Who do you have to pay to get some YouTube around here?

Update April 2017: With the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift having released over one year ago, we've refreshed this article with some updated solutions.

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. 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. To get the full experience, we recommend one of two applications, depending on your budget.

Virtual Desktop

Virtual Desktop offers one of the best experiences for video playback, with a range of options for consuming both two and three-dimensional media in virtual reality. While you'll be looking at a $14.99 price tag, this can be justified by the pure flexibility it offers.

Although there are a number of free applications for 360-degree playback from local files, we recommend Virtual Desktop to those with the bandwidth to stream high-quality video. With native 360-degree YouTube video streaming, you'll be able to watch videos without manually downloading files beforehand. To use the streaming functionality, simply paste in the URL using the steps below.

  1. Find a 360-degree YouTube video to watch.
  2. Copy the URL from your browser.
  3. Open Virtual Desktop.
  4. Select the Video tab on the desktop application.
  5. Click Paste Url

Your video will now begin automatically playing on the headset. Although the quality may vary depending on your connection, the program supports high-quality streaming from a crisp VR experience.

See at Steam

Vive Video

Vive Video is an immersive video player built by HTC and contrary to the name, works across both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. While the player doesn't support native YouTube streaming, the program is a highly-polished official solution. Best of all, it's entirely free on both Steam and Viveport.

Unlike Virtual Desktop, Vive Video has also been built from the ground with motion controls in mind. A traditional keyboard and mouse, gamepad or even Oculus and HTC motion controllers can be used from the outset.

To use Vive Video, you'll have to have local video files to watch on your PC. This means you'll need to manually download YouTube videos before watching them, through a third-party service.

  1. Open Vive Video.
  2. Find the downloaded file on your PC using the inbuilt file picker.
  3. Click the file thumbnail to begin playback.

By default, files played in Vive Video don't play in 360-degrees. Follow the steps below to enable 360-degree playback for your compatible file.

  1. Click the eye icon in the bottom right-hand corner of the player, labeled Select Viewing Mode.
  2. Select Mono (unless you've specifically chosen another format when downloading your file.)
  3. Click Next.
  4. Choose 360 from the options that appear.
  5. Click Done to confirm your changes.

Although this isn't as streamlined as some paid solutions, this is a great official application which won't cost you a dime.

See at Steam

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!