Who do you have to pay to get some YouTube around here?
Even if you're not a fan of sitting around watching movies in your VR headset, everyone can appreciate a good 360-degree video in VR. The whole world is replaced with this new one, captured elsewhere and delivered for you to look around and enjoy. As the cameras get cheaper, more folks are pushing fun 360-degree videos to YouTube, and folks in VR headsets want to get the full experience.
Through the lenses of an HTC Vive or an Oculus Rift, this isn't quite as easy as it seems. Here's what you need to do if you want to enjoy 360-degree YouTube videos on your desktop-class VR headset right now.
As it stands right now, if you want to watch 360-degree YouTube videos as they were meant to be viewed in VR, you'll need the help of a third-party app. YouTube through the Desktop mode on the HTC Vive won't stretch the video all around you, and neither the Rift nor the Vive have an official YouTube app yet. To get the full experience, you have one of two options available to you.
Virtual Desktop — This $14.99 app gives you some impressive control over how you render your PC desktop in VR. It's a lot of fun, and keeps getting better with each update, but the big feature we're after here is the 360-degree video tab in the settings for this app. You paste the link to the 360-degree YouTube video you want to see in this tab, and the app will download the video and play it back for your as a 360-degree sphere for you to enjoy. This removes some of YouTube's discoverability features and makes doing things like leaving comments a little more complicated, but it works well and the rest of the app is actually quite powerful.
YTVR — This is a very early beta of an unofficial YouTube app for Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. It offers up a quick list of 360-degree videos for you to watch as well as a search bar if you know exactly what you're looking for. Playback at lower resolutions is fine in both headsets, but bandwidth quickly becomes a concern when trying to watch at the highest resolutions. The developer has not released an update for this in quite a while, so it's unclear how much better this experience will get from here. On the other hand, it's free and can be downloaded here.
With these two methods of watching YouTube 360 videos, here's a quick warning on actually enjoying this experience: there aren't many 360-degree YouTube videos recorded at 60fps, which means the videos you're watching can quickly lead to nausea if you aren't careful. Avoid videos with a ton of irregular motion if you can, or only watch videos clearly labeled to play at 60fps if you want to decrease the chances of motion sickness. Other than that, enjoy what YouTube has to offer in 360-degrees!