Virtual Reality Video Just Went Mainstream

NYT VR The Displaced
Two different news stories slipped under the radar yesterday. Both of them point towards virtual reality video making its mainstream debut.

First up is the New York Times, which unveiled its first foray into the world of virtual reality journalism in the form of the NYT VR app. Available on both iOS and Android, the new app uses the motion sensors in your phone to provide smooth, naturalistic panning and tilting around virtual reality scenes. When paired with a lo-fi cardboard headset like this one (NYT print subscribers will receive a free viewer with their paper on Sunday morning), the NYT VR app offers an immersive journalism experience like no other.

NYT's first official VR project, a documentary titled The Displaced about three refugee children from around the world, was produced in conjunction with Vrse, one of the few companies trailblazing in VR content production. In Jake Silverstein's article introducing the new VR experience, he talks about why virtual reality may provide a better journalism experience than either traditional photo or video ever could.

By breaking free from the rectangular editorial frame of a traditional documentary film, V.R. invests the viewer with an uncanny feeling of agency, a sense of being able to look around for yourself. Your living room or kitchen falls away. Turning this way and that, examining the sky or a cucumber or a lily pad, you begin to feel present in these vivid locations, a virtual witness to these children’s precarious lives.

NYT VR Google Cardboard
Credit: Gizmodo

Having played around in the NYT VR app for the past few hours, I can say with that it's a great experience. The Displaced is immensely fascinating to watch and explore, and the technology aspect of this is surprisingly good, even without a funky cardboard viewer. In just a few days, the free cardboard units will ship out to the masses who subscribe to the Times, and depending on how many of them take the initiative to download the app and watch the film, it could become one of the most widely viewed VR pieces in the technology's short history.

YouTube Enables VR

Video is no longer available:

The other announcement yesterday was that YouTube now supports VR uploading and viewing. Not to be confused with the 360-degree video support, which has been enabled since March of this year, the new announcement applies to YouTube's Android smartphone app, which now offers support for Google Cardboard. These open source cardboard viewers offer an inexpensive alternative to the bigger, significantly more expensive rigs like those from Oculus and Samsung, and they're built to work with just about any smartphone on the market.

YouTube VR Google Cardboard

YouTube VR Google Cardboard

The coolest thing about this announcement is that you can actually use the Google Cardboard option on any video on YouTube, not just the VR ones. Though it's technically not VR, it could be a way to make the experience of watching videos on your phone a bit more immersive and enjoyable. I, for one, have never liked watching videos (and certainly not movies) on my phone.

YouTube also released a slew of new content to accompany the announcement.

It's hard to say what the significance of these two announcements will be in the grand scheme of things. Of course, tech-minded folks will probably hop on board and give virtual reality content a shot. However, it's hard to say whether the masses are ready for, or if they even want, virtual reality content that they have to view through a cardboard viewer.      

Your Comment


Does anybody know what rig these were filmed with? was it one of these?

November 7, 2015 at 3:21AM, Edited November 7, 3:21AM


It's called Jump and it's a cooperation between Google and GoPro.
Have a look here:

November 7, 2015 at 5:03AM

Neb lit

definitely feels like a cumbersome 1st gen device. maybe dedicated VR cameras will be released in the future. right now the super fish eye effect really doesn't make watching these videos enjoyable.

November 7, 2015 at 11:19AM


VanWeddings, were you watching with Cardboard/GearVR/Oculus or just on a naked phone/computer screen?

November 7, 2015 at 11:39AM, Edited November 7, 11:47AM


Tilman, was there a source for that? VRSE generally uses it's own custom, self-made VR rigs. They only use Google's Cardboard for distribution.

November 7, 2015 at 11:31AM, Edited November 7, 11:48AM


I wonder what the timescale is for VR 'films' to start competing with traditional Film/TV/Videogames. I imagine there'd be two kinds - non-interactive VR 'Film' versus an interactive VR 'Game'.

November 8, 2015 at 1:21PM, Edited November 8, 1:23PM


I hope that some major players are working on 3d audio tools to be worked into the metadata along side the 3d video

February 10, 2016 at 8:36AM

Colin Williams