We’re currently working on a new 360 degree immersive video project that utilises the (re)emerging VR technologies used in the likes of the Google Cardboard and Oculus Rift devices. The final goal of the project is still in the works, but the rough plan is to capture 360 video footage to deliver immersive resources that can be used by more than one academic discipline. Thereby extracting the most value possible from each video resource produced.

A good example of this would be capturing a protest, environmental crisis, or training exercise, and having students from areas such as journalism, disaster management, cultural studies, etc, all utilising the same footage in a variety of different ways. When capturing every angle of an event in real-time, there is an order of magnitude more data captured, and that data can be utilised in many different ways. One resource becomes many, and the nature of the recording method rules out the ability to invest in costly and time consuming post production.

With this idea in mind, we set about testing two completely different recording methods, capitalising on a planned junior doctor’s strike to capture some raw footage at an event that had been conveniently pre-scheduled.

I love this kind of test; one that sees the core idea of a project tested in the most practical way possible, and in the fastest way possible. Not only does it speed up the process dramatically, but it also forces you to make decisions early on in a project’s life cycle to get the best results possible within the given time and/or resource constraints. It either goes well, validating your idea and filling you with confidence that it’ll be a worthwhile endeavour; or it goes or so-so, forcing you to rethink your project before you get too far down the road to make any meaningful or feasible improvements to a project. Tuesday presented us with that kind of test.

Armed with two very different recording setups, Sarah Jones, Sarah Andrews, and a team of student volunteers, ventured out to capture the protest early Tuesday morning. Setup 1 was an elaborate GoPro camera rig, mountable on a tripod or helmet, and designed to capture every possible angle using seven high resolution GoPro cameras. An audio recorder was then used alongside the camera rig to capture high quality audio.

Setup 2 was a comprised of a Ricoh Theta S 360 degree digital camera with an integrated audio recorder. The Theta S can be mounted on a tripod or helmet, but for this test it would be hand held.

Unfortunately the larger GoPro setup was riddled with issues from the get go. Some cameras were low on batteries (an unfortunate oversight on our part due to time), others were unable to synchronise over WiFi (a requirement when you’re trying to record with several cameras at once) meaning that each GoPro needed to be manually controlled for every recording session. Low batteries are a real when recording immersive video, because if just one of the seven cameras doesn’t record, your filming is worthless. You can’t stitch together your 360 video if there’s an entire section missing. This meant the event could only be captured on the smaller Theta S rig.

Below is the end result of the Junior Doctors strike test recording session, using the Theta S 360 camera:

It’s disappointing that we didn’t get to record the event in higher quality 360 video, however this footage really demonstrates the power of affordable dedicated technologies that you can rely on in a difficult situation like this. The results are raw, it feels natural, and the video really encapsulates the feeling of being out there on the street with the doctors on strike. I think this is thanks to the subtlety of the Theta S camera. It doesn’t stick out compared to the large, unwieldy, and quite off putting GoPro rig.

Over the next couple of years, as technological progress improves the video capabilities of these small handheld cameras, we’ll no longer need big, heavy, multi-camera rigs and all the preparation that comes with them. Instead, we’ll be able to capture truly high-definition 360 video with devices that are small enough to fit in our pockets, while still providing broadcast quality footage.

Like the smartphone that came before it, I’m excited to see where such devices can take us from a journalism perspective; especially when in the hands of the general public. Citizen journalism is the perfect medium for 360 video; where the events off screen cannot be edited out or hidden from view by those who might wish to manipulate our perspectives or perceptions of events unfolding around us, and not just within the frame provided by the camera operator.

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