Apple claimed that spatial videos would be incredibly immersive and would enable you to relive cherished moments “like never before.” But I tried out Vision Pro and found that Apple lied about spatial video. Here’s my analysis from my perspective as a 3D enthusiast for almost 30 years.
One of the key features Apple touted for the Vision Pro was the ability to capture “spatial videos.” Apple was somewhat vague about what spatial videos were, and instead described it as a new way to capture memories that would enable you to relive them as if you were in that same moment.
To emphasize this, Apple showed several supposed demos of spatial video in its presentations. In these demos, you could see the camera panning behind the Vision Pro user watching a spatial video. Crucially, as the camera panned, you could see the background of the spatial video moving independently from the subject, as though they were on different planes.
This effect is called parallax and is an effect that traditional stereoscopic 3D photos and 3D videos cannot show. If you view a traditional 3D photo of an object, moving your head side to side will not change the perspective. The subject will not occlude a different part of the background nor will any other part of the background become visible no matter how you move your head. But Apple’s spatial video “demos” showed that you would indeed be able to see a different perspective as you move your head while looking at a spatial video. That would be revolutionary and something that would make 3D images appear far more realistic, giving credence to Apple’s lofty claims about spatial videos.
I was fortunate enough to get a demo of the Vision Pro on its launch day, and I was curious about spatial video more than any other feature. When the demo got to the part about spatial video, I immediately tested whether it really did show a parallax effect. I stood up, bent down and moved my head side to side. Unfortunately, nothing I did changed the perspective of the spatial video. In fact, I did not observe any difference at all between “spatial videos” and 3D videos that everyone is familiar with.
This was shocking to me because of the way Apple had described spatial videos and how they tried to make it sound like it was truly innovative. I was also extremely disappointed that literally none of the tech reviewers who got an early look at the Vision Pro realized that so-called spatial videos are exactly the same as regular 3D videos. Did they all buy into Apple’s lie, or are they just incredibly ignorant?
Just to clarify, I’m not an Apple hater. In our family, we all use iPhones and all our tablets are iPads. In fact, I’ve had Apple shares for a long time and it comprises more than 10% of my stock portfolio. But this still made me angry.
Parallax from shadow box
What about the shadow box frame effect? When you view spatial videos on a Vision Pro, they appear behind a blurry frame that is somewhat like a blurred shadow box. The shadow box floats in front of the spatial video and if you move your head, yes you can see a parallax effect between the shadow box and the spatial video. However, this does not mean the spatial video itself has parallax. In fact, this shadow box effect is also visible when you view 2D panoramas shot on the iPhone and viewed on the Vision Pro in immersive mode. No one is claiming that these 2D panoramas have a parallax effect, therefore for a similar reason, adding a shadow box effect to spatial videos doesn’t mean they have parallax.
There are other ways that Apple misled customers about spatial video. For example, they claimed that only an iPhone 15 Pro was capable of capturing spatial videos because its lenses were reconfigured. However, even two years ago, there was already an app called i3DMovieCam that enabled some iPhones to capture 3D videos using two lenses.
This is not to say that Vision Pro is total junk. In some ways, it is better than any other VR headset I’ve tried (I have several), which I’ll discuss next time. But spatial video is not at all as revolutionary as Apple would want you to believe. If you want to capture 3D photos and videos, you can use the aforementioned i3DMovieCam or i3DPhotoCam. You can also use a Quest 3 to capture 3D photos and videos. Better yet, you can get a dedicated 3D camera such as the Qoocam EGO (reviewed here). If you want to continue using iPhone 15 Pro to capture spatial video, there’s also good news: Meta announced that the next update for the Quest (v62) will add the ability to view Apple spatial videos to the Quest 2, Quest 3 and Quest Pro.