Live 360 YouTube Gets Us One Step Closer to the Matrix
Ask people to describe virtual reality and they’ll probably say something along the lines of It’s like you’re there, man. But even when you’re courtside at the NBA slam dunk contest, you’re “there” after the fact. You know that Aaron Gordon got robbed even though he jumped over a freaking mascot, or even that it’s over. And that removes you somewhat from the experience.
A few companies like NextVR have developed ways of streaming truly live content in VR, but it’s cumbersome, complex, and deeply imperfect. Now here comes YouTube, with a plan to make livestreaming 360 videos as easy as watching them. The company wants you to feel like you’re there, man, while it’s happening. In YouTube’s universe, everyone gets a front-row seat and no one misses opening night.
With the right camera and bandwidth, you’ll be able to stream 1440p video at 60 frames per second. To watch, all you’ll need is your phone or a web browser. YouTube’s also beginning to support spatial audio, in Android for now but everything else soon, adding another dimension to the experience. It also is opening the APIs needed to make any camera stream live VR—and already supporting two cameras.
The new Orah 4i is the most impressive of them. The small, light camera, built by VideoStitch, can capture and stream in 4K. Its Vahana VR software now integrates with YouTube, giving you live 360 streaming for the low, low price of $3,600. Those who don’t have a trust fund or patron might prefer the $500 ALLie camera, a home security device about the size of a baseball enjoying a second life as a wearable action camera. Ricoh’s Theta S camera also works, but isn’t as nicely integrated and requires some extra software.
This new future represents the confluence of three things YouTube already does. It is a growing force in livestreaming; it has been an early supporter of VR and 360-degree videos; and it is hell-bent on being the destination for any and all kinds of video its billion-plus users can figure out how to make. That’s the ethos of Google’s entire VR strategy, too: Give it to everyone. “I don’t think [Google] wants to make VR experiences,” says Brian Blau, an industry analyst at Gartner. “I think they want to make VR platforms.” YouTube is a natural place to try.
YouTube may be first to the punch with live-streaming, but watch this space. Facebook’s got the individual pieces in place to match the feature, from the cameras to the apps to the Oculus Rift. Twitch has VR apps and supports VR content. Periscope and Meerkat almost certainly are doing something in VR. (Assuming Meerkat’s still around.) YouTube enjoys two big advantages, though: Everyone already goes there for video, and it is first. Neal Mohan, the company’s new chief product officer, notes that YouTube is the OG of livestreaming. “There’s obviously a lot of conversation around live today,” he says, but we’ve been doing live for years.” Live isn’t the product, though; video is the product. Live is a genre.
YouTube’s first public test of the 360 live-streams this weekend at the Coachella music festival. You’ll be able to experience everything but the smell of weed and the boredom of waiting for Axl Rose to show up, right from your phone. After that, who knows what’ll happen? The company is filling YouTube Spaces, the studios available to top-tier creators, with everything needed for 360 streaming. “They can focus on what they need to focus on, which is the best content possible, the best story possible,” Mohan says.
The goal, he tells me over and over again, is to do increasingly complicated things without ever making viewers or creators think for a second about the work entailed. “It shouldn’t feel like there’s any technology there,” he says. “You should be able to pick up your Android device or your iPhone and get into a live 360 stream.” And just like that, you’re front-row center, watching Beyonce crush it.