YouTube is getting closer to Virtual Reality with 3D videos

You can practically touch the cats

After unveiling 360-degree videos a few months ago, where users could look up, down, left, and right in the scene of the video they were watching, YouTube is taking another, more serious, step into the world of Virtual Reality with two new features in their Android mobile app that let you watch videos with Google Cardboard.

It seems that all Cardboard owners have to do to watch what YouTube is calling VR Videos is by touching the new Cardboard icon in the app and popping their phone into the headset’s viewer. YouTube’s VR videos are basically the 360-degree videos we’re just about done with marvelling over, that use stereoscopic 3D to trick your mind into perceiving a sense of depth. Stereoscopic 3D does this by splitting the screen you’re watching in half and delivering two slightly different images to each eye, creating a much more immersive viewing experience where you can look around a video and actually perceive the distance of objects and people.

Image via YouTube

There’s currently an official playlist of 13 dedicated VR videos, but YouTube are making every video viewable on Cardboard. If a video wasn’t meant for VR viewing, tapping the Cardboard icon will simply reformat what you’re watching to make it look like you’re viewing it in a cinema.

The feature is only available on Android phones just now, and although it is coming to iPhones, YouTube didn’t say when. To be honest, this makes a nice change from the annoyingly common iOS-first development processes.

It doesn’t seem like much, but the wider implications of this move could be interesting.YouTube has essentially created one of the biggest collections of VR-ready videos available and by making their headset of choice the eminently affordable and accessible Google Cardboard, they’re creating a good opportunity for a wide audience to become familiar with the experience of VR. Not only that, it separates VR from its inherent tie with videogames which is crucial in democratising the technology and bringing it into the mainstream. Trying this could be a gateway VR experience for some consumers, who will feel more prepared to embrace the higher quality experiences being developed by some of the big tech companies like HTC and Samsung.

A big part of making this happen will be by creating more VR content. According to CNET, YouTube are planning to release the VR filming equipment to some creators later this year at some of their studios in cities including London, where users with large enough YouTube channels are allowed to go and create content for free. Hopefully they’re selective with their provision of these VR cameras; I’m sure we can all agree there are many YouTube stars we’d like to keep at a reasonable distance.

If you want to get even a small taste of what VR can do, you can buy a Google Cardboard headset from Amazon for £12.99 and download the new YouTube app from Google Play.

Main Image via Flickr © Maurizio Pesce