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What's the difference? Demystifying 360 vs. VR

March 8, 2017 by Dana Staff

By now, you’re most likely familiar with 360 video. Maybe you’ve even tried on a fancy headset or two. You’ve probably also heard many of these 360 videos referred to as VR (virtual reality). While the media and marketing materials often use these terms interchangeably, 360 and VR are actually two separate experiences.

But that’s not to call anyone out! To be fair, 360 and VR are viewed from the same headset technology. But since we just launched 360 video on Vimeo, we wanted to clear up any confusion, as the differences between shouldn’t be overlooked when you’re making your first steps into this new era of video creation.

Beyond Direction

When watching a 360 video, the viewer can move either left to right or top to bottom within an enclosed spherical space. On the other hand, a virtual reality experience can almost seem limitless. You have control of your environment beyond direction. Instead of looking around, a viewer can move around (well, virtually) and interact with the environment — within the limits of the software. Objects can be picked up, doors can be opened, and on it goes. These creations can get fancy (and expensive) and involve more than just a headset: joysticks, gloves, suits ... just to name a few accessories.

Think of it like this — with 360 video, you’re in the passenger seat of a car. The driver represents the filmmaker, who creates a stunning experience and invites you along from the ride. You can look around from your seat and enjoy the curated scenery. With VR, you are behind the wheel, deciding where you want to go. While it may seem like more control is awesome, it is not the same kind of experience filmmakers and viewers are seeking, and that’s why VR is most often used in video game or simulation systems. 


360 cameras and rigs have allowed cinema to expand beyond the limits of traditional one-shot photography. Filmmakers can now creatively adapt their story into multiple angles. Thanks to 360 cameras and rigs, cinema has expanded beyond the limits of traditional one-shot photography. Creators can now creatively adapt their story into multiple angles. As a viewer, you’re immersed in a filmmaker’s artistic vision in a way that no other medium allows. It’s like being within a movie, which is why we talk about “experiencing” 360 rather than simply watching it.

Over the years, people have expressed their desires to completely escape the world they’re living in (aye yi yi!). Virtual reality grants this wish beyond the limits of 360 video, but not in ways you’d recognize as traditional storytelling. Within digital environments, you can move around and perform actions that progress the fixed storyline or event.

For instance, if I’m playing a VR game, I can choose to walk into a room full of zombies. But if I ignored or missed this room completely, I’d never experience the blood-curdling horror! Again, that’s why it’s often used for different kinds of experiences: VR holds a lot of value for simulations, for example, that teach the viewer. The most popular forms being training protocols for flight pilots, or rehabilitation exercises.


Virtual reality relies on somewhat clunky computer software to generate a digital environment (hence the virtual part). These worlds are meant to mimic the look and feel of the real world.

While digital environments can be found within 360 videos as well, it’s more common to see footage of the real world. It’s best used to take viewers to places they could never go on their own. 360 is currently breaking into the market with offerings of interactive experiences such as action sports, concerts, or even swimming sharks — and our curated channel offers you a glimpse into some of today’s best videos.

Differences aside, both are pretty awesome

Now that we’ve been through all the differences, it’s safe to say both experiences can equally woo their audiences. 360 video and VR allow you to escape from real life and immerse yourself in videos in a new and fresh way. 360 filmmaking goes beyond the idea of just sitting back and enjoying the show. As creators continue to experiment with different ways for their audiences to interact, 360 will only continue to evolve and break new barriers for the video realm — and we’re thrilled to see what our insanely creative community continues to upload and share


Gene Desrochers

Hi Dana,
That was a nice concise way of describing the difference. I have yet to experience either a true 360 or a virtual reality beyond just sitting at a screen with a joystick and playing a game. Any recommendations for how and where to begin doing this stuff without purchasing all the gizmos, just to try it out in southern cal?

Dana Staff

Thanks Gene! Glad this was helpful :) I'm not sure if they are offering true VR experiences outside of amusements parks or certain arcades these days, but I would recommend checking out Playstation VR if you have the opportunity.

Les Fuchs Plus

Hi, Dana,

With all-due-respect, I believe that most of what you were calling VR is actually AR (Augmented Reality). For example, being able to flip switches and open doors in the real world, as you illustrated, is definitely AR, not VR. As a retired airline pilot, I can attest to being in our $15 million dollar simulators as definitely an AR experience. The pilot sits in a realistic mock-up of a flight deck and views and interacts with a simulated environment through the windows and on his or her instruments.

Otherwise, it was a good explanation. I suggest, however, you distinguish between 360 video, AR and VR if you want to give an accurate description of the three environments.


Dana Staff

Hi Les! Thanks for sharing these insights. While there are certainly many ways to perceive those terms, we’re referencing the way these experiences are referred to by the respective technology/filmmaking industries today. AR is generally used to define experiences that include computer generated elements layered on a real life (real-time) view —such as looking through a pair of Google glasses. We would still consider computer renderings mixed with real life objects to be VR, given the simulated nature of the content you are viewing. The main difference is—AR is used to enhance reality as we live it, while VR relies on a computer driven environment.

That said, I truly appreciate that you've taken the time to share your perspective! It's always interesting to hear a fresh take on these terms as alternative realities continue to evolve.

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