Considering the anticipation, VR has a lot to live up to. And with companies like Samsung or Facebook leading the charge, it is poised to enter people’s lives with big fracas. But, however cool the technology appears to be, it has yet to convince that it can take a predominate space outside of the gaming word. One major issue is the lack of interaction: beyond scrolling around in space, left right, up and down, users are left being passive viewers of what can often be a boring predefined environment ( see the White House Xmas VR experience). Not anymore.
Palo Alto-based interactive image company Thinglink just released what could be the missing link between VR and success. Using its tried and proved in image tagging technology, it has just released the first interactive VR solution. Here is a 360 video example of it :
ThingLink’s Head of Product, Alexey Solomatin, explaining what they did.
What is the demo about?
This is a demo about an interactive, VR-style, 360-degree spherical video focusing on exploring an optimal user experience for desktop and mobile browsing. We have thought about these questions for several years, but there has not been a lot of 360 material around for testing – this has changed.
What are the typical UI challenges for embedding content in a 360° video?
When viewers “move” in a 360-degree spherical video environment, there are a ton of objects everywhere, and it is hard to create good UX for navigating. How do you for indicate that there is something “behind” you on the screen? How do you visually (on a small screen) trigger people to “turn their head”? These are key questions for engagement and a good user experience.
Our approach to solving these challenges consists of placing points of interest (POI) to the sides of the video instead of making them follow objects inside the video. This solution has two main benefits:
- Interaction: POIs are shown, for a selected time, in one static position making it easy for the viewer to interact with the desired additional content. This frees the user from trying to select moving POIs with a mouse pointer.
- Visibility: POIs located outside the main viewpoint are being identified with a specific compass icon. Clicking a transparent, “inactive” POI adjusts the camera perspective and automatically moves the camera to a new position. Active POI is highlighted with a color, and a ‘Read More’ button appears allowing the viewer to take action.
With images, the POIs are typically placed on top of objects in the picture (see image below).
The same approach with video content means you make POIs follow moving objects inside a video. In our opinion this kind of UX is not ideal because viewers have to chase additional content with their mouse pointer in a dynamic, constantly changing environment.
Admittedly, POIs that track objects within video look and feel cool at first sight, but we believe this is not the best way of engaging viewers to explore embedded content in a 360-degree video because they are hard for viewers to click. Our team seeks to strike a balance between pure immersion and the ability to maintain a smooth user experience for content exploration.
What is most exciting to you about 360-degree videos?
360-degree video content has introduced a brand new way to browse the web and ThingLink is among the first to create interactivity for 360-degree content. What we find most exciting is the realization that creating interactive 360-degree videos for brands and publishers does not have to be strenuous or expensive to build or outsource.
In our case, most of the work was done when we built the first video editor on ThingLink’s platform. We are now adjusting this editor for 360-degree content which means users will already be familiar with annotating content on ThingLink so the learning curve for creating interactive 360-degree content will be short. It is definitely the easiest tool to create interactive content on the market currently and requires no advanced coding and computer skills.
The second aspect of 360-degree video we are most excited about is statistics. For the first time, it is possible to use 360-degree video with multiple POIs to acquire data on consumer interest and engagement patterns.
What are the areas for application?
Interactive 360-degree videos can be used in a variety of verticals: sports, games, virtual tours, advertising, and education. The proposed concept of interactive 360-degree video can also be applied to work on VR sets such as Oculus Rift or Google Cardboard.
ThingLink interactive 360-degree video is still in invite-only mode for now, as the company works to solidify the technology. For now, users need to submit their content for the company to tag. However, they plan on soon releasing a do-it-yourself SaaS solution that will allow anyone to upload their videos, tag them and published them anywhere.
ThingLink‘s tool makes it easy to transform any VR content into an effective storytelling narrative, allowing users to take control of their viewing and experiencing a VR as an active participant. The possibilities are impressive: From maps to embedded videos or music, to further reading or social media, ThingLink already offers a large variety of tags (not all might be available yet for 360). Ultimately, once the hurdle of easily importing payment information is jumped, even shopping from a VR store will be a click away.
Author: Paul Melcher
Paul Melcher is the founder of Kaptur and Managing Director of Melcher System, a consultancy for visual technology firms. He is an entrepreneur, advisor, and consultant with a rich background in visual tech, content licensing, business strategy, and technology with more than 20 years experience in developing world-renowned photo-based companies with already two successful exits.