Alan Yates, who somewhat euphemistically identifies himself as “Chief Pharologist” at Valve Corporation, is one of the minds behind Valve’s laser based motion tracking technology, Lighthouse, used in SteamVR’s flagship HTC Vive VR headset and controllers. It seems the hardware engineer has no love for the wealth of 360 videos and photos flooding into the VR space right now, and he wasn’t afraid to share his honest opinion on the subject.

There’s no doubt that 360 degree photography and video can be somewhat of a divisive subject amongst VR enthusiasts. Leaving aside the fact that referring to 360 Video or Photos without further qualification can mean very little right now. As the methods of capture and post processing for immersive photography and film vary so wildly in their techniques and resulting quality, one company’s ‘incredible experience’ is another’s ‘uncomfortable mess’.

It seems Valve’s Chief Pharologist (Lighthouse – geddit?) at Valve Corporation has some strong opinions on the formats, as he took to twitter recently exclaiming:

Which ignited quite the debate both within that particular Twitter thread and elsewhere in the community as to precisely what constituted a VR experience and the worth of the varying forms of 360 photography and film making.

Yates later clarified that more advanced evolutions of the medium do interest him and may well be compelling. Light-field based systems for example, which grant the viewer some degree of parallax (the ability to move within a scene, glimpsing behind foreground objects and characters) are up and coming with numerous startups claiming success with the technology, but right now statically captured 360 content is relatively easy to create and distribute, especially in non stereoscopic form.

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Arguably, it’s Gear VR limited processing power and portability which has in some way lead to the massive growth is the popularity of the form. With some excellent examples of the format issuing forth from companies like and IM360.

We’re not going to engage in either side of the debate for now, but Yates has prompted an important discussion with proponents of static 360 claiming it’s an accessible first step into virtual reality and opponents claiming it creates uncomfortable experiences that don’t come close to demonstrating VR’s potential.

What side of the argument do you support? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Gaston

    I know people who call a book “a true form of Virtual Reality”. The debate about “what is” and “what is not” is endless and it may well turn out that different forms of VR will co-exist. Today, 360 degree mobile VR, such as the native 360 VR apps people create through, is in high demand and easily accessible. It apparently meets the expectations and fulfills the “hey, I’m somewhere else now” experience pretty well.

    • Darshan Gayake

      I have also posted earlier in comment that the investment needed for 360 Degree video is quite low compared to full vr experiences.Which has at present only some degree of freedom for looking around and movement (True experience has to have involvement and also way to change entire experience based on users interaction in VR World) but need lots of processing power, expensive cpu/gpu thus expensive and premium customer affordable only end product. If VR needs mass adoption i think 360 Degree videos are first milestone.

      Obviously i am fully agree with Alan Yates tweet that its not VR. Ture its first taste of VR like that first free dope of weed padler gives you to make you overcoming customer. IMO its free dope.
      What we truly need is improvement in quality of this free dope. There must not be stitching apparent in video. It must be free from artifacts. It should be shooting in proper lightning condition free from all kind of shakes or vibrations. Got to have smooth flow of object in subject. MOST IMPORTANT IT ALSO GOT TO BE TURE STERO 3D AS SOON AS POSSIBLE.
      then it will reinforce need and want of that VR which we all want soon.

  • metanurb

    It strikes me that the 360 video scene is largely about how traditional movie and media industry trying to capitalize on the VR band wagon without having to change too much. The Studios have all the IP and cg assets but shoehorning it in to a game engine sounds a bit to much like hard work.

    My impression of 360 video is that is too blurry at the moment to be all that interesting. 360 photos on the other hand are interesting but hardly ground breaking. Ultimately weather video or still they do not currently benefit form positional tracking. So its hardly surprising that Mr Yates is not a fan.

  • billpayer

    So essentially, he saying “VR video is crap, but if you can move your head a few centimeters left and right (using our technology) then it’s awesome”.

    Tech guys have not a clue about content and most certainly won’t be the ones who make this tech work buying.

    • nsignific

      These tech guys are in fact the sole reason we even get to consider buying this technology. And if the inventor of PAINTING (if there was such a person) stated that writing text on a canvas isn’t painting, I’m sure there’d be people acting like they know better, too.

  • piecutter

    I agree that most of the content I’ve seen leaves a bit to be desired. Most have apparent stitching errors, lackluster resolution and bad color processing. But this is still a young format with many lessons to be learned. And yet there are a few stand out pieces that do give a hint at what the future holds. If you have not seen the Felix and Paul Studios “INSIDE THE BOX OF KURIOS-CABINET OF CURIOSITIES” I suggest you give it a try. It is absolutely Stereo 3D and and quite highly polished. Granted, this was filmed completely stationary under tightly controlled conditions, it puts to shame a lot of other works from other professional houses, and manages to deliver it on a smartphone based platform no less. I, for one, look forward to this new media’s maturation.

  • crim3

    Someone had to say it :)

  • akula

    The key world here is STATIC. STATIC 360 video is extremely boring. People don’t care spending time in post, they don’t care about user experience and they end up producing bad quality content with motion sickness. As soon as the camera can move freely, we’ll see another VR storytelling in 360 space that can be exciting. This is crucial for mass adoption of technology as not everyone is interested in gaming, the audience for traditional entertainment is much larger.