Launch Pad Blog 7/23/17
‘Welcome Home’ Sound Track:
‘Virtually Home’ Open House:
360 House Tour:
Thoughts from week 5:
This week, we took a break from GearVR development and focused on a side project with the Samsung 360 video. Our real estate venture mentioned in last week’s post continued this week as we shot on location at a $750k luxury home with our new real estate associates! The idea was pretty straight forward: get there an hour early, get all the tripod 360 video shots we need to represent the property, and then meet and greet with the folks that show up for the party.
There was plenty of wine and cheese, and realtors mingling at this event. To be prepared to do some networking, we quickly put together a website, a google voice number, and some business cards to pass around. This was a great opportunity to network with sellers, shows some demos, and gather feedback.
One of the most valuable pieces of feedback we got had to do with product adoption. The real estate industry, one veteran of 20 years said, is comprised mostly of an older generation of folks who are not quick to embrace new technology. He’s not wrong, as I’ve met a lot of skepticism when pitching the concept of virtual reality as a new media for immersive experience. You know as I know, it’s not really something words can do justice. With that in mind, our little demos had minimal pitch up front, it was basically this “Hello, we have a new exciting way to showcase homes, would you like to see it?” They agreed to that, and then we stuck the GearVR on their head and away they went! Once they had a taste of VR, then it was much easier to talk about the potential. In fact, most people got it right away.
As far as the practical application goes, I was finding it annoying to have to deal with the GearVR video application. The issue was this: When a user takes off the visor when the video is playing, the video stops. In order to have the client restart it, they need to put on the headset, then look at a very specific area of the screen, then press a button on the side on the headset they cannot see, and then aim it at a tiny play button and press the button again…. This is a bad bad bad bad bad bad bad user experience, way too much friction! YouTube is not much better to be honest, it’s a lot of clicking around. There’s an opportunity here to streamline the process of demoing VR video to people. A real simple solution: make it so when the video ‘pauses’ when the visor is removed, have it auto play when it’s put back on. That would be a very helpful app for presenting videos in VR, just a simple auto play app… I could prep the video, take off the visor, hand it over, and it ‘just works’. Please get on that! 🙂 Hanging out with the realtor crowd was insightful, as it’s not a crowd I usually hang out with. The way they approach customer satisfaction is extremely competitive! The love the idea of using VR as a high tech solution to prove to their client they are doing everything possible to represent their interest. I say competitive because they look at it like ‘If I show the listing in VR, and then another rep show without VR, I look so much more savvy’.
The Samsung 360 camera is a neat device, and so far we’re getting the best results shooting 4k video. We tried some stationary picture, but we found the quality for some unknown reason is a lot worse than shooting video, so we’ve been shooting 12 second tripod shots of rooms that we later stitch together in Action Director, add audio, and export to YouTube. Regarding the YouTube videos… we’re working on a missing setting, as some of the videos end up not 360-ready, some do. I think my computer export settings are slightly different than Rob’s settings. In fact the documentation for Action Director advises using 3840×1920 instead of the full resolution of the video (there’s one slightly higher resolution setting). Overheating is still an issue, but we learned from our last experience to get the nice air conditioned shots first, and then go out in the 95 degree summer heat and get the exterior shots. We had to take a mini break to let the camera cool off to complete our outside shots, but it wasn’t a big of deal as we expected it. We found an AC duct on the floor, and placed the 360 camera on top of it. It cooled down pretty fast. I did search YouTube to find various solutions for overheating, and there are several! I’m planning to give a few of them a go soon.
The shot we’re working on now is the ‘walking around’ shot. This would be a shot where we would film as if we’re walking up to the front door of a home, and taking a walking tour of the home. We’ve tried a few methods, for example, the simply ‘holding the camera’ method. This ends up with a shot that, while in video seems almost tolerable, in VR the camera operator is right on top of the viewer! Not great for real estate videos. We also tried the ‘selfie stick’ approach, and while this was an improvement, stabilization of the camera became an issue. The final approach that we’re working on, so far, has worked the best. We’re taking the Go Pro approach of attaching the camera to the top of a helmet. It looks ridiculous, but the stabilization is not bad, and the 360 camera is able to crop out the person wearing the helmet all together and all that is visible is the top of a black helmet. Perfect world scenario we would have someone that’s about five feet tall do the shots, as Rob is about 6 feet tall, so that puts the camera perspective a little high. This isn’t too bad in homes that have high ceilings though.
As far as process goes, we’ve got our workflow down to about 5 hours from filming a home with about 25 rooms or less, to post production work, to watching a 4k edited YouTube video. The biggest bottleneck right now is the video processing and uploading time. The laptop we’re using to edit and process the video is pretty weak, so that takes time. The other issue is that we don’t have a way to queue multiple video to export and upload. It’s a matter of making sure the machine keeps running, which is annoying. For a single video, this is fine, but the way we want to scale, to capture and process 5-10 locations in a few days.. well I’m hoping there’s a better way to manage this situation, but I suspect Action Director has its limits in this department. We may need to use something more powerful to handle batching later. I actually did try the new free Avid Media Composer First, but I couldn’t get it to export at any decent quality.
It has been fun putting together this small business venture we’re calling ‘Virtually Home’. Our next steps are to go back and reshoot our first location to get some better shots with what we’ve learned, and then go back to the second home and get some ‘walking around’ shots. We’ll continue to optimize our workflow for post production, and finish proofing out our offering. Now that we have more experience with the process, our pricing is starting to come into shape, and services offerings from ‘basic capture’ to ‘overdubbed compilation videos’ can be offered at competitive rates, relative to standard ‘video shoots’. It’s also worth mentioning from a logistics perspective, getting into all these homes without having a realtor have to spent their valuable time letting us in, that is solved by a service called Supra. Supra provides the bluetooth ready lock boxes that hang on the front door of homes for sale that contain a house key. It turns out Supra has ‘Non member access’ feature where a registered Supra agent can issue a one time access code. So for us, our realtor appointment can be setup ahead of time, and the agent sends us an access code via text message. That text message interfaces with the phone app, and then the phone app uses bluetooth to talk to the Supra box which then lets us get the key! No hassle for our realtor clients, just the way they like it!
Next week I may post a little more about our 360 video adventures, but I’m planning to focus on the GearVR development.
Until next time!