In a cable car high above Japan, the country’s distinctive architecture unfurls beneath me. I see clay kawara tiles covering rooftops, shimmering as the cable car gently swings.
Suddenly everything stops, then goes dim.
YouTube is buffering.
The experience, which took place in YouTube’s unassuming headquarters here, underscores the promise and challenge of the video-streaming service’s efforts to develop virtual reality. Wearing VR goggles puts you in a digital world that feels real. I almost knocked my water bottle off a table as I whipped around to see more of the stunning vista.
YouTube’s VR vehicle of choice is Google’s no-frills Cardboard headset that turns your smartphone into a VR viewer when you pop it into the contraption. The VR videos are dubbed 360 because they let you step into a scene you’re watching and look up, down, around and behind you.
“YouTube is about democratizing,” said Kurt Wilms, senior product manager for YouTube VR. “It’s about bringing this kind of video to everyone.”
Few outfits could democratize VR as quickly and fully as YouTube, the planet’s most popular video site. Every month, a billion people — keep in mind that’s one out of every seven on the planet — visit YouTube. They watch hundreds of millions of hours of video.
On Thursday, YouTube, which is part of Alphabet-owned Google, revealed the next phase in its plan for VR. You can now view the 360 videos in 3D. The site is also making every single video in YouTube’s massive library viewable on Cardboard. Just open up YouTube’s Android smartphone app, play a video and tap the Cardboard icon. For videos that weren’t originally meant to be viewed through VR goggles, it will reformat them to look like you’re watching in an Imax theater. (The feature will come to the YouTube app for Apple’s iPhones soon, but YouTube didn’t say when.)
The implications are real. By making its entire video library workable with Cardboard, YouTube is creating the biggest collection of VR-ready videos in the world. That might not mean much now, but it could get YouTube’s massive audience familiar with the idea of VR. That’s especially crucial as the biggest tech giants in the world, including Facebook and Samsung, try to bring VR into the mainstream.
VR was once mostly the dream of video game makers, but Silicon Valley has expanded its vision for the technology. One promise is that it can make the world’s wonders more accessible to everyone. That’s one of the reasons Facebook bought VR goggle maker Oculus for $2 billion last year. It’s also why Oculus teamed up with Samsung to create the Gear VR, a $99 headset that uses Samsung phones as screens.
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SOURCE: Cnet, Richard Nieva