Facebook says 360-degree video is the future of the Internet. And there’s at least one good reason to believe this: Facebook is pushing prodigiously hard to make 360-degree video the future of the Internet.
Last year, the company invited 360-degee videos onto its social network, one of the world’s most popular Internet services, used by over 1.65 billion people across the globe. Then it built a new breed of 360-degree camera. Then it open sourced this camera, giving away the designs so that anyone can build and sell one of their own. And now, the company is working to solve one of the great unsolved issues of 360-degree video: the vomit problem.
At least, that’s how Facebook vice president of engineering Jay Parikh sees it. Today, anyone can buy a relatively inexpensive handheld 360-degree camera from a company like Ricoh, capture immersive videos, and post them to various Internet services, including YouTube as well as Facebook. The danger is that these videos will just make everyone sick. “One of the things about 360 video is the jumpiness,” Parikh says. “You take a 360 degree video. You show it to your friends. And they want to vomit.”
So, a team of Facebook engineers led by ex-Microsoftee Johannes Kopf spent the past year designing an algorithm that can stabilize these immersive videos, and Facebook is now testing this on its social network. “A shaky skiing video,” Kopf tells WIRED, “will look like a smooth slide down the mountain.” You can see the algorithm in action above, through a video provided by Facebook.
Video stabilization is a common thing with ordinary smartphone videos, but 360 images require something quite different. According to Kopf, Facebook’s new method, known as “deformed rotation,” can stabilize a 360 video in less than 22 milliseconds per frame, which means it’s suited to viewing videos on the ‘net without hefty delays. In the future, the company says, this tool will be available to anyone using Facebook or the Oculus Rift, the virtual reality headset sold by Mark Zuckerberg and company. And Kopf says parts of the algorithm can help create “hyperlapse” 360 videos, crunching footage into much shorter (and hopefully more entertaining) packages.
For Facebook, 360-degree video is a stepping stone to Zuckerberg’s ultimate vision for virtual reality, where people use VR as a means of communication and social interaction. Today, you can view 360 videos in the ordinary Facebook app, but you can also view them inside VR headsets like the Samsung Gear and the Oculus, stereoscopic headsets that provide a three-dimensional image. Google is pushing down this same road with YouTube, the Google Cardboard headset, and its own 360-camera.
As Kopf explains, this new stabilization algorithm is separate from the work Facebook is doing with its open source Surround 360 camera. That’s a professional-grade camera that captures video while perched on a stand, firmly planted on the ground. The new algorithm is meant to stabilize videos from Ricoh cameras and other consumer handhelds. The idea is that you will upload these videos to Facebook, and it will automatically smooth them out. Hopefully, Kopf says, the process will be seamless. The video will just appear in News Feeds without all the shakiness. And everyone will keep their lunch down.