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360° imagery is a great way to explore the benefits of Mixed Reality while limiting up-front investments in either equipment (e.g. HoloLens and advanced MR headsets) or specialized talent (e.g. 3D artists). There are so many different scenarios for using these images within your organization. These can include training and onboarding employees (e.g. facility tours), celebrating and sharing capabilities of new facilities, and many explorations around documenting current state and monitoring progress of physical spaces. Basically, any time you have a physical space that you need to document or communicate about to others, 360° imagery can be a great tool.
For me, that also extends outside work to backcountry ski adventures where I can show friends, family, and co-workers what it is like to experience remote backcountry destinations that can be a bit challenging to get to. Check out this video below for a quick view of what’s possible or go check out how it was made using the SharePoint spaces 360° tour web part.
SharePoint spaces offers significant flexibility for handling 360° images and videos. Most tools available to capture 360° images and videos will work with Spaces. However, there are several considerations you may not be familiar with from working with 2D images. There are also ways that you can optimize quality and performance both today and into the future as mixed reality devices expand in availability and quality. Here are a few key questions to keep in mind along with suggestions for tools that work well with Spaces today:
- What is the target device? Virtual Reality or Browser, Mobile or Desktop
- Is it better to capture 360° images or video?
- What is the right mix of content?
- What devices can capture 360° images?
- What formats does SharePoint spaces support?
Interacting with your spaces has never been easier, SharePoint spaces supports viewing either in a web browser or using mixed reality headsets. The same content can be used for both, but if your primary use case is the browser, it does not make sense to use stereoscopic content. To create the best experience when viewing you may have to reduce resolution or file size to optimize for mobile or standalone VR headsets.
Images or Video
For the sake of simplicity, we recommend starting with 360° images and exploring video only when there is a strong need to capture a dynamic and changing space. Capturing and displaying high quality 360° video is notably more challenging than 360° images. If you pursue videos, make sure you add captions or a transcript and follow the best practices for video format, resolution, etc.
Combining 360° and 2D Images and Videos
In many cases, the best experience can be created by combining video and images, SharePoint spaces supports both 360° and 2D images and videos in the same space. You will find that 360° images are great for understanding spatial context (e.g where things are within a room) but 2D images or videos are useful to highlight specific areas within the image using a high resolution and artfully composed view of a few areas you want to highlight. Users will understand the context from the 360° image while appreciating the detail, artistry, and focused storytelling that are characteristic of high quality 2D images and videos. Spaces makes it easy to combine the two, just add your 2D images as annotations using the 360° tour web part.
There are many options available for capturing 360° images ranging from smartphone apps (e.g. Google Camera Photo Spheres) to simple consumer handheld 360° cameras (e.g. Ricoh Theta, Insta 360 One X) to more complicated commercial high resolution and stereoscopic cameras (e.g. Insta360 Pro 2). These devices will generally produce outputs that are usable immediately in SharePoint spaces, but often the experience can be improved by optimizing to balance quality and file size as described below. If you are going to be capturing a lot of 360° images, a dedicated camera is recommended because it will be a much faster workflow.
Smartphone apps can produce high resolution and high-quality images, but they require you to take multiple images that are assembled into a 360° image by the app. This means the process of capturing images will be slower than a dedicated multi-lens 360° camera (consumer handheld or commercial). Unless the scene is completely static during the capture, they can also produce image artifacts such as ghosting as seen in this image:
Recommended Image Settings
While SharePoint spaces supports many options for image format (JPG, TIFF, PNG, etc.), we recommend storing images as equirectangular progressive JPEG images with quality setting set to 80% or equivalent in various software tools. Most 360° cameras automatically output equirectangular JPEG images. These can be batch optimized to reduce file size and set the quality setting using various tools like Adobe Photoshop or RIOT image optimizer after the images are captured.
It is best to capture images with the highest resolution possible. Equirectangular images have a 4:2 aspect ratio (twice as many pixels wide as tall). We recommend using 8K resolution (8192 X 4096) to achieve maximum quality 360° image output in SharePoint spaces while balancing file size, download time, etc. However, lower resolutions are often acceptable – especially if your goal is communication, documentation, or collaboration instead of a showcase visual experience.
Two examples are shown below – the first is an 8K image (captured with an Android smart phone) while the second is 5.3K resolution (captured with a consumer handheld Ricoh Theta V). Although the 5.3K resolution is acceptable quality for many applications, the 8K resolution captures notably more detail.
If using a camera that can capture above 8K resolution it would be a best practice to keep images at the highest resolution and use image editing tools like Adobe Photoshop or RIOT to save versions optimized for SharePoint spaces. That will allow you to update your SharePoint space as higher resolution mixed reality headsets become available and those extra pixels can be put to good use.
Following these guidelines should make sure your 360° imagery maintains high quality while balancing performance and load time. Have some ideas for what we should do next with 360° imagery in SharePoint spaces? Let us know what you are looking for or share your 360° imagery scenario in the comments.
Brought to you by Dr. Ware, Microsoft Office 365 Silver Partner, Charleston SC.