Starting today, the images you see on Facebook will get a lot more immersive.
The social network is starting to roll out support for 360-degree photos Thursday, a new type of image that captures everything going on around the camera, and allows the viewer to explore the scene just as if they were there in person.
These photos are typically taken with a 360-degree camera such as LG’s 360 cam or Samsung’s Gear 360 consumer models. If you don’t have a 360-degree camera, a lesser-quality version of the images can also be created on Facebook using a panoramic image taken on your smartphone.
On desktop, those images are explored by running your mouse along the image, and dragging it around to get a different view. On mobile, the experience gets a little more interesting. Viewers can control the image by running a finger along the screen, but they can also move their phone around the room, and view the image as if they were looking through a portal to the world in which it was taken.
The whole experience gets much richer when you strap on a virtual reality (VR) headset such as Samsung’s Gear VR or an Oculus Rift. Then you can sit in the middle of the scene and really get the feeling as if you’re there. Gear VR users, for instance, will see a button at the top left of a 360 photo they’re viewing on Facebook, asking them if they’d like to view it in VR. Press the button, insert your phone in the headset, and step into virtual reality.
Facebook showed off some of its plans for VR earlier this year at its F8 summit. The social network already supports 360-degree videos. While the photo addition is the next step in its support, the ultimate goal is to create a "social VR" experience of sorts, where users would be able to share real experiences while simultaneously using VR.
360-degree images are already supported by Flickr and other sites, and 360-degree videos can be uploaded to YouTube.