I’ve been informed that being current for a complete eclipse of the Sun is a life-changing experience. But I wasn’t in a position to get my act collectively to journey to the path of totality for at present’s occasion. Luckily, I am half of the first era to have the opportunity to expertise an eclipse vicariously by means of the magic of virtual reality. While seeing a complete eclipse in VR wasn’t precisely a life-changing expertise, it was one of the greatest examples I’ve seen of the energy and promise of reside, 360-degree video.
I first tried to view CNN’s 360-degree Facebook Live video coverage of the eclipse on my Oculus Rift. Despite quite a few tries, although, the livestream by no means confirmed up as a selection on the record of “New” or “Top Pick” movies obtainable on the Oculus Video app. Without a built-in search perform or any approach to navigate to a particular URL or some such, viewing the eclipse on the Rift was a bust.
As a backup, I dug out the newest Samsung Gear VR headset and a Galaxy S7 Edge. While I waited for some essential updates to obtain, I was in a position to watch CNN’s “VR” protection in a easy Web browser window. I used the mouse to tilt the virtual digital camera between the individuals on the floor and the Sun in the sky. Having management of the viewpoint was good, however watching by means of a small window on a laptop computer display did not actually really feel all that totally different from watching comparable protection on TV.
A low-res Sun
I lastly acquired the stream engaged on the Gear VR in time for the eclipse to hit Wyoming, the third of seven eclipse places CNN was masking in VR. The video began out extraordinarily grainy, however it received a bit sharper as the bandwidth caught up with itself. Even with the highest-quality stream from the 4K cameras, although, the relative picture I noticed on the Galaxy S7’s 1440×2560 display was a lot blurrier than the similar stream seen on my Macbook Air display.
In VR, facial options of individuals are arduous to make out in the event that they have been greater than a few ft from the digital camera, and particulars on the horizon virtually utterly lacked definition. There was additionally none of the “stereoscopic 3D” impact you often get from most different apps in virtual reality—this was extra like taking a look at a 2D video projected on a 360-degree dome surrounding me.
The VR picture additionally had a justifiable share of compression artifacts, particularly when the sky grew darkish and the streaming algorithms struggled to differentiate between the small gradations of black. While individuals reside on the floor began speaking about seeing particular person stars and even planets in the darkened sky, I might solely see giant, color-banded blobs of totally different shades of black. It jogged my memory of nothing a lot as watching grainy ActualVideo streams in the early 2000s, solely with a viewing “window” that surrounded me utterly.
The noon sundown
What the VR expertise lacked in sharpness, it made up for in its overwhelming, all-encompassing nature. Watching the eclipse in VR, I might actually get the sense of the sky darkening shortly throughout me as totality approached. I received the sense of a speedy daybreak when the Moon’s shadow began to recede. It was unimaginable having the ability to flip in place and see a virtual, eclipse-generated “sunset” in all instructions on the horizon from the consolation of my very own kitchen. Hearing the whoops and hollers of onlookers alongside the confused chirping of birds and crickets picked up by the microphones solely elevated the immersion.
Looking immediately up at the Sun in VR does not risk permanent eye damage the approach it might in actual life. But it additionally does not present the type of “crescent Sun” impact I was hoping to see as the Moon began to cowl up the corona. Luckily, CNN superimposed a giant, floating “eclipse cam” view with the right filters and telescopic zoom to present the eclipse in a lot sharper element. Being in a position to look forwards and backwards between this close-up shot and the surrounding scene on the floor round me in virtual area was a nice “best of both worlds” that made me really feel like I was in two locations directly.
I additionally appreciated the selection of eclipse places CNN was in a position to cowl over a two-hour span, from a wide-open subject in Idaho, to a neon-covered road in Nashville, to the seat of a helicopter floating above Charleston. Through all of it, a selection of hosts and visitors rambled, repeating themselves very often about the “once in a lifetime” grandeur of all of it and the approach historic humans have been awed by what’s now an completely predictable astronomical prevalence. CNN additionally superimposed some ethereal “space music” on prime of just about any eclipse second, which was a bit distracting.
As my spouse and I handed the Gear VR headset forwards and backwards to share in the a number of eclipse viewing places CNN cycled by means of, she commented to me that this was the first use for the headset that has satisfied her of the worth of “this VR stuff.” I’m unsure I’d go that far, however that is the variety of astronomical occasion that basically good points one thing from the sense of surrounding presence that solely a VR headset can present. Hopefully, the hardware and streaming decision points might be improved by the time the subsequent complete solar eclipse hits the US in 2024.