Panoramic 360 Videos and Poker

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Earlier this year at the 888local event at Aspers Casino, a unique filming technique was utilised to capture the action in the event which featured the likes of Dominik Nitsche, Kara Scott, Andy Cole and several poker reporters. The video, which you can view here, marks the first time a 360 video has been used in poker.
What is a 360 video, or an immersive video as some people call it? Basically, it's a video that uses multiple cameras overlapping in their fields of vision to create a 360x180 degree interactive video where viewers can manipulate the angle to see whatever they want! Think a real-world panorama that you can explore!
While these videos have been around for years, it wasn't until 2015 when both YouTube and Facebook adopted 360 video options that it permeated the mainstream. It seemed only a matter of time before it reached poker, which it did courtesy of London-based pro panoramic photographer Tom Mills.
Mills, who has a dozen years experience creating panoramic virtual tours, isn't a poker guy, but he enjoyed his night filming at the 888local event. He was even kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions about the experience and 360 videos.

How It all Works

Does filming a 360 video require special equipment? 
Mills: Yes, it's different to shooting standard 360-degree panoramas which are still, only need one camera, and are shot with a special panoramic head, which essentially puts the lens entrance pupil directly over the centre of the tripod; and is pivoted around in all directions to capture the 360. It means you can capture without parallax. 
The tricky thing with 360-video is all camera positions have to be recording at the same time, so multiple cameras are needed and this means it's impossible to capture without parallax. Over the last five years, we have seen many advancements in the industry. VR glasses for one, but finally camera companies are waking up to this technology. 
To reduce parallax we typically want as small a camera as possible, so GoPros are often used. In this footage, we used an izugar rig, with special wider lenses put on the GoPros. This meant we could capture with less visible seams. The closer objects are to the camera the bigger the issues with parallax, so shooting next to a poker table at a live event with no control over people's movements was very tricky.
Can you explain, in the simplest way possible, how a 360 camera works?
Mills: All cameras are preconfigured with the same settings. This is important to avoid any blending issues when the frames are stitched together. Once you have all the footage from the cameras downloaded to your computer, typically what is done is one panorama frame is stitched, then applied to all the video frames from all the cameras to produce many panorama frames that, once compiled, make a 360 video. 
A 360 panorama frame looks odd to people when they first see it as the shape is equirectangular, 2:1, exactly the same shape as a 2D world map printed on the wall. When this video is inserted inside a spherical panorama viewer, we then see the footage how it should be seen in rectilinear format.

The Challenges while Filming

What are the big differences or challenges between making a 360 video like this and a normal video?
Mills: The main challenge is you cannot be in the footage yourself, so where do you hide but still monitor what is going on. Again advancements in tech are getting better; we can use Wi-Fi, for example, to monitor footage from one or all cameras. But these cameras are so small, they overheat and stop frequently. The best 360 cameras going forward will be the ones that can have the smallest footprint, but also remove heat from the camera array.
What sort of challenges did you face when filming the poker game?
Mills: Overheating cameras and getting people to understand where the camera seams lays. The stitching was very tough as the table is about 20cm away, so virtually impossible to stitch correctly without affecting other areas. In the end, you have to just decide what is acceptable and fix what is really unsightly. 
Is there a cameraman or is the camera stationary?
Mills: The camera is actually on a pole. Because of parallax the pole gets hidden because it appears in a different position in each of the cameras, so we are able to mask in all the areas where the pole is not.

More 360 Videos on the Horizon

What sort of possibilities do you foresee as far as 360 videos in poker? How else can they be utilised?
Mills: I see good possibilities but not necessarily at live matches in big halls. I would love to produce a much higher quality video, but be able to direct and control the scene a lot more. As the technology gets better, eventually there will be a good 4k 60fps camera, which only has two lenses. The lenses already exist, but it's hard to get sharp quality from them, and the kind of frame rate people now enjoy from using say six GoPros.
Where else or in what other industries have you seen 360 videos shot?
Mills: Oh, everywhere now. This technology has so many applications, from journalism to training, to just having great experiences such as flying into space, surfing, and skydiving - just to name a few.
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