Insta360 Pro: 360 Video in 8K

When viewing 360 video with a VR headset, a high resolution can make the difference between an immersive experience and a blurry novelty. We’ve recently been working with the Insta360 Pro which is capable of filming in 8K and it’s produced some of the sharpest 360 video I’ve seen yet.

Like other 360 cameras we’ve tested recently (such as the Garmin VIRB) operating the Insta360 Pro is a relatively simple procedure of point and shoot (or in the case of filming in 360, just shoot). After a minute-long boot-up sequence, you just navigate to the video icon in the camera’s menu screen and hit enter. An Android/iOS app will also allow you to remotely control the recording. In addition to recording in 8K, you can also configure the camera to record in 3D/stereoscopic 360, or up to 120 frames per second, though not all at once. Prioritizing a high FPS or 3D means reducing the resolution to 6K or 4K.

Once turned on, the camera’s cooling fan will start running which is quite noisy. This could be an issue for video where you’ll want to use the spatial audio. However, upgrading the camera’s firmware will allow you to turn the camera off while recording for fifteen minutes at a time. You have the option of immediately recording again, though I’d be wary of the camera overheating.

At lower resolutions, each of the videos from the six lenses will be stitched in real time in-camera. But for 8K, you’ll need to bring the videos into Insta360’s proprietary stitching software, which requires the camera’s serial number and a user registration to download and operate. Though it’s a bit of a hassle to get set up, I found the actual stitching process straightforward while still allowing for a lot of customization. It allows for batch exports, compression to lower resolutions, and offers a low-res preview of the final video.

For the project we’re working on, we wanted viewing the 360 videos to be both immersive and accessible. The solution we found was to load the video onto an Oculus Go, a wireless VR headset. At $200, it seemed like the best compromise to get a full 360 experience. While the 4K and 3D videos have looked great, we haven’t been able to playback 8K video on the device. This remains one of the biggest challenges to working with 8K video at this point, let alone 8K 360 video: there’s simply not many places to actually view it. For now, I’m already impressed with the quality of the Insta360 Pro’s 4K output, even if it’s not the full capability of the camera.

VR, 360° Video, and Cinematic Language

With the introduction of more accessible technology and the pace of innovation, the interest around VR and 360° video is as palpable as ever.  The practical and creative possibilities of these new technologies are undeniably exciting.  As a lifelong video producer and editor, I’m especially curious about how immersive experiences interact with our current understanding of cinematic language and visual storytelling.

There are plenty of resources about how to shoot and edit 360° video but far less about how to think about shooting and editing 360° video. As content creators, it’s important to be familiar with equipment and postproduction workflows. It’s equally important to think about how those tools can be used to best communicate the themes, stories or experiences we are trying to create.

An obvious place to look for inspiration is the community of artists and filmmakers experimenting in this emerging field. The people who are throwing it up against walls, breaking it apart, putting it back together and seeing what works and what doesn’t.

So far, the most useful guide I’ve found is the work and writing of Jessica Brillhart, former VR filmmaker at Google. Her series of essays, In The Blink of a Mind, is a thoughtful exploration of how to start thinking critically about these fresh mediums in the face of over a century of cinematic convention. You can read the essays, along with some others, on Medium and view her work on her website.

The research team eleVR produced a practical and equally helpful series of articles. They make a compelling case for the role of editing in VR and dig into ideas about how cinematography choices apply to 360° video.

Finally, as with traditional cinema, film festivals are a good place to see how people are approaching the technology in interesting ways and look for inspiration. Sundance, Tribeca, South by Southwest and many other festivals now include an “immersive” category. One piece I’ll highlight is Notes on Blindness, which premiered at Sundance in 2016.  It’s beautiful and approaches the idea of immersion and storytelling in an unconventional way.  Especially in the world of academia and pedagogy, it’s exciting to think about how these experiences could introduce students to not only new or unique physical spaces but psychology spaces while delivering compelling content at the same time.

As with any newly introduced medium or genre, the conventions and boundaries are still being discovered and continue to evolve. I, for one, can’t wait to see where it goes.

Please point out other good writing or cool projects in the comments. I’m always looking for new ideas to chew on.