How Facebook plays 360-degree keep-away from YouTube

This afternoon Facebook launched its 360-degree video initiative, and with it a brand new security measure to keep content exclusive. Facebook's 360-degree video feature is much like YouTube's very similar 360-degree video feature. Once you're watching a video, you're inside a sphere of content, able to turn any direction to see a different angle on your environment. The big difference here between the two services is the way they execute and display a flat video file made spherical – in effect making both services mutually exclusive.

Above you'll see one frame of Facebook's video for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Doesn't look like a sphere, does it? It's actually a box, all out of order. Facebook uses code which shows the different squares in the flat frame above in an order which makes sense to the viewer. Below you'll see the frames re-arranged.

The frames above are arranged in a cross. This is good for you and I to visualize the scene, but not ideal for Facebook to store the information they need to play the video. Instead, they display all six blocks in a grid (like the first image in this article) to save space.

The code Facebook uses to re-arrange these squares into a box around the user is far less burdensome data-wise than working with a cross-shape – with the cross, the video (which must be rectangular) would have a whole lot of space sitting completely un-used, but still requiring data to exist.

So once you start to fold the box, you start to see the environment take shape. Note that we're just showing you how a box folds here, Facebook's code does it much more elegantly.

YouTube's method is similar, but just different enough that someone wouldn't be able to, for example, download a video from one service and immediately upload it to the other, expecting it to work. YouTube's format isn't a grid cut into pieces, it's more of a single frame.

Above you'll see a frame from one of YouTube's first 360-degree videos. This frame is from the flat video, while below you'll see the live, 360-degree video.

Facebook and YouTube use ever-so-slightly different methods, but the result is largely the same: 3D video, but with a side-helping of platform lock-in.

Have a peek at the Star Wars: The Force Awakens Facebook-exclusive Jakku ride here and let us know if you can tell the difference in techniques.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Immersive 360 Experience

Speed across the Jakku desert from Star Wars: The Force Awakens with this immersive 360 experience created exclusively for Facebook.

Posted by Star Wars on Wednesday, September 23, 2015

UPDATE: In addition to storing video in this 360-degree, movable, interactive format, Facebook appears to also stores a flat, non-moving version – likely for users that cannot use the 360-degree feature. Below you'll see the Star Wars video without movement.