Last month I spoke with a wedding cinematographer about the arms race to document weddings with the latest technologies. He started his business with just a camera and tripod. Now he’s shooting with drones. Well, here’s another tool he may need to add to his arsenal: 360-degree videos.

Friday YouTube announced it now supports 360-degree video uploads, marking a significant step toward the video format going mainstream. Currently these YouTube videos can only be viewed on Google Chrome and in YouTube’s Android app. YouTube says it’s working on compatibility for iOS devices and other Web browsers.

The videos are a step toward virtual reality, offering an 2D-immersive experience in which a user can pan around a video with their mouse. It’s similar to the experience of Google Maps’ Street View function, except with video not photos. Viewers will no longer be locked to a fixed perspective.

For now, uploaders of 360-degree videos will need to run a script on their video to add metadata so YouTube recognizes it as a 360-degree video. YouTube is working to automate this step.

The viewing experience is especially neat for an Android user in the YouTube app. If you move your phone from side to side, the perspective will shift. Makers of 360-degree cameras expect these videos to soon be ubiquitous.

“Similar to Flip driving the popularity of YouTube video and the idea of sharing, 360-degree cameras and technology take video as we know it to the next level,” said Paul Meyhoefer, vice president of marketing at JK Imaging Ltd, maker of the Kodak SP360.

YouTube will support uploads from 360-cameras such as the Bublcam, IC Real Tech’s Allie, Kodak’s SP360 and the Ricoh Theta. The cameras are fairly expensive — ranging from about $300 to $700, but they should become cheaper in time.

If 360-cameras drop to a price where they are standard on smartphones, that would be a tipping point for 360 videos to go mainstream.

IC Real Tech chief executive Matt Sailor tells me he’s working with a cellphone manufacturer to make a smartphone featuring his technology so smartphone users could capture the immersive videos.

He’s also developing a camera with Verizon, which would allow for 360-degree streaming from anywhere with cellular access. A user could remotely watch their kid’s tee-ball game or keep an eye on an elderly parent.

“To get the feel of what was happening at that time, nothing compares with the 360-video experience,” said Anjali Wheeler, a Google software engineer who worked on the YouTube technology. “Personally I believe it can actually get very big and as common as video cameras.”

He’s used a Ricoh Theta to record everything from his New Year’s Eve party to his son’s soccer practice, and finds himself using it more and more.

“It’s the natural progression of cameras,” said Sailor, who likens the shift to our move from VHS to DVD to BluRay and to 4K. “Just like everything else in our life continues to escalate and get better.” He envisions one day building 360-degree cameras into football and hockey helmets so that fans can watch the games through the eyes of their favorite player.

Hang gliding in Kameishitoge, Izu Skyline – Spherical Image – Ricoh Theta
Hang gliding in Kameishitoge, Izu Skyline – Spherical Image – Ricoh Theta