By Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY

SAN BRUNO, CA -- Online video giant YouTube is expanding into live video territory, by offering the ability to live stream 360 degree virtual reality videos.

The live video space has heated up in recent months. Facebook joined the fray with a live video initiative to take on Twitter’s popular Periscope, which was named top app of the year in 2015 by Apple.

But with YouTube’s offerings, “It’s not just a live stream, but a stream you can explore in 360 degrees,” says Neal Mohan, YouTube’s Chief Product Officer.

Several press reports had speculated that YouTube was preparing a live video app to take on Facebook and Periscope. but Mohan says they were misinformed.

YouTube and Facebook are both at the forefront of bringing 360 degree videos to online users, with YouTube’s 360 channel a place to share and view VR videos, on desktop, smartphone, and via Google’s $10 Cardboard viewers.

So now, instead of watching an edited 360 video that has taken days, or weeks to produce, videomakers can plug in a camera and go live, showing viewers every possible angle, letting them be the director.

YouTube chief product officer Neal Mohan in the bright YouTube chief product officer Neal Mohan in the bright YouTube headquarters lobby in San Bruno, CA. (Photo: Jefferson Graham)

With 360 degree videos, viewers can move the scene left or right, up or down, for a complete spherical view.

By going live, users save the tedious step of “stitching” multiple camera angles together in editing.

“The power of 360 is it can give the users the feel of much more than a flat, 2D video experience without them having to do much,” says Mohan. “It’s a way to make it so these immersive experiences are available to anyone who has a phone.”

YouTube has offered the ability to live stream for quite some time, but the features are not as easy to master as the tools on an app like Periscope, which you open, title and click record to get going.

With YouTube, you need to have a “channel” on the service, download streaming software and use the desktop tools to begin streaming.

For the new 360 live streams, YouTube is working directly with two camera manufacturers for seamless one-click productions, the $499 AllieCam and $1,795 Orah 4i.

For popular cameras like the Ricoh Theta S and 360fly that don’t have an alliance with YouTube, Google says there are workarounds that involve downloading drivers for live-streaming.

To go live, creators go to their YouTube channel tools, check the 360 video checkbox in the settings, select the desired resolution (YouTube recommends 1440p) and begin.

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