Virtual reality is a modern technology that has the potential to disrupt the cinema and television industries.
The state-of-the-art in VR has moved rapidly in recent years.
Yet many of us are just now starting to get comfortable with the idea that we can watch reruns on an off-the-shelf VR headset.
This article aims to move your perspective beyond the average cinephile’s and get you up to speed with the latest advances in virtual reality.
Many people watch movies on their smartphones or let films play in the background as they eat dinner, read books, or do tasks around the house.
Of course, watching movies can also be an in-depth and immersive experience with the sounds booming around you and the video taking up your entire frame of vision.
The larger-than-life, intense multimedia blitz of the cinemas is not the only way to make an expansive and gratifying experience out of your favorite films.
You don’t need an expensive home theater either.
Today, movie buffs can watch movies on virtual reality headsets.
So how is watching movies in virtual reality these days?
Well, VR headsets have been around for decades but are starting to mature.
The headsets range wildly in quality. Some headsets accept a smartphone and split the screen so that each eye sees one half of it.
Others are standalone, with hardware designed specifically for producing a comfortable and realistic virtual environment.
Yet even today’s cardboard headsets can provide intense and pleasurable immersion in a great video.
With the right VR apps, watching a movie can be more enthralling than the first time you ever saw the big screen.
Types of Videos for VR Headset
Virtual reality has paved the way for totally new types of multimedia.
Today there exist countless games and at least four different types of videos that you can watch on VR headsets:
- 2D videos – You can watch 2D videos on VR headsets almost the same way that you would watch them on a computer monitor. These are regular videos you download or watch on YouTube, as well as most DVD and Blu-ray movies. They have no special VR features and look the same as videos watched on a computer monitor or television.
- 180 or 360 Degree Videos – You can sometimes see these on Facebook, and there are also some on YouTube and various other websites. On a desktop, you can use on-screen controls to change the point of view of the video. With a VR headset, you can turn your head and look around the environment.
- 3D Videos – These are like the 3D movies at the theater on steroids. You can get them from some Blu-rays. Quite a few of the most highly visual cinematic blockbusters are available in full 3D, and more will be made available in the next few years.
- Full Virtual Reality Videos – With full VR, you can look around a 3D-rendered environment. A few are available on YouTube, and more and more companies are making them available. Expect full-length full virtual reality movies to hit the market in the next few years.
Advantages and Disadvantages of VR
Virtual reality is fairly new, so the more entrenched technologies like television and movies have some substantial advantages over it.
For one, sometimes the definition in VR movies doesn’t look all that great.
Though modern VR goggles can show a decent image, the resolution just doesn’t stack up to that of a big-screen television.
Yet virtual reality has many advantages over existing alternatives.
After you watch a few movies in VR, you’ll find it hard to go back to viewing them on a regular TV.
Before long, modern cinemas will have to adapt to compete with the challenge of the home virtual reality experience.
While virtual reality will probably never completely replace screen technology, it does have the potential to displace most of it, and some of the trade-offs between screens and virtual reality are not obvious at first.
Here’s our list:
Screen Quality Is Still Better on TV and the Big Screen
A virtual screen viewed on a virtual reality headset has decent quality, but it still doesn’t stack up to the high definition of a 4K HD TV or IMAX theater.
Does it matter? It does; while you probably can’t make out individual pixels on a large, high-resolution screen from a distance, you can see finer detail than today’s virtual reality headsets can display.
Over time, the quality of HMD displays will only improve. At some point, they will be able to show details so small that your eyes can’t see them.
Virtual Reality Is Superior to All Alternatives for Viewing 3D Movies
Virtual reality headsets are more comfortable than the movie 3D glasses.
There is no doubt that virtual reality provides a more realistic viewing experience than the most advanced 3D cinema.
Virtual Reality Is Inexpensive
You can build a virtual reality headset for free out of cardboard cutouts and your existing smartphone.
With it, you can generate a huge, 20-foot popup virtual display.
Compare to a television with a mere 88-inch diagonal costing around $10,000.
Many decent quality HMDs are available for under $100.
Even the high-end models cost well under $1000, and prices are falling.
Virtual reality headsets take up less space than screens and are easy to store.
Virtual Reality Enables Augmented Reality
Augmented reality has been around for a while and is just starting to make a comeback.
You’ll be able to place graphical overlays over the real world and control them with voice or gestures.
The possibilities for video games are endless, and apps for mapping, object recognition and recall, and creating creative works are already available.
Someday, you’ll be able to attend a live sporting event and see analysis and visual aids in full 3D imagery drawn on the field.
Sound Quality Can Be Better without Headphones
Even the best headphones can’t stack up to the sound quality available in a movie theater or from a home surround sound system.
While high-quality headphones usually do provide a better audio experience than a low-quality stereo, the frequency range and dynamic response of a high-quality speaker set is better.
Surround sound can provide a more realistic audio experience by using more than two sources of audio.
We Have Only Scratched the Surface of Social Virtual Reality
Social VR is just starting to get off the ground, and the concepts behind it are just starting to solidify, but new apps let you watch movies with friends or socialize with strangers anywhere in the world with virtual reality.
Tips & Tricks
- You don’t have to watch an entire movie without stopping. Once you are completely comfortable with a headset, you can wear it for hours at a time, but it’s a good idea to start slow. Especially when you are first getting used to virtual reality, watch movies in segments of a half hour to an hour long, with breaks in between.
- Use high-quality headphones. Earbuds work OK, but over-the-ear headphones sound better and are more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time.
- Adjust your HMD for the best possible fit before the movie starts.
- If you feel overwhelmed, take off the HMD. Virtual reality takes some time to get used to, and it can be very intense. No one is going to force you to watch through headaches or motion sickness.
- Many streaming video services that have movies have a free trial and will charge for service when the free trial expires.
- You can wear glasses with many VR headsets, but you may have to attach a special insert or purchase a model designed for glasses.
Apps for Watching Movies on Your HMD
To get the most out of your virtual reality experience, you’ll want apps designed with the features you need to take advantage of the latest video technologies.
Here are some of the best apps for watching movies on a virtual reality headset:
Apps for Oculus Rift or HTC Vive
Several apps are available for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive that show your computer display on the VR display.
For the most part, these offer similar functionality, but one that has set itself apart is BigScreen.
BigScreen portrays your computer display as a big pop-up screen in virtual reality.
You can make the virtual screen as big or as small as you like.
You can share the screen with friends in 1080p resolution at 30 fps.
You can even simulate a movie environment with robotic moviegoers.
Since BigScreen shows your computer display, it can exhibit any video you can watch on your computer.
You can even use it for PowerPoint presentations and group collaboration.
Of course, Netflix might be more exciting.
Whirlygig is a little-known Steam application that can play full virtual reality videos with a 360-degree rotating display rendered in 3D.
You can use it to watch movies on your Oculus Rift.
There is a free version available from the Whirlygig website and an updated version available for $4 on Steam.
You’ll need to enable Steam VR on your Rift or Vive by changing the Enable Unknown Sources setting to yes.
Samsung Gear VR Movie Apps
Samsung Gear VR has a wide array of apps for movie watching.
Netflix has an app for it, as does Hulu.
It also has the built-in Video app.
You can easily watch videos on it that you’ve downloaded from the Internet.
Just copy the video to your phone and watch it with the Video app.
You can also use streaming apps like Skybox to stream from your computer to your Samsung Gear VR.
While the technology is very cool, and you might want to use streaming if you want to watch an extended video set, it is usually easier and more convenient to just copy video files to your phone.
You might want to set the travel mode if you are watching a movie in a car or on a plane so that turns and dips don’t send the movie out of your field of vision.
Movie-watching Apps on Daydream
Daydream has a very large number of apps available for watching VR movies.
Netflix and HBO GO are available in the Google Play Store.
Watching Movies on PlayStation VR
PlayStation VR has more options than any other platform for watching movies through its cinematic mode.
You can use it to watch movies from any streaming service with an app on PlayStation.
It makes it easy to watch movies that you rent or own, and some movies are available through the PlayStation Store.
Hulu, Netflix, and HBO GO have apps for PlayStation as well.
Early advances in video technology brought sound and color to the movie screen.
Today, virtual reality can bring a new dimension to your movie experience.