Above, is the by-the-book definition of Virtual Reality.

Thus, by default, VR is associated with a polygon rendered world, that inserts the audience or participant in and gives them tools to interact with this world.
One camp of VR professionals believe this leaves no scope for mere ‘spherical video’ whether 4k or 8k or however ‘realistic’ to be called VR, even if said video is a faithful recording and visual representation of the real world or an imaginary one. Even if displayed using the same display device that polygon based VR worlds use (HMD or Wraparound projection screen or C.A.V.E)

After all –  these professionals argue – for true VR, the viewer should be able to look around, behind objects in the VR world… they should be able to crouch and receive instant visual feedback of this translation in stance echoed back via a point of view change in the world. In short, these professionals argue: Positional tracking = Virtual Reality leading to that much desired high in VR: Presence.

Now, the other camp will have none of this! and insist that spherical video is also a Virtual representation of an environment (world) and can rightfully be called VR.

Let’s put forth arguments about what VR is and VR isn’t, and then let both camps make up their minds. For sake of clarity – let’s do it in points:

  • But Carmack said…


Forget full 360 cinematic VR. Many people are quoting Carmack in the video above saying that if the God of VR has spoken… then 180 degrees (stereoscopic) is VR.

It certainly sounds that way when you first hear the clip. But then when you listen closely… specifically at 1:40 into the video, when he says “It’s how you Frame video…”. At this point he’s getting to what matters… When does stereoscopic wideangle video transform into a VR experience? – When it fits in and is part of the Virtual World being presented to the audience. When he speaks about building geometry (video/set extensions are also valid) around the 180 degrees stereo video, and the entire scene now seamlessly becomes one world… we’ve then suspended the feeling of disbelief, and it gives audiences “presence”

With that out of the way, let’s backtrack a little…

  • Is Spherical or 360 video, VR?

We are of the opinion that plain 2D spherical or 360 video leaves a lot lacking when it comes to suspending the feeling of disbelief – ie. when watching 2d 360 video via an HMD, it’s plain to see the scale of everything (unless a vista shot of say the Grand Canyon and similar) is all wrong! People look 20 feet tall. Tables and chairs feel like skyscrapers. Unless the intended VR world is meant to simulate the world in Gulliver’s travels.. It is indeed hard to call such presentations “Virtual Reality”

This is perhaps where the other camp’s main gripe stems from. When they say 360 video in not VR – there is a great chance they are referring to 2D 360 video. They have a valid point in our opinion. But then again, they haven’t experienced well presented stereoscopic 360 Cinematic visuals, which brings us to our next VR (see what we did there!) point:

  •  Bastardised  Cinematic VR.

(picture used for educative purposes. All copyrights acknowledged and respected)

This is a stereoscopic side-by-side rig. Note the interaxial (lens separation) on this rig. There is reason to believe that this or a similar version of such a rig was used to film the heavily publicized CNN debate session which is available for viewing in Stereo on the Oculus GearVR Store for free. One needs to download the free NextVR app to experience it.

Why bastardized VR?

  • The CNN debate ‘VR’ experience was a conventional wideangle lens professional stereo camera, capturing in stereoscopic 3D. On turning one’s head – immersion is broken and the HMD wearer is immediately pulled out of the VR world because the latter 180 degrees fov is a black void with a logo.
  • This is not quite what Carmack spoke about in the video at the top of this article.
  • There’s also massive hyper stereo. This is unforgivable. Why? See the video below and pay specific attention to the questions put forward by the (very knowledgeable) interviewer, starting from 0:15 into the video. The answers are filled with today’s catch phrases – Lightfield, feature detection etc.. but none of this is evident from the CNN debate video currently on the Oculus GearVR store.


Sadly, it’s claims like these, made by multimillion dollar funded companies, that is the reason for the first camp’s less than enthusiastic reception to Cinematic VR.  In VR and stereoscopic 3D for that matter, you can’t cheat scale and one needs to respect the spatiality of a scene. These are the basics of stereoscopic production which don’t gel with the claims of years of experience being made in the video interview. The end result is massive hyper-stereo – Gulliver’s or KingKong’s point of view –  and a less than immersive VR experience.

To re-iterate again.. if one is presenting a debate in a room – in Virtual Reality, the very basics would be – because the experience is a Debate-in-a-room… to capture that WHOLE room and make audiences believe they are occupying a chair at said location.

Hard hitting as this critique is, we hope that these issues get addressed in upcoming stereoscopic Cinematic VR ‘broadcasts’.

which brings us to the question that crops up when dealing with storytelling in VR …

  • Is Cinematic VR really VR?

To us, the answer is a resounding YES… when presented in Stereoscopic 360, and when done right. Consider the following:

VR is not just game worlds or CGI. How do you capture or create real life moments and memories and present it in Virtual reality? Oh wait.. Lightfield, Lidar and ToF technology right? We’ll certainly visit them when we can get 60fps at 4k out of those technologies.


Meanwhile, when the year is 2055 and we want to see what the Clinton Foundation did in Africa back in 2015, I for one will be happy and grateful to Felix and Paul for creating that compelling Stereoscopic “video” in 360  (viewable on Facebook 360 and via the Oculus GearVR store) which allowed me to sit on a tattered green couch with two gentlemen a few feet away from an abandoned railway track looking down at the shanties…immersed in that slice of history.

Virtual ‘Reality’- let the literal meaning of that phrase sink in for a moment, and not just the dictionary explanation.