Welcome to our blog.

Our blog is all about 360 degree virtual reality (vr) and we hope to dispel some of the myths and complexities behind this new and interesting technology.

If you want a crib sheet of some of the things we have learnt so far, why not download our pdf file. The information in this file is based on our experience gained from using both the Xiaomi Sphere 360 and Ricoh Theta V. We started off with the Samsung Gear 360 (golf ball model) which is amazing value if you just wanted to dabble. However for anyone wanting a little more from their photography it does lack in many areas.

Adding media to your 360 images

This blog we’ll talk a little about adding other media onto your 360 images. In order to do this, you’ll need the use of either a paid for 360 degree image hosting site such as Kuula.co or a free site such as theasys.io.

Hosting software has developed nicely whereby it is now possible to add links to other media content such as YouTube, other 360 images, notes, text and sound files.

In this instance we’ll talk a little about the Kuula.co web site. If you look at the image below, you should be able to click on the speaker icon which should then start to play an audio file. If you then click on the YouTube icon, this should reveal a youtube click for the St David’s Foundation in Newport South Wales.

From the above example, you can see that we are able to build a variety of links into our 360 degree images. Whilst this currently works within browsers, using virtual reality headsets with links of these types can be problematic. As we’re using html on a VR image headsets currently have problems with this and as such certain functions won’t display. It’s annoying, as cross compatibility is something that people expect these days. We can therefore only hope that as things progress the dropouts are identified and remedied.

Where 3D 180 fails

Having used the VUZE XR 3D 180 and 2D 369 camera for 12 months, what have we learned? In essence the camera likes light. By this we mean a good strong daylight will give the best results. Once the daylight begins to fade, noise starts to appear in images and for anything approaching dawn or dusk the results can be distinctly average.

Next matter on our hit list is that the 3D fades away one objects are more than a few metres away. Once you reach a distance of 3 metres and above, 3D virtually becomes 2D and any benefits of having both lenses facing forward drops off rapidly.

I would suggest that to get the best results from 180 degree 3D mode, use in good daylight and keep subject matter close by. Not too close however as anything closer than 30cm will cause issues for those viewing the site. There is definitely a sweet spot between this and the 3 metre zone.

Goggle eyed…

This blog entry looks at something I thought would be complete and utter rubbish. Turns out I need to eat my words as I was completely wrong. I’ve since found another and value-able addition to the photo bag.

I am talking about a pair of VR specs. These nifty little things come in two parts (although some are foldable) and clip over a smart phone so that you can then view VR content on Youtube or other VR enabled sites than can split content between left and right eye. These little viewers also mean people can view and share without being locked out of their immediate environment. The cardboard and cheap plastic viewers that require you to insert a phone into and then place over your head do provide a better VR experience, but take up more space and time to configure which can be troublesome.

The cost of these specs is also cheap, very nearly Christmas Cracker cheap, but that doesn’t mean they are rubbish. I’ve found they work perfectly and provide for a clean and very crisp image. Whilst trying them  with fellow colleagues, all were surprised in using them. Our infection control personnel also loved them. The ability to avoid large amounts of foam padding with inherent moisture traps were seen as a godsend.

For me, it means I can keep a pair handy in the coat and in the bag. I can then apply to my phone and set things up for the viewer so they can access VR images without delay and without a need to put on heavy a headset. The phone can then equally be shared amongst interested colleagues who all get to see and visualise VR without being locked out of their immediate surroundings.

If you travel a lot, you will know the hassle of trying to carry with you a VR headset and the every presently issue of whether it’s charged or not! A pair of these whilst not replacing the built VR headset does mean a cheap way to provide a demo via a smartphone and for less than a quality glass of coffee. Win win situation if you ask me.

180 3D illustrations

One spin off from receiving the new VUZE XR camera has been an interest to test 3D illustrations. From an artistic point of view, the main interest was to see if it was technically possible and what if anything the results might be. In order to test the theory, we need to have something to photograph that works in 3D e.g. something that conveys the feeling of depth. I decided to do a little scene around a few mugs, some books and a builders hat.

3D sample image

The resultant 3D image when viewed in an appropriate viewing device really does give the 3D effect. The image was exported onto A3 paper and the left and right eye image separated. I then used a pencil, a blank sheet of paper and a cheap A2 LED light box to trace over the top of the image. This was repeated for both left and right hand side images and the pencil tracings then copied over in inke pen.

Once both images were complete, they were then scanned and joined in the top bottom format that works with the Kuula image hosting application. I then viewed each image (the photo and the line illustration) and yes, technically it is possible to create a 3D illustration. There are a few caveates however:

1. Tracing an image us not easy. It might have technically been easier to trace and image using a drawing application such as Serif Affinity or Adobe Illustrator.

2. Accuracy is important. In order to get the best results, the left and right eye copies need to be accurate renditions. Any misalignment will show and ensure the image has less impact.

3. Colour and or tone would be useful to give the shapes form. Whilst the outline does work, the bright white of the background and stark black of the lines make it tiresome to view for prolonged periods.

4. Line weight when used carefully can be useful to stress edges of shapes in a manner similar to technical illustrations.

5. Illustration composition can be a useful tool to exploit the 3D experience. There would appear to be a sweet zone from around 40cm to around 100cm. Within this zone, clarity of illustration is good. Less than 40cm and the subject matter can be too close making the viewer work to get the 3D effect. Beyond 100cm and detail is harder to include and the 3D effect starts to become less apparent.

Applications for illustrative 3D images could range from technical through to medial and beyond. It is certainly an effect that I think offers some great potential. Most viewers will simply see the left eye view if they cannot view as a 3D. The Kulla image hosting application allows for a number of potential interactive functions. These should however be included to the left eye (top) in order for them to show through. This would then allow the view to navigate through images as needed.

Creating 360 degree illustrations

Creating Illustrated 360 images

As the title suggests, this blog entry I’ll be investigating one process to create illustrated virtual reality 360 images.

I have included links to 3 separate files with this blog, one being the original photo, one being a line illustration and the last being the line image plus some colour blocks.

Original image:- https://kuula.co/post/7YGmD

Line image:- https://kuula.co/post/7YfBp

Coloured image:- https://kuula.co/post/7YlvX

To create an illustration, we first needed to take a 360 still photo. Clearly we used out Xiaomi sphere 360 camera and a view over the harbour in Polperro. The camera was on an extending pole hence we were able to hold the camera out horizontally in order to get that over the water look.

Have captured our image, the next aspect is to print it off anto an A3 piece of paper. I used a lower grade 80 gsm paper so that light could shine through it. Once I had the copy, I then used a blank piece of A3 and dropped this over the top of the print. I then placed both of these over an A4 LED llight box/sheet. These are readily available from a number of retail outlets for a very low price and usually have three light settings. Ours was on the highest. Turning off the indoor light, I was able to see/trace over the image in order to get an outline of the various parts of the picture. The amount of detail you can add and the clarity are down to the time you have, what the end result is that you require and the brightness of the lightbox. It is however important that you try and match the accuracy of the ase image as closely as possible.

You may find that some details you cannot see through the light box, but don’t worry as you can probably fill these in once you have completed the main lines. Once you are happy with you line drawing, you can then scan this into your computer. Once you have this scanned in as a gray scale or black and white image, you should then be able to adjust it to make for bright whites and black lines.

With an image scanned into the computer, I was then able to import this into a drawing package such as Affinity Designer, SerifDraw or theGimp and then using layers add colour blocks. Using layers, you can then edit this as necessary without affecting the base layer. When you have achieved the colours and detail you require, you should then be able to export as a jpeg file. You will of course need to ensure that your image matches the equirectangular format otherwise the image will not display correct.

Once you are happy to upload the image, you can do this to any site that supports 360 images. Or if you want to view it on your PC or Apple, you could do worse than download the Ricoh theta app as this will preview 360 images on the computer.

This blog entry is tinged with a little sadness.

This last week I was able to visit the St David’s Hospice in Newport, South Wales. It’s a truly fabulous site and blew me away with the quality of not only the accommodation, but also the facilities. For anyone who needs respite or palliative care, I can think of very few places that match this.

So why the sadness, well that stems from how far technology has come in just a few years and how engaged my father would have been with it if he was still with us. My father died from a combination of Dementia and Cancer.  He’d been a mechanic throughout his life and always had a keen interest in photography and latterly video. The advent of 360 Virtual Reality (vr) appearing just two years after his death.  Since vr’s arrival development of this new media continues apace. Just this past week I discovered a function that allows for images and audio to be playing together, such that a user cannot only experience the stimuli of 360 images but also ambient sounds and/or narration. Combine this with image hot spots and the viewer is now pretty much in control of their destination.

The scope for this immersive engagement is quite literally shattering. For palliative care, people who would previously have been confined to watching TV or looking at images on a tablet, can now enjoy a unique virtual reality experience. They can take an emotional journey to where they would like to go.

These and other developments are truly positive steps that I am always interested to explore. I am aware however that sometimes others take convincing of the benefit of virtual reality. I too was in that camp until I got my first VR experience. From that moment on I was hooked. I have since purchased a camera (or two) and dived in to all the challenges this immersive technology is throwing at me. I did however find my first efforts at VR video rather lacklustre.. The quality of the resultant videos, whist good on an iphone were somewhat lacking in clarity when displayed through a VR headset. I found it all rather 1990’s video-ish. A bit too soft for my liking. Improvements however are coming thick and fast. 4k vr video is quickly giving way to 5.7k and more I suspect as technology improves.

I am therefore sad that my father couldn’t benefit from virtual reality, but glad that things are moving ahead. I cannot help but feel people today with life restricting conditions and indeed anyone that simply cannot get out anymore will soon be able to live a life filled with great experiences however old or infirm they may be, and that has to be great for all of us.

Cornwall capers

We’re just back from a late break to Cornwall. During this break, I had a few tasks in mind for the VR cameras; namely a quick trip to Cotehele House to grab some pics/video of their xmas garland and to try and get a range of 360 still shots from Fowey for use later on as the basis for some 360 illustrations. Another extra would be a bonus.

Thankfully the weather was on our side for the most part and we managed to achieve all the tasks and some. I took with me both the Xiaomi Mi Sphere 360 and the Ricoh Theta V. I also made sure I had the Manfrotto extension pole and a small telescopic tripod a selfie stick. To be honest I used the tripod and selfie stick more than the Manfrotto pole. tripod and selfie stickThe uneven ground and strong winds would be too much for the Manfrotto so that was pretty much left in the car boot. I Have found that a selfie stick screwed to the tripod mount and extended gives an almost invisible pole and if the tripod is in it’s contracted state it actually isn’t too obtrusive. I found it took a little tweaking to get things level but for the most part worked quite well. The only downside was it was a bit cumbersome and I didn’t trust moving the selfie stick whilst it was still attached to the tripod.

I achieved all the pre trip objectives which was good and was able to post a few samples up to the Kuula 360 image hosting site (https://kuula.co/profile/markharvey) and a clip or two to our YouTube channel (https://youtu.be/R6c1Wrjdm18).

Vuze XR

HI guys, today we’re on the list to get a Vuze XR. What makes this camera unique is the ability to capture 360 2D vr or 180 degree 3D vr. The camera has two lenses as any normal camera, but has the option to have the lenses either back to back or side by side.

The cameras are due to start shipping in late November to arrive sometime in December which is a bit of a logistical nightmare as that is probably the busiest time of the year for couriers. It is also the time when most parcels get either lost or damaged in transit. Not the best time of the year to be shipping customers orders.

Hopefully our camera will be neither lost nor damaged, but we’ll have to wait and see along with a great many other eager film makers