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What Does YouTube’s 180 Camera Mean for VR?

Last week, YouTube announced it was partnering with Lenovo, LG and YI Technology on a new technology called a VR180 camera. Basically, the 180 camera allows a user to shoot interactive video without the downsides of a 360 camera — namely, always needing to figure out a way to be out of the shot if you’re the cameraperson, or spending hours editing yourself out in post, as many directors do now.

According to YouTube’s blog, most people spend the majority of their time looking at about 90 degrees of any 360-degree video. Some of this has to do with people’s inexperience with the medium (we’re all conditioned to staring straight ahead at screens) and some of it has to do with the fact that we’re not owls and can’t turn our heads backwards.

The new camera isn’t slated to be on the market until the winter, but depending on the price point, it could very well be the hot gift of the holiday season. It could also serve as a great gateway for VR creators. Just as YouTube engineered the rise of the viral video 10 years ago, it could be a starting point for amateur directors, and drive the adoption of headsets in order to view the content.

After working in the VR space for a couple years, I’ve come to the conclusion that you can talk about VR until you’re blue in the face. But it only really makes sense once you’ve witnessed it firsthand. From there, the experiences generally get better as the headset quality goes up — a Google cardboard or similar viewer is fine, but put someone in a Gear or a room-scale setup like a Vive, and their minds are blown wide open.

With the launch of the camera, the same could be true for VR creation. No longer will it be restricted to those who can afford a Jaunt, for instance, and have the technical know-how to use it.

If you’re creating 180 content, you’ll want to show it to everyone else. And people are much more likely to buy headsets if their friends and neighbors own them, and are using them to show off videos of birthday parties, travel experiences and more. And just like YouTube rose with social videos when it launched, it’s easy to image viral 180 videos becoming a hot new thing.

The downsides are that a glut of terrible content could turn people off the medium — but a rising tide would likely lift all boats, and if YouTube does a good job of curating content, it could surface interesting possibilities. People are also a lot more forgiving of amatuer content when it’s made by folks they know. We’ve all sat through shaky footage of someone’s trip (or a blurry slideshow, for us oldsters) and we tend not to judge too harshly.

Of course, because the 180 camera is still theoretical at this point, it’s a little hard to make firm predictions (it could be a misfire if it costs too much or is too hard to use). But if YouTube gets it right, this could be a big step forward for virtual reality.