YouTube Beats Facebook to 360 Video Live-Streaming, Which Is "Virtually" Live VR

It's not live virtual reality per se, but it's close.

The quest for unprecedentedly immersive content continues. While Facebook’s dawdled with Live video, Google and YouTube have pushed the envelope. Today, YouTube announced 360º live-streaming with spatial audio. No longer are those quested-after immersive experiences limited to filmed and past events: you can now experience multitudinous quasi-virtual realities, live, from the comfort of your couch.

They’re quasi-virtual realities because 360 video itself is not VR per se. (This explainer by Wired does well to point out the differences between the two formats.) But YouTube’s new lives videos will be compatible with VR headsets, and, with spatial audio, will near the immersion that true VR can provide.

The release is coincidental with Coachella this weekend. Coachella tickets notoriously sell out in no time at all, so those who missed out on tickets will be sated with live 360 videos and spatial audio from “select” performances. You’ll no longer need to lament a garbage live streamer’s camera skills, nor the fact that he or she got overly excited or distracted and put his or her phone down: instead, you’ll be able to control where you want to look, and you’ll be able to do so in real time. And with spatial audio, the immersion will be complete. If you watch a Coachella performance in live 360 video, where you look will dictate what you hear. Just as if you were actually there.


Streaming 360 video and spatial audio live is no small engineering feat. The hardware is one thing — quality 360 videos require complex and for-now expensive rigs — but the file sizes are another. Live streaming video is alone impressive, but the enormous files required for quality 360 video make YouTube’s announcement remarkable. Plus, it was only a year ago that YouTube launched 360 videos — in just over one year’s time, it’s already turned them live.

Facebook, meanwhile, has yet to offer the equivalent “live 360-degree” feature, even though it’s got both camps well covered independently: Facebook Live is gaining popularity, and 360 video on Facebook is likewise taking off. While it’s likely Facebook’s got a similar product in development — Mark Zuckerberg speaks about his yearning for the capability every chance that he gets — YouTube verifiably beat the social network to the punch.