VR vs. 360 Videos
First, a distinction should be made: 360-degree videos, often just called 360 Videos. And viewed with Cardboard or other VR headsets. But they’re not the same as VR videos. That’s because proper VR videos add the illusion of depth. Through stereoscopic 3D, a different point of view for the left and right eye. VR videos provide added immersion through a sense of place in the world. Close-up objects appear nearby, while further-off items seem far away. There’s a subtle difference. The addition of 3D makes better use of the VR headset. It helps justify sticking a phone up to your eyes. The embedded video above is a 3D clip for VR, but you won’t get the effect on the web.
That said, 360-degree videos act the same way. Your phone’s gyroscope to lets you look around the footage as you please. You can click and drag on the web; they’re still well worth looking at with a VR viewer. In many cases, I noticed that non-VR videos look sharper via Cardboard. You can swap clarity for depth when choosing between videos to watch. As you might expect, the higher the resolution frame rate of a VR or 360-degree video. The more pleasurable experience you’ll have via Cardboard. A low frame rate, in particular, can add nasty blurring artifacts that potentially make you nauseous. Opt for top-quality options when streaming, even if it requires more bandwidth. Try to find the best quality versions of local video files when possible.
VR on YouTube
Whether watching VR-primed or plain 360-degree videos, YouTube is your ideal Android destination. Google’s service added support for both in 2015. It’s easy to watch either video with Cardboard. When you load up a 360/VR-compatible video on your phone, tap the little Cardboard icon on the lower right. It’s impossible to miss.
Doing so splits the image into two nearly-identical frames. When the phone is inserted into your Cardboard viewer and held up to your face. The images merge into one seamless shot. From there, you can enjoy the show. Just be sure to look all around, so you don’t miss any fantastic sights from behind you!
YouTube is helping drive the adoption of the formats by curating regularly updated playlists of VR 360 videos. The official VR Video playlist currently contains various prime examples of VR-ready clips, including a Hunger Games tie-in, an Avicii music video, a surreal CGI animated short, The Pull, and other intriguing sights. The list can be a jumping-off point to find even more content.
That one playlist is part of an even more considerable effort to curate 360-degree videos. YouTube’s 360° Video account has hundreds upon hundreds of videos listed. You’ll find travel videos, first-person sports stunt feats, animated shorts, game trailers, music videos, and more. If you want Cardboard-ready 360-degree videos, it’s ground zero. Start there. Another note about YouTube even standard, flat videos can be viewed via Cardboard. Still, they’re just 2D panes floating in blank space. With those videos, the Cardboard icon isn’t automatically displayed on the main UI. You’ll need to tap the vertical ellipsis on the upper right to find the Cardboard option. Google also announced support for embedded VR experiences on the web. You can browse a website, grab your Cardboard viewer, and watch something without leaving your mobile browser.
It’s also possible to view locally-saved 360 VR videos. Still, it’s not as straightforward as tapping an icon on YouTube. Part of the reason is the scarcity of downloadable content sites. It saves bandwidth and make more money by streaming you a video by bookending it with ads. So there aren’t vast repositories of free 360 video files on the web, but it’s growing.
But if you find videos you want to watch on your Android phone, get some from friends, or make your own with a 360 camera, like the Ricoh Theta or Bublcam. The 360 CAM, for example, there are apps available to add to the experience. Kolor Eyes 360° is a good pick; it not only lets you load saved clips and download files directly from links. But also includes galleries of streaming videos you can watch. Other options for watching VR 360 videos on Android include Fulldive VR and 360VUZ. They’re all free installs, so you can try them out and choose the one that works best for your needs.