Today I asked Logan Smith, BIM guru, licensed building architect and VR expert about whether 360 degree photos and videos count as Virtual Reality. Here’s the interview:
So, there’s the great debate in VR circles right now–Is a 360 degree photo Virtual Reality?
Logan Smith: 360 degree photos are a peek into the potential of VR but a long way from actually realizing that potential. They’re vaguely VR. I would put 360 photos under the large umbrella of VR, but I also sympathize with VR specialists who wouldn’t want them under that umbrella. People who have only seen 360 videos and photos can have a false impression about what modern VR actually is.
Explain the difference then– “Modern VR” vs. 360 photos?
Logan Smith: Spatial computing. Modern, room-scale virtual reality is spatial computing. While a 360 photo can glance in every direction, Virtual Reality is transformative. It involves shape, volume, location, and physics. Room elements have dimension, they can be moved, you can walk between them, and look underneath them. True Virtual Reality is volumetric. It’s spatial. It’s well, real.
For example, if I took a 360 photo of this room–even if I view it on a headset–I can’t walk over to that window and look at it from a different angle to understand the views and the space. In true VR, I can look outside that window from every angle. I can move that chair. I can see how the light changes in the room based on the time of day because all of that data is contained in true VR.
So, is there a place for 360 photos in architecture and construction?
Logan Smith: Absolutely. When I first started using them as an architect it was for tenant improvement and renovation projects. Before any TI project, you need to document everything about the existing space. It used to be that we would take 45 pictures of the space from every angle, and even then you would inevitably miss something. Now you just hold up a 360 camera and with one click you have great documentation of that room.
360 photos move us toward casting off the limitations of two dimensions. They’re a step in the right direction if you can’t use real VR. But I also imagine that architects and contractors will be using 3D scans more and more often to document as-builts which can then be viewed in true VR.
With regard to architecture and construction, what are the advantages and disadvantages of 360 vs. VR?
Logan Smith: 360 photos are easy to make. It’s the touch of a button. True room-scale VR involves a little more expertise. So, for quick documentation of a space–maybe you use a 360 camera. For everything else, Virtual Reality is better. Room-scale VR is ideal for understanding the space. It’s more comfortable and more interactive experience. A 360 photo can communicate direction but it doesn’t give the understanding of scale and relationships that true virtual reality does. 360 photos simply don’t have the same power to satisfy client concerns about a design. I see time and time again how VR facilitates communication with clients so they can make decisions confidently. That’s where true spatial VR excels. It takes people of all experience levels and gives them the same access to understanding design.