360° Videos on Android for Google Cardboard

The Google Cardboard SDK for Android still is somewhat scary to me because of its OpenGL nature. It offers many convenience functions like automatic side by side rendering and lens distortion correction but you have to be at least somewhat familiar with low level OpenGL ES 2.0.

For this Android experiment I wanted to render a 360° equirectangular video inside a sphere with a decent framerate. After some investigation I decided to go with an OpenGL library or engine. Streaming a video to textures seems to be quite complex and poorly documented.

Choose a 3D engine

There a number of OpenGL libraries available out there and I didn’t put as much time in choosing one as I probably should have. I ended up with the open source Rajawali engine. The engines example projects are mostly out of date but the video texture example looked easy enough:

// inside RajawaliRenderer#initScene()
// setup world sphere
Sphere sphere = new Sphere(1, 24, 24);
sphere.setPosition(0, 0, 0);

// invert the sphere normals
// factor "1" is two small and result in rendering glitches

// create texture from media player video
StreamingTexture videoTexture = new StreamingTexture("video", mediaPlayer);

// set material with video texture
Material material = new Material();
try {
} catch (ATexture.TextureException e){
  throw new RuntimeException(e);

// add sphere to scene

As you can see StreamingTexture takes a regular Android MediaPlayer instance as argument. That’s very convenient because you can control the media player with its high level functions like play, pause or seekTo and have the changes reflect on your texture!

To reflect the changes in realtime you have to override the RajawaliRenderer#onRender() function like this:

protected void onRender(long elapsedRealTime, double deltaTime) {
  super.onRender(elapsedRealTime, deltaTime);

  if (videoTexture != null) {
    // update texture from video content

Voilà! That’s all it takes to render a 360° video in OpenGL. Of course head tracking and side by side rendering are still missing. That’s covered in the next step.

Google Cardboard SDK

In this step we will connect the Cardboard SDK’s convenience functions with Rajawali. I am implementing a CardboardView.StereoRenderer here while extending the RajawaliRenderer class. First we will handle surface changes that were detected by the Cardboard SDK:

    public void onSurfaceChanged(int width, int height) {
        // tell Rajawali that cardboard sdk detected a size change
        super.onRenderSurfaceSizeChanged(null, width, height);

    public void onSurfaceCreated(EGLConfig eglConfig) {
        // pass opengl config to Rajawali
        super.onRenderSurfaceCreated(eglConfig, null, -1, -1);

    public void onRendererShutdown() {
        // tell Rajawali about shutdown

But most important is the onDrawEye method. It gives us an Eye instance, holding the current field of view, position and orientation of the camera rendering the current eye. These parameters have to be applied to Rajawalis current camera. As a last step we tell Rajawali to render with the updated camera parameters.

    public void onDrawEye(Eye eye) {
        // Rajawali camera
        Camera currentCamera = getCurrentCamera();

        // cardboard field of view
        FieldOfView fov = eye.getFov();

        // update Rajawali camera from cardboard sdk
        currentCamera.updatePerspective(fov.getLeft(), fov.getRight(), fov.getBottom(), fov.getTop());
        // orientation
        // position
        eyePosition = eyeMatrix.getTranslation().inverse();

        // render with Rajawali

Of course all helper variables have to be declared and instantiated:

    /** position and rotation of eye camera in 3d space as matrix object */
    private Matrix4 eyeMatrix = new Matrix4();

    /** rotation of eye camera in 3d space */
    private Quaternion eyeOrientation = new Quaternion();

    /** position of eye camera in 3d space */
    private Vector3 eyePosition;

Wrap it up

That’s it! The heavy lifting is already done but there a some things to consider. You have to create and start the MediaPlayer instance and wire up Activity, your custom Renderer, MediaPlayer and CardboardView. These steps are easy to figure out and well documented. Finally it is good practice to pause the MediaPlayer instance when the activity is paused by the Android system to save resources.

Please feel free to comment if you have any questions or additions!

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