If you are like me, you were mezmerized by the first use of Google Expeditions. After the experience, the first thing I wanted to do was create my own virtual experience. Other companies like Nearpod also jumped in the mix with integration of VR for education use, but it still wasn't forward thinking enough. I wanted to CREATE a fluid 360˚ virtual reality experience. But alas, tech was expensive and no real great options for hosting them if I could even get the imagery. However, technology advances quickly and it was not long before I was able to start capturing photospheres (360˚ photos) at no cost.
Enter Google Street View
This awesome app would have an update for iOS that would bring it on par with Android (at the time, Cardboard camera nor Street View with Photosphere option was not available for iOS).
The manual photosphere camera is located inside of the app. You can choose to publish the location to Google Maps, but for the sake of what I wanted to do or have students do, it wasn't very conducive. Instead, I chose to "share" & save my photosphere privately and uploaded it to Google Drive for linear access. But, there were a few issues. First, the quality was not exactly the highest (I know it was free, but can't be satisfied with the status quo) because of the 12+ images you had to take..and have a high level of precision. Second, the use of Google Drive while making it more linear still did not create a fluid experience. You would have to download and upload into the Street View app on each device. I also wanted to be able to move from one image to the other without taking off the headset. And lastly, I wanted to venture out and find how to make videospheres. Of course, the evolution speed of technology did not disappoint.
Enter Ricoh Theta S
This tool was an awesome find and it is nothing short of spectacular. It was on sale for under $300, so it wasn't going to kill the budget. This little tool takes two high resolution images and stitches them together. A far more better result than the 12+images from the manual mode on my iPhone. The Theta also did HD video. And both can be controlled by your phone from a distance...like a selfie stick.
1-in-3 buddies! Great job to all! #iste2016 #presentersofiste #theta360 - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA
It wasn't a huge learning curve, but it does have a ton of auto and manual features you typically find on a DSLR camera. The only setback was the file size of the videos. Processing and transferring wirelessly was daunting to say the least. But I simply started to use tethering to transfer all of the images and videos. Check out the help page for all you need to know to use the Theta S...including transferring. And since then, Ricoh has debuted their third version of spherical cameras. There is now a 360˚ camera at nearly every pricepoint from under $200, $300, and $400. However, the Theta M15 will soon be unavailable. If you want to get a good spherical camera for under $200, need to act fast.
Click an image below to find out purchasing information
Having the Theta S solved two of my issues: quality and video. However, even the Ricoh gallery could not provide a good enough solution to guide others through 360˚ journeys. And once again, tech comes through in the clutch.
What can I say? This web tool really does pull everything together. I can host a 360˚ tour of my 360˚ photos AND video in a way that is easy to navigate. You can easily move from one stop to another and view 360˚ photos/videos in a way that makes sense and easy to navigate. And the best part is students only have to go to the link you provide from YouVisit.
And this tool goes beyond just tours. Using the YouVisit Experience Builder, you an integrate regular photos, panoranimcs, and regular videos. Think of the possibilities! You can type or draw information on a 2D photo, record an instructional video in typical view, and integrate them among your tour. And to top it off, there is a virtual reality viewer for iOS and Android. With these apps, you can open the link in a viewer for use in headsets, like cardboard, to experience your very own unique expedition. You can even use those manual photospheres from Google Street View. And you never...NEVER have to take the device out of the headset or use magnetic disruption to move throughout the experience. You simply look at the selectors tools inside the experience to navigate. And did i mention this tool has a FREE OPTION?!? Combined with Google Street View app, you and your students can create awesome expeditions AT NO COST. For an even better experience, you can upgrade to the Ricoh Theta series starting at less than $200. All in all, a pretty sweet deal for those wanting to create virtual reality exeriences using 360˚ imagery.
Leave your thoughts, ideas, comments below. Or even share how you are using this type of technology!
James McCrary is a director of technology & consultant based in Baton Rouge.