How YouTube Is Making Virtual Reality Look Better

How YouTube Is Making Virtual Reality Look Better

Images: courtesy of Youtube Fotografia de: Images: courtesy of Youtube

The technological update, which YouTube and Google’s internal Daydream virtual reality team have already implemented for displaying 360-degree videos on Android devices, was created to address a problem that would be familiar to anyone who’s ever tried to lay out a spherical object on a rectangle. Think: showing the Earth on a rectangular map, which vastly distorts the size of various continents.

With 360 videos, like those you might watch on a Samsung Gear VR or Google’s own Daydream View, the problem manifests in the way viewers see the content: the highest-quality areas of the screen are the areas–the very top or bottom, and the corners–where the viewer is least likely to look.

The goal over the last year, according to YouTube software engineer Anjali Wheeler, has been to come up with a system that displays the best-quality parts of the imagery in the center of the viewer’s gaze. YouTube, which has increasingly become a home for 360-degree video, has finally achieved it, Wheeler said. Known by the wonky term “equiangular cube map,” the new system has successfully managed to place more of the highest-quality pixels in 360 videos in the most-viewed areas of the screen.

The result? YouTube viewers are now watching 3%-4% more 360 video, Wheeler says, because they feel that they’re getting a better experience.

It’s worth noting that individual viewers may have trouble identifying the difference in quality, but she argued that what users see when watching YouTube 360 videos on Android devices now feels less blurry and therefore is easier to watch over time.

The basic solution to the problem—the use of what’s called a cube map—has long been in use in the video-game industry. In that system, the most wasted real estate, having high-quality pixels at the very top or bottom of the screen, is avoided altogether. But it still results in poor-quality areas in the center of the viewing space.

Cube map

“As opposed to traditional cube map, which distributes equal pixels for equal distances on the cube surface,” YouTube wrote in a draft blog post, “equiangular cube map distributes equal pixels for equal angular change.”

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