Almost every filmmaker has run across a video file that they couldn't get to play. Whether it was shot from some camera nobody uses anymore, or encoded into a vintage codec, or emailed in from a client from Mars, odd file formats abound. The tool that solves the problem 95% of the time is VLC player, the open source multimedia playback app developed by the French non-profit videoLAN association. Combined with its real-time playback, sync and subtitle tools, VLC should be a part of every filmmaker's toolkit, and—like all freeware—if it saves you on a paid job, consider giving a donation in thanks.

Now, working with 3D camera manufacturer Giroptic, VLC has built a tool that enables 360° stills and video to play back in real-time, taking advantage of GPU acceleration through OpenGL on the Mac platform. Playback can be in a zoom mode, where you see only part of the image but are able to navigate within it, or Little Planet, which shows a spherical view mapped onto 2D space that gives you an overall sense of the content available within the video stream. As it's an early release, documentation isn't great yet, but a two finger swipe up or down on the trackpad changes the zoom level on a Mac.

Vlc-2VLC also has audio visualizer tools.Credit: VLC

VLC also announced that they are working on VR playback for headsets like the Oculus, Vive, and more in 2017. VR and 360° from VLC should be a relief for all filmmakers who hope to work in the VR space, since it will continue the process of keeping access to those audiences open to a wide variety of creators, and will ensure that there is a team working to make sure legacy formats continue to play on into the future.

360deg_hawk_forwardVLC 360° test video of hawk in flight, facing forward.Credit: VLC

VLC 360 is currently available as a separate download from VLC's website.  Note that the current version of VLC isn't the full release, and VLC hasn't gone through the full registration process for it with Apple, so you'll need to allow it to install directly by changing your security preferences. The features will be fully integrated into the forthcoming release of VLC 3.0 and, when it comes out, the security preferences shouldn't continue to be a problem.

360deg_hawk_backwardVLC 360° test video of hawk in flight, facing backward.Credit: VLC

Tech Specs:

  • Windows 7 or Mac 10.10 and up required
  • 360° video through the Spatial Video specification
  • 360° photos or panoramas with the Spatial specification
  • Can display in Zoom, Little Planet, or Reverse Little Planet mode
  • Mouse and keyboard control
  • OpenGL acceleration and Direct3D11