Changing format

The insta360 Nano could just be the most interesting piece of video technology that has fallen onto the market place in recent weeks. Interest is subjective, but a 3K, live-streaming, 360°/spherical video camera that clips onto your iPhone? Surely, that’s worth talking about.

The device comes with a Google Cardboard style viewer and can even operate when detached from a mobile phone. That’s great, but the since the iPhone becomes the device’s monitor and control screen when connected via the lightning port,  going separate has limited potential.

That may be the only way that Android users get to join in though, as while it can connect to other devices via a transfer cable, the 360 functionality (at present) utilises Apple technology.  

The 360Nano costs around 200 GBP/USD which is remarkable considering its capabilities and quality, but perhaps the most interesting aspect is the new potential that this device (and others in the same marketplace) offer creatively: 3D live streaming is only the start. There are uses and creative artforms that haven’t even been invented yet.

Even though we take mainstream cinema for granted, there was a time when it was an oddity - something of a fairground attraction that had no guarantee of catching on. Crowds would gather to see what were effectively demo reels for the new “moving pictures”, featuring content that relied upon a gimmick which showcased an aspect of the medium for its own sake, or perhaps contained a humorous vignette of sorts. If we look at the trend running through the 360° videos of today, it quickly becomes apparent that we are in the same situation, relatively speaking.

As with all innovations, we’ve never had this great new tool (or toy) before now, so there is something of a puzzlement curve driven by early adopters looking to find something that it is useful for. When 3D printing exploded, it had the same issues. Now it resides at its most successful (arguably) in prototype design - where it originated, and in the medical arena, where its strength in custom prototyping enables it to cater for the individual demands of patient care and treatment. It also has a strong niche representation in other fields such as the creative arts.

It’s hard to believe now that computers had the same issue once they became accessible enough to leave the lab, but weren’t (yet) embraced by the population at large. Organisations such as the Homebrew Computer Club were instrumental in championing the revolution and revelled in the joy of finding something to actually do with their precious boxes! I digress.

It’s an exciting time for 360° video because the rules and expectations have not yet coalesced. Even the video creators are still working it all out, as illustrated by a commentary on the Wistia blog:

“To be totally blunt, editing and pacing for 360 video is something I just don't know much about. Am I leaving enough time for the viewer to digest information and take in the scene? Maybe I should be using cross dissolves on camera cuts? We just don't know yet”.

So what shall we do with 360° video, once we are tired of taking selfies with it? Well, perhaps there’ll be some new forms of drama that will initially outrage and offend “traditional” directors and cameramen by the fact that their vested interests are suddenly threatened. Especially now that technical quality is costing less. There’ll no doubt be many actors who balk at the prospect of an audience member - not a director or star deciding where the camera looks, and whose face is on screen at any given time.  

The initial auto-reaction to anything so unpalatable is of course to vehemently dismiss it as a fad: the typical “talkies will never catch on” mentality. Inevitably there will be some who take up the creative gauntlet and run with it whilst the others fade into the shadows and Wikipedia entries.