Facebook Adding 360-Degree Photos So You Can Roll Your Own VR

The user-friendly successor to 360-degree video is on its way to News Feed, but nothing's set for Instagram yet.

In its campaign to become the go-to platform for interactive and VR content, Facebook will begin rolling out 360-degree photos later this month, according to Oculus executives. These are orb-like pictures that you'll be able to look around in with a VR viewer like Oculus, or pan all around in on the desktop or your phone.

Facebook launched 360-degree video last year, and it appears to be a hit. This week the company released a list of its most popular 360-degree videos to date, most of which had over 10,000,000 views. The most popular — which was calculated by time watched, not by total views — hit 18,000,000 views.

However, what becomes clear after looking at the list of the most popular 360-degree videos on the platform is that there is no content from, well, normal people.

Media companies like ABC and sports teams like FC Barcelona dominate the charts. That is in part because uploading 360-degree video is not the simplest process. It requires a 360-degree camera to capture, which typically cost at least a few hundred dollars, or tens of thousands for a higher quality alternative. 360-degree photos lower the barrier for most people to begin uploading 360-degree imagery of their own, because 360-degree photos can be shot using only a phone.

"You can take a panorama and upload that, or use a specialized 360 photo app," said Eugene Wei, Oculus' Head of Video.

Like Facebook's 360-degree video, 360-degree photos will primarily live on the News Feed. They will display as still images until the viewer moves the phone or mouse around to look around the picture. Additionally, the photos will be able to be viewed by strapping on a virtual reality headset like the Samsung Gear VR or Oculus Rift.

According to Max Cohen, Oculus' Head of Mobile, Facebook has no immediate plans to extend 360-degree content, either photos or videos, to Instagram.

Currently, there are a number of ways to shoot 360-degree content on mobile, most notably from Facebook's primary competitor in the race to dominate virtual reality: Google. Last year, Google launched an app called Cardboard Camera that lets anyone with an Android handset to shoot a 360-degree photograph. To use it, all the photographer has to do is take a panorama-style photo by moving in a full circle. The app works great, but the photos are only viewable in Google's Cardboard viewer, and sharing is difficult. Facebook's addition of 360-degree photos to its app is the first time the format will have an opportunity to become a truly mainstream medium.

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