resolution of 3840 x 2160, which is a 16:9 aspect ratio, meaning the top and bottom is cropped. Now, most of the 360 GoPro mounts on the market are developed to capture a full 360 spherical view by requiring as little as 4 GoPro cameras. It would be impossible to capture a 360 video using any 16:9 mode. All GoPro’s have a 4:3 sensor, allowing it to capture a wide shot vertically and horizontally. The 4:3 modes are the best settings for 360-degree videos. This allows each camera in the 360 mount to have some overlap in footage. If there isn’t any overlap between the cameras, you will not have a good 360-degree video. Actually, you will not have a 360-degree video at all.
GoPro HERO4 Black 4:3 modes:
- 2.7K 4:3 Mode
- 1440P Mode
- 960P Mode
These are the only modes you should be using. If you are using a different camera, say for example the Xiomi Yi, you will only have the 960P mode to work with. Keep in mind, not all knock off GoPro cameras have 4:3 modes.
Now the other thing you need to keep in mind is when all of the GoPro’s are in a 360 mount, each camera captures different lighting. Therefore the exposure settings on each camera needs to be adjusted. For instance, you will have 3 GoPro’s pointing upwards, and 3 pointing downwards. The ones point up will have more of an overexposed shot, while the ones pointing down will have underexposed shots. If you set the camera to full auto, you will end up with 6 different looking videos. No worries though, because the video stitching software is smart enough to detect those difference, and blend each cameras exposure. One thing you can’t get away with is darkness. If you are shooting a 360 video at night, you will need to enable Protune, and set the ISO to highest setting possible.
360-degree video Software
Now it’s time to talk about software. I am only going to talk about Kolor’s 360-degree software since that is what I am familiar with. But there is other software available such as PTGui and VideoStitch. PTGui goes for about $91, while VideoStitch goes for $875, each have free trials before you buy.
Like I said, I will focus more on Kolor’s video stitching software. I’m specifically going to talk about Kolor Autopano Video Pro 2 and Kolor Autopano Giga 4. Both of these applications are also available with free trials. The stitching software is essential if you want to create 360 videos. You can’t just use any editing software like Adobe Premiere, or Sony Vegas. But, once your video is stitched together and finalized, it can later be post processed in Adobe Premiere or Sony Vegas. There are two important parts when creating a 360-degree video, synchronization and stitching. I’ll talk more about synchronization in the next section. Basically, each camera has to be synchronized, so that the software can accurately stitch together each video clip. If the cameras are not perfectly synchronized, you will end up with something like this:
Notice how my face, skateboard, and some of the background is duplicated. I purposely reproduced the above image, but for those that are unaware of the synchronization methods, this can happen, and it will be very frustrating. Now, let’s say you properly synchronized all 6 GoPro’s, the next step is to stitch together all of the clips. When you stitch together all of the clips, a large panoramic video is created; this is an automatic process created by the software. Usually it will look fine, but if you run into any inconsistencies, you can make further adjustments using Kolor’s companion software Autopano Giga 4. In Giga 4, you can fix the horizon, match exposures, create little planets, and much, much more. There’s only two things you really need to do in Giga 4, and that’s adding more control points, and adjusting the horizon. Each time you save your settings in Giga 4, the adjustments get pushed to Autopano Video Pro 2.
Here’s an example of a little planet:
Now let me explain the synchronization process, which is the most important thing in creating 360-degree videos. In order to get each camera to start recording at the same time, you will need to use the GoPro WiFi remote. When you hit record on the remote, each camera will begin recording at almost the same time. I repeat, almost the same time. This is why we need to perform two different synchronization methods for a precise sync. There’s a sound method, and a motion method, and I highly recommend doing both. The first method is to clap your hands as close as possible to the 360 mount. The other is to spin the mount on its tripod a couple times. The software will then sync each camera either using the sound of your clap, or the motion you created when spinning on the tripod. If you do not perform either of these two, you will spend hours trying to sync each video manually by eye.
Earlier I talked about how the GoPro Odyssey is the most superior 360 mount, and it was because of synchronization. The Odyssey camera is “synced down to the pixel level to function as one camera.” If I would have to guess, I would say that the cameras are all synced using the GoPro connector on the back of the camera. They have not released much information about it yet.
Viewing and Sharing
The last thing I want to cover is viewing and sharing your 360-degree videos. As of March, YouTube has supported 360-degree video uploads. You will find plenty of amazing 360 videos on YouTube by using the 360 filter, or by going to the popular #360Video page. But how does one upload a 360 video? Once your 360 video is completed, there is one step you need to perform before uploading it to YouTube. You will need to run your video through the 360 Video Metadata Tool. After you complete that, you may upload it to YouTube.
Now, if you are using other sites like Kolor Eyes, or Vrideo.com you do not need to run your video through the 360 Video Metadata Tool, that is just for YouTube. I really like the Kolor Eyes player because you have more control of the 360 video stream.
Another way of viewing your 360-degree videos is with the Samsung Gear VR, Oculus Rift, or Google Cardboard. This method of viewing 360 videos is by far the best way to experience spherical videos. These devices are strapped to your head, and it gives your eyes the illusion of being there. Now if you are only interested in watching and not creating 360 videos, then I would recommend getting started with Google Cardboard. If you are developing 360 videos, definitely go for the Samsung Gear VR or Oculus Rift.
Well that’s going to conclude this overview on 360 videos. Hope you learned something new. I may eventually go into greater detail on how to synchronize and stitch 360 videos, possibly even make a video tutorial.