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Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook

Facebook’s 360-degree video ambitions started with a single coder working away on a proof of concept in the company’s Seattle engineering outpost.

facebook-seattlelogoHong-Seok Kim, who has since left the company and moved back to South Korea, showed just what the future could hold for the technology. Sure, almost no one owns a specialized camera capable of capturing video in every direction quite yet — but they will soon.

And that means Facebook needs to get ready to help the world share the next wave of immersive video.

Facebook says it has a clear roadmap for the space: it wants to create a platform to let people share 360 video, then 3D video and then 360 video optimized for virtual reality headsets.

A lot of 360 cameras already exist, though they usually cost more than $300 and aren’t used by average consumers. But here’s a taste of what pros are doing with technology right now:

F1 in 360You spin me round! Get an on-board, 360° view of a lap of Rudskogen in Norway in 2012.

Posted by Infiniti Red Bull Racing on Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Facebook Seattle has a large video team, including those who created the recently launched live streaming feature. So it made sense to start the 360 video project here. Since that first coder showed the concept was viable, now there’s a handful of people working on the project both in Seattle and the company’s California headquarters.

The future Facebook is preparing for isn’t that hard to imagine. A friend raises up a selfie stick on a scenic overlook, but instead of taking a single photo she captures a short video of everything happening all around her. She posts it to her wall, and then friends, either on a smartphone or VR headset, click play. They don’t just see their friend, but they can look in all directions and explore the views all around her.

“This is just the beginning,” said Facebook software engineer Elena Pricoiu after we talked about the possibilities.

Facebook software engineer Elena Pricoiu has been working on 360 video in Seattle for the past few months.
Facebook software engineer Elena Pricoiu has been working on 360 video in Seattle for the past few months.

Pricoiu was sure to remind me that 360 cameras will have to go mainstream and there’s a lot technical hurdles to clear before this stuff really takes off, but Facebook is working on it.

A 360 camera setup recently announced by GoPro.
A 360 camera setup recently announced by GoPro.

The company published a blog today with a highly technical look at how it is dealing with one major problem — the sheer size of the video files.

How it works

Pricoiu, who’s working on building a 360 video player for iOS devices, explained the less data needed to stream the videos the better, especially as they become higher resolution and people want to watch them over cellular networks.

In traditional 360 video, cameras capture the images as a sphere all around the camera, but they save the video as a flat rectangle. When it comes time to play the video, software projects that rectangular image back onto the sphere so you can scroll all around.

The problem is that those rectangular video files end up with repeated data at the top and bottom of the image. The best analogy is the way Antartica becomes stretched out on a map when you try to represent a spherical shape as a flat rectangle.

To solve the problem, Facebook’s platform now takes those flat rectangular video files created by the camera and projects them onto a six-sided cube. If you were to watch the raw video, Pricoiu explains, it would look like six different videos all simultaneously playing side-by-side.

What traditional 360 video files look like.
What traditional 360 video files look like.
What Facebook's 360 video files look like.
What Facebook’s 360 video files look like.

But the trick is that those cubes don’t contain any redundant information. In the end, that approach shrinks the file size and reduces the number of pixels in the 360 videos uploaded to Facebook by 25 percent. Devices download those smaller files, project the cube back into a sphere and it’s ready to be viewed.

These are the kinds of technical challenges the Facebook team is working on as it pushes the technology forward. But the good news for the rest of us is that we can just get to sit back and enjoy some cool underwater scenes.

Swimming with dolphins in 360 virtual reality video — The Dolp…Swim with wild dolphins in 360 video!! Just click and drag or move your phone for the full experience! Special thanks to Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project

Posted by RYOT on Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg first talked about the technology publicly at the company’s annual developer conference in March, and then it launched for web browsers and Android devices last month. Soon, Pricoiu says it will be ready for iOS, too.

Already, there’s been quite a few video uploads — though still by production companies more than average users. But it’s not hard to see where things are headed.

A 360 look at the infamous Miley Cyrus/Nicki Minaj VMA moment.

Posted by MTV on Wednesday, September 23, 2015

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