Vimeo seems to be on a tear these days. They finally got their Android app up to snuff last year, and now they’ve added virtual reality (VR) capability to their platforms. Another way of looking at it is, they’ve finally caught up to YouTube. But here, I’ll make some distinctions and try to map out what we can expect from this exciting new feature.
Generally speaking, Vimeo wins filmmakers’ hearts in comparison to YouTube for a few reasons. First and most important, their video compression codecs are simply better. Naturally, in order to manage the upload traffic and storage at YouTube that’s orders of magnitude more than at Vimeo, YouTube videos simply look bad because they skimp on storage space. (Sidebar: it’s a well-known secret that if you render your footage into a 4k-UHD file, even if your target resolution or source camera resolution was 1080p, then when you upload it to YouTube, 1080p playback looks much, much better than if you just uploaded a 1080p file straight up.) Another gigantically better feature at Vimeo is the ability to upload a newer version of a video file at any time, without losing the original URL (i.e., without breaking the link that’s already disseminated onto the Interwebs), and also without losing the existing play counts/likes/analytics/SEO. At YouTube, even a tiny revision to your video makes you start from scratch. Lastly, the simple fact is, there are less trolls and negativity in comments at Vimeo. I don’t like politics, but can’t avoid noticing an irony: that the official color of YouTube is red, and the official color of Vimeo is blue…
I’m excited about Vimeo adding VR capability because it’s something I’m tiptoeing into. Problem is, the capture technology still stinks miserably. It’s something I wrote about extensively in an article here, Five Reality Checks on Virtual Reality (and introducing: VRcine). Please give it a look! You’ll see that I wrote it on the occasion of creating a new community here called VRcine: I felt like there was an unmet niche for reporting news, sharing samples and discussing VR from the perspective of cinematographers who are treating the new technology more as an art form than a marketing gizmo. You can sign up for the newsletter here, like the Facebook page here, follow on twitter @VRcine here — and starting today: join the Vimeo Group here.
Anyway, here’s how it works. I’ve uploaded a sample, which is so far my favorite VR video that I’ve created (a live performance by the Washington Bach Consort, conducted by my good friend J. Reilly Lewis who untimely passed away last June). Once you upload the file (up to 8k resolution), if it has metadata flagging the video as VR, Vimeo reads it and you’re mostly good to go. However, you could still output a video file without that metadata flag, and manually verify the right settings. It’s under the “Video file” sub-menu at any uploaded clip’s Settings. In the screen grab above, I’ve emphasized the spot where you can toggle-on 360, and also clarify whether it’s “Monoscopic” (i.e., 2D) or “Stereoscopic” (i.e., 3D). One thing I haven’t been able to test or verify — possibly troubling — is that the only stereoscopic option is “top/bottom layout.” The simple problem is that the majority of 3D VR clips are actually in a left/right layout. It remains to be seen whether this is a shortcoming that Vimeo plans to imminently address. I’ve asked them.
Did you notice the “Advanced 360 settings” link? It takes you to the above screen, where you can play back your uploaded clip and make adjustments to field of view and the pitch/yaw orientation. This is superior to YouTube’s platform. You can also see that, besides the Google Cardboard capability of using a headset and just turning your head (Oculus Rift and HTC Vive compatibility is coming soon), or clicking-and-dragging a mouse on the video frame to twirl around, you can also use your keyboard’s arrow keys.
One of my biggest complaints about Vimeo was that they resisted updating their Android app for over a year, and it was practically useless with bugs and feature deficiencies. (Their culture is clearly Apple-centric, built on the false and yet sorta true presumption that the creative world is all-Apple, even though smartphone penetration statistics show that iOS is a tiny minority of the world marketplace.) That said, Vimeo has virtuously added VR capability to their Android app in tandem with their iOS app. They don’t exactly deserve plaudits for being diligent that way, but it’s nice to see.
Isn’t this great? Congrats to the Vimeo team for getting it together. Now let’s all twirl and get motion sickness at better bitrates.