When the first Gear VR headset was released I was excited by the increased resolution, despite knowing that the horsepower was not there to drive real 3d content. I had read an excellent 2006 paper by Paul Bourke called Synthetic stereoscopic panoramic images which inspired me to produce a few ‘strip rendered’ examples. The results were a revelation on the GearVR providing high resolution and depth with a minimal performance overhead. After optimising the panoramas into cubemaps I shared my findings in this post on the chaosgroup forums. 4 weeks later the thread had over 10000 views and the Vray developers had created a stereoscopic lens shader for Vray. Now practically every renderer has added a stereo lens shader for creating panoramas at the touch of a button. Pauls website is a treasure trove of research and information and he has written extensively on the subject of stereographics and 3d projection so go check it out.
- Strip rendered equi-rectangular stereoscopic 360 panorama
- 18k cubemap stereoscopic 360 panorama
In the following years there was an explosion of 360VR work being done despite its obvious limitations compared to real-time VR. Nevertheless my interest in the format continued and I created 360VR tours using sound, and gaze activated hotspots. These simple scripted packages would run on OTOYS ORBX media player. Around this time John Carmack who was focused on the format described it as ‘the highest fidelity content currently available for any VR headset’. One very interesting niche bit of tech that came out of the OTOY/Carmack camp were ‘VR vines’. This was a hacky format that allowed huge 18k cubemaps to be spooled off the mobile devices memory at 60fps without the need for a codec. The technology was notable because 360 video has hard limits to resolution which are far too blurry for a headset. These days most 360 work is static and packaged into a tour format for online use.
Stereoscopic 360 Photography
At the same time Samsung released the next Gear VR headset they also released a fantastic little 360 camera called the Gear 360. With a resolution of 8k the images were decent in a headset so I decided to get another Gear 360 and mount them on a plate 6.5cm apart. Shooting with this rig allows me to capture pseudo-stereo images with a real sense of being there when viewed in a headset.
- Pair of Gear 360 cameras for stereo photography
Typical stereoscopic 180 degree photo from the rig.
Using a rig like this is great for personal shots, but the resolution isnt high enough for professional content sadly. Despite this the format has a number of major advantages over a traditional panoramic capture such as shooting with a single click, and costing £100 for two original gear 360s!