So what is better for learning CGI or 360 video? There’s only one way to find out… FIGHT!

Not sure on the difference between CGI and 360 video? Take a look at “What is xR? And what you need to know about it” as a primer for this blog.

This week I entered a rabbit hole and I’m not sure I ever want to come out. It started out very  innocently. I wanted to know more about the effects that CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) and 360 video has on our brains. I thought, there must be some research on this…

This rabbit hole is deep and ever winding, so this isn’t a comprehensive digest of all there is to know about the CGI vs 360 debate. It’s just the most interesting concepts that I’ve stumbled over on my travels.

 

In a CGI environment, your mind is tricked into believing what it sees despite the fact that it may not be real.

 

CGI and the embodiment phenomenon

The most important benefit of CGI that I’ve been reading about is the increased sense of presence you can get from it. You might think that for the brain to feel like it’s been somewhere, that place needs to look photo-realistic, but the concept of embodiment suggests otherwise.

When a VR avatar is mapped closely to our own body’s movement, our brain starts to suspend its disbelief and accepts that this new body is our own. As Mel Slater, Psychology Research Professor at the University of Barcelona, puts it: “The brain doesn’t like contradictions, it likes solutions.” So, although this body doesn’t look like our own, it’s moving like it, therefore it must be ours. We deftly put two and two together to make a firm and conclusive five.  

From that point, we start to buy in to the idea that what we experience in the simulation is really happening to us – we’re not just an observer, we’re a participant. This can have quite a remarkable effect on our long-term attitudes and behaviours.

In one study (1), participants who spent time embodied as someone of a different race reduced their bias rating on an implicit association test. Another study (2) found that men convicted of domestic violence became better at recognising fear on women’s faces after being embodied as a female victim of domestic violence. It’s staggering to think about the possible applications and outcomes of this technique.

The phenonium of embodiment is really quite special and it’s unique to VR; you can’t achieve it with 360 video. That’s because in 360 video you’re always anchored at a fixed point (where the camera was positioned when the video was made). That means that your movements can’t be mapped onto the virtual world and your brain isn’t tricked.

But that’s not to say that 360 photography and video is not without its merits.

 

360 image from Natalie 4.0 project

This capture from JISC’s ‘Natalie 4.0’ 360 video shows a realistic environment inhabited with actors providing a convincing performance.

 

Approachable and accessible 360 video

Many companies starting out on their immersive journey begin with 360 video. There are a lot of different cameras out there and with a little effort you can achieve reasonable looking results relatively quickly and simply.

Although video capturing in 360 degrees has its own considerations (how to light and direct a scene without getting equipment and crew in the shot or how to make use of the whole space while controlling the viewer’s gaze) video production also tends to fall more within existing skillset of an L&D team  than 3D modeling.

As well as fewer barriers to entry for production, it can also feel less daunting for a lot of stakeholders. Video is such a familiar medium it seems much more like a step rather than a full blown leap into the unknown.

Although you don’t get the benefits of embodiment, 360 video is by definition more photorealistic than CGI, which can have a number of content benefits. It’s unrivalled in faithfully showing environments that might otherwise be hard to access. And with a good cast of actors, it’s also great for showing nuanced emotions and relationships between characters in drama pieces.

 

Jerry Springer-style final thought *turns to the camera*

When it comes down to it, one medium isn’t really better than another. (I know, I know, it’s very disappointing. I wanted to crown something ‘Ultimate Champion of the Universe’ by the end of this blog.) They each have their own strengths and weaknesses that make them better suited to some projects than others. But the good news is, if chosen wisely and used well, they can both deliver powerful end results for your learning experiences.