While virtual reality developers can quickly immerse users with artificial 3D worlds, it’s not as easy to capture and render the real world in 3D, especially when the subjects are constantly moving. Determined to show that it can be done, Oculus has partnered with Australian developer Phoria and the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) to release Ecosphere, a collection of beautifully shot nature documentaries filmed in high-definition 3D, and will start offering them to Quest and Go users for free on June 8.
Shot with pre-production 180-degree 3D cameras based on Z-Cam’s E2, Ecosphere is a technology showcase for next-generation immersive videos, pushing the state of the art for consumer VR experiences. Phoria notes that the videos feature the world’s first 5.7K stereoscopic VR footage at 60 frames per second, in other words simultaneously delivering high levels of detail and 3D depth at a nausea-reducing level of smoothness. Highly demanding scenes that would normally be destroyed by visual artifacts, such as the movements of schools of fish and shimmers in coral reefs, are rendered almost perfectly in Ecosphere — a major achievement for any app, let alone one that can be enjoyed for free.
For enterprises and developers, Oculus and Phoria’s work has broader implications, heralding an era in which high-definition 3D videos could supplant the flat 2D streams that have dominated broadcasting for decades. While the bandwidth demanded for the three initial videos isn’t trivial — each requires a roughly 2GB download for around 15 minutes of content — next-generation wireless technologies such as 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will enable real time or nearly real time streaming of high-def 3D “holograms” and videos, eventually enabling such content to be viewed live through headsets and glasses.
Phoria co-founder Joseph Purdam tells VentureBeat that Oculus commissioned the project to spotlight the immersive potential of 180-degree VR capture technology as a more cinematic alternative to 360-degree videos, giving filmmakers the ability to direct the viewer’s attention using traditional stabilization tools to control camera movement. Unlike 360-degree VR films where the viewer is placed in a spot and given the opportunity to look around in all directions — generally with low-resolution detail as a consequence for completely wraparound capturing — Ecosphere’s VR180 experience is akin to sitting directly in front of a 3D IMAX screen where you can turn your head left, right, up, and down, but not fully to the sides or backwards, as there’s no footage behind you.
Purdam notes that the films were recorded in 3D using both a “true to life” human inter pupillary distance for the cameras, and a dynamic range-maximizing LOG format to insure color and brightness accuracy — firsts or near-firsts for VR180. As we watched footage through an Oculus Quest, the underwater, jungle, and savannah footage popped with vivid tones, and there was obvious, plausible 3D depth whenever the camera captured people, animals, and backgrounds, plus smooth transitions between very different viewing angles. Phoria and partner Silverback Films “wanted to do the natural history genre justice by including dynamic camera movement,” Purdam explained, including “aerial footage and close-ups to place the viewer in proximity to wildlife that they could not achieve in real life.”
Ecosphere’s first three episodes feature the savannahs of Kenya, a Malaysian jungle, and beach/coral reefs in Indonesia. They’ll be available to individually download within the Ecosphere app, which will hit the Oculus Store for free on June 8 in Australian Eastern Standard Time; due to time zone differences, the U.S. release could happen on either June 7 or 8. Between the high-definition 3D videos and impressive 3D interface that ties them together, we strongly recommend that Oculus users check Ecosphere out as soon as it’s available.