ARTICLE BY GREENLIGHT INSIGHTS

Discussing 360-degree video in the young VR market conjures mixed emotions. On the positive side, viewing 360-degree video in VR  invokes a transportive immersion; a feeling that the user is looking at the world around them. Anything deeper, however, is currently not possible. Add to that the subpar resolution of many 360-degree experiences and 360 video production still has a long way to go.

While Unity will not solve problems on the hardware side, the company has announced several impressive software developments for 360-degree video. Unity's new tools allow for 360 video to combine real-time CG and interactive elements.

The system works by playing two layers of video at the same time. All animation and effects are inserted between layers. This gives the effect of animated objects interacting with the real environment. Unity's example showed virtual seagulls flying under and over an actual gazebo. Certain birds were obscured by the structure, others were not. Unity demoed how to place the light source in line with the actual sun in the video. This meant that virtual birds flying past the sun were obscured in the exact same way they would be in real life, giving a sense of immersion.

The program also adds the ability to place text or markers into the environment. This was possible before through prefabs and plugins but the addition streamlines the process and fits better with the video spheres. Using gaze controls - users can simply stare at a marked point to switch perspectives, jumping seamlessly from one 360 video to the other.

Unity's new tools give life to advanced storytelling in 360 video. Developers can take what was a pretty but shallow experience and add real depth to it. Using these tools, users can zip around a setting, interacting with real and virtual objects. A simple beach-side video can now be an in-depth experience that promotes tourism and local history.

Using gaze to dictate movement is also an intriguing idea, one that is new to 360 video but not to VR experiences overall. 360 video experiences are currently incompatible with traditional or haptic controllers, so adding gaze deepens the possibilities without making 360 video feel like a modern day full motion video game.

It is easy to see this new toolset providing an evolution for that genre. Full motion video games earned a rather infamous reputation for being shallow on content and crippled by poor resolution transfers. Adding the enhanced impressiveness of 360 could give the genre a new attention from consumers.

Full motion video games may become a prototype for immersive 360 video experiences.

It is also easy to see Unity's tools taking a powerful step forward. Right now, the CG effects look primitive in scope. Birds flying and a dinosaur repeating a basic movement pattern - visually captivating but not terribly engaging. In a year or two, however, advanced CG creations could turn our physical world into an incredible fantasy setting. Programs with dialogue and gaming AI could fill a historical site like Gettysburg with interactive NPC engagement.

Much in the way that Snapchat's programs enhanced AR, Unity's new tools deepen 360 video. It will be very interesting to watch as this new software progresses through beta and attracts more and more developer attention.