Are you among the many eLearning developers yearning to create immersive video for eLearning? Are you facing the prospect that a full-fledged virtual reality studio where you can create digitally generated immersive environments is not in next year’s budget? Don’t give up!

A new kid on the video block, 360-degree video, offers developers an affordable alternative with a low entry threshold in terms of technical skills and knowledge. Paired with some inexpensive VR headsets, a 360-degree video can form the foundation of eLearning that will transport learners into compelling, immersive stories and environments.

While the effect won’t be as dramatic as an elaborate, interactive virtual environment with a full cast of avatars, the impact on learners can still be impressive.A tight budget is no problem: Equipment to shoot, stitch together, and produce 360-degree video can be assembled for around $1,000!

Packing the kit bag

Shooting 360-degree video requires at least two cameras or lenses. A high-end 360-degree setup might include six cameras. Equipment ranges from a basic camera setup that will produce good-quality video or stills for a few hundred dollars to professional-level gear that runs $5,000 or more.

Ben Kreimer is a journalism technologist and drone journalism expert. In a recent webinar on 360-degree video journalism, Kreimer described assembling a basic two-lens kit based on a Samsung Gear 360 camera and Samsung Galaxy S7 phone for $1,060—including a tripod and memory cards. New and updated equipment appears on the market constantly, though, so pricing and other gear-related information is subject to change.

The video must then be stitched together into the “surround” view. The need to stitch together multiple video streams occurs because no single camera actually shoots in 360 degrees. With anywhere from two to six cameras, a developer will end up with multiple video streams. That could change soon: Publicity for the Orah 4i camera, which might start shipping in early 2017, promises that the camera will shoot “live 360”—stitching will occur in the camera in real time. No currently available equipment does that, according to Kreimer.

Motion is a key element of many 360-degree videos, such as video tours. These require that the videographer move the cameras through the scene. The videographer can hand-carry the cameras, but it’s common to use a vehicle—a cart or dolly. For aerial shots, you can rig a drone to carry the cameras. The cameras are generally controlled via a smartphone, laptop, or tablet. There is not (yet) a turnkey solution on the market for aerial 360-degree video, like a drone with built-in cameras, according to Kreimer, but some videographers have come up with solutions for mounting the camera rigs on drones; some of these mounts can even be “printed” with 3-D printers.