September 23, 2017 at 4:10 pm #14624
Thomas SharplessIVRPA Professional Member
In truth, the biggest technical problem in 3D 360 photography is how to get the result in front of an audience’s eyes.
Ultimately your 3D pictures will either be shown on a projection screen, a 3D TV or monitor, or a Virtual Reality headset or handset. The big screens provide a comfortable passive viewing experience, typically with good image quality, while the VR displays provide a personal, interactive experience, typically with low resolution and less than optimal color. VR display definitely gives a stronger sense of presence than viewing the same image on a 3D screen. It may also demand considerable agility on the part of the user, and in basic configurations can be awkward to control.
If you are making stereo panoramas on commission, your clients will probably have fairly clear ideas of what media and distribution channels they want to target. If you are publishing on speculation, or as a hobby, the choice is yours. It is not yet very wide, really.
At present I know of no public distribution platform that serves 3D panoramas to cinema projectors or 3D TVs. So if your target is the big screen, you may have provide some software, and likely some hardware too, along with the images. A strong PC with an hdcp 2.2 capable video card and sView can definitely show stereo panoramas on a 4K 3D TV; and with two video ports or a high-end splitter the same setup can drive a dual 4K projector system. For the more common 2K dual projector setup, a strong laptop with sView and a $70 Matrox DualHead2Go splitter will work fine. For dome projection and the like, you would definitely need to partner with one of the specialist companies in those areas.
Smart TVs now run web browsers, so there is a potential for putting 3D panoramas on TVs via the web, using HTML5 publishing tools. But this is just my hope; at present neither the publishing tools nor the browsers in the TVs have any support for passive 3D display. My LG 4K TV displays 2D panoramas from the web OK, but crashes when the cube face size exceeds some unspecified limit. Stay tuned.
The major outlets for stereo 360 will definitely be VR-based for the foreseeable future. Assuming that VR becomes a mass medium, this will be a serious market. With maybe 3 million VR headsets and untold numbers of phone stereoscopes now in the hands of consumers, it is already significant.
VR platforms naturally handle stereoscopic images. There are still a few problem areas, due to old assumptions baked into production software, but those are fast disappearing. The game engines that drive tethered HMDs like Rift and Vive now accept equirectangular photos as a first class data type, and there are several apps for Gear VR that display stereo panoramas well. I would mention in particular Oculus 360Photos, which displays files stored on the phone, and Gala360, which gets images from an Internet service as needed. There is also a version of 360Photos for Rift, and Gala360 is said to support Google DayDream, Rift and Vive. Conceived as a tour platform, Gala360 supports sound and some basic annotation. It charges a small subscription fee with extra charges for “premium content”, and is ad-free.
None of the VR apps currently provides much more than basic image display — in Android apps, not even folder-based browsing. If you want to publish fancy virtual tours or web pages that contain 3D panoramas, you can use HTML5 publishing tools like krpano, PanoTour Pro or Pano2VR, and access the resulting web pages with a browser running on the VR device. Pano2VR 5 is a comprehensive tour building tool with pretty good stereo support. Krpano may now offer ‘1-click’ stereo publishing, but anhyow it is not very hard, and with krpano you always need to write code. I assume that PanoTour, being krpano-based, can also be used to publish stereo panos.
360Cities.net is the best platform for publishing single 3D panos or sets for viewing in browser-based VR. All panos on 360Cities can now be viewed in VR; stereo panos are automatically shown as such. There is hands-free VR navigation for image sets, an annotation facility, georeferencing and links to photographer profiles and sites. And since 360Cities is an active marketer of publishing rights, there is the chance you might make a sale.
The good news on file formats: all viable VR pano apps now accept equirectangular pairs as simple square images, with the left eye image in the top half and the right eye image on the bottom. Jpeg is universally OK, and is preferable in that its metadata formats are widely understood (some platforms require specific metadata). I use simple one-line ImageMagick scripts to convert pairs of equis to over/under jpegs at the appropriate resolution for the target — 6K for VR devices, full resolution for upload to 360Cities.net or Gala360app.com.
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