Fantasy meets reality: the best ways to entertain yourself in virtual reality

Call it Nelson’s First Law of Technology: Great inventions become greater tools for entertainment, regardless of their original purposes.

The camera made way for the selfie. The Internet fed our inner cat-video cravings and birthed YouTube. Virtual reality is the latest technological advancement made accessible to millions of consumers with the introduction of the Oculus Rift, Samsung’s Gear VR, and Google Cardboard.

Virtual Reality has always been tied to entertainment, from its roots in 1962’s Sensorama to The Lawnmower Man to today. It’s just better than ever: On-stage with Paul McCartney from your airplane seat? Brought to you in minutes with Jaunt VR. Underwater exploration from your bedroom? Enjoy Deep Sea Dive for the Oculus Rift. In 2016, you’ll go to a virtual reality theme park where you’ll walk through an experience of your own.

Digital Trends examines five key areas of virtual entertainment, and where VR will take us in the future.

Sports

NextVR NBA
NextVR NBA

You’re at the top of the key as Los Angeles Clippers shooting guard JJ Reddick — one of the most prolific three-point shooters of all time — perfectly nails shot after impossible shot, while his voice teaches you the art of the jumper. That’s one of the numerous virtual reality practice sessions the NBA offers on Samsung Gear VR. Virtual reality footage of the 2015 NBA All Star Game, including the show-stopping Dunk Contest performance from Zach Lavine of the Minnesota Timberwolves, is also being made available for the Samsung Gear VR in installments.

This past February, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and a few NBA executives visited Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab (VHIL) to explore new technologies to implement in the NBA. VHIL is a virtual reality environment equipped with speakers pulsating from the walls and floors as users, cameras and motion sensors tracking the users’ movements as computers feed video into their Oculus Rift headset. Silver tested the VHIL and was bullish on its potential: “This could let fans experience what it’s like to stand on the free throw line with two seconds left in a tie game and 19,000 people screaming at you.”

The NBA is the only one of the major U.S. sport leagues to release virtual reality footage, but NASCAR and the NHL have begun testing the technology over the past few months. Millions of people may soon be able to purchase tickets to sit next to Jack Nicholson — or whomever he sells his tickets to — at Lakers games in the comfort of their virtual reality headset.

Music

Revolt: Big Sean Blessings
Revolt: Big Sean Blessings

Being onstage during an artist’s performance is a euphoric fan moment usually reserved for band members and entourages. But virtual reality software company JauntVR has captured footage that can help you stand next to Jack White as he shreds through Freedom at 21 at The Bleacher Theater at Fenway Park. Or stand feet from the explosions, the thousands of raucous fans, and Paul McCartney himself performing Live and Let Die at Candlestick Park. Jaunt recently released VR footage of an exclusive performance by Kanye West’s artist Big Sean performing his hit single Blessings.

The next step after virtually placing you in the performance is making you the performance. Bjork’s virtual reality music video for her song Stonemilker has the eccentric singer split in two; you choose which Bjork you want to hear those breakup lyrics from. Heineken set up a virtual wall in its Heineken House at the Ultra Music Festival that emits the sounds of cheering fans and camera flashes of “virtual paparazzi” like you were really walking down the red carpet.

It won’t be long before American Idol is nothing more than people with virtual reality headsets singing to a live audience. Think Black Mirror meets Surrogate.

Movies

Somniacs
Somniacs

Even the greatest cinematic achievements are inherently oppressive to the viewer. The camera tells you what to look at and the linear plot guides you contextually. Virtual reality is in its early stages of making you the spectator, director, and — in some form — the actor of movies. You’re in the backseat of a van involved in a car chase. You can look forward to see how narrowly your car comes from colliding with others, or you can turn your head and watch the onlookers videotaping the chase.  That’s a peak into what virtual reality can do for your favorite film.

Face oncoming trains and attacking crows from your smartphone in Insurgent: Max VR — just like in the 2015 film Insurgent. And it gets wilder from there. DigitalDomain, the visual effect company responsible for the Tupac hologram at Coachella 2014, produced the 210-second short film Evolution of Verse. It’s the first 3D virtual reality film fully rendered in CGI, and was released at the 2015 Sundance Festival. Evolution of Verse is currently available for viewing on Google Cardboard through the VRSE app on Google Play and the App Store.

Spectating a photo-realistic rendering of a movie is one thing, controlling the movie is another. Oculus is developing a virtual reality movie of Lost, whose plot is directly affected by the viewer. Zurich University of the Arts’ visual installation Birdly straps viewers into a contraption that hoists them up and blows air in their face — it’s a virtual reality experience that replicates what it is like to fly like a bird.

Soon you’ll be able to feel exactly like Nelly Furtado.

Gaming

Hero Bound: First Steps
Hero Bound: First Steps

Virtual reality has turned Pong into a high-speed death match with Proton Pulse. Oculus will put you in the pilot’s seat in an impending intergalactic war for its upcoming untitled games.

Virtual reality gaming is still relatively young, so it’s far from a simple pick up and play thing. Games such as the Zelda-esque Hero Bound: First Steps and horror game Dreadhalls — both on Samsung Gear VR — require an external controller. But don’t fret, there is a truly hands-free virtual reality future ahead for gaming. Neurotechnology company MindMaze is set to release the first virtual reality game system you can control with your thoughts.

Mindmaze promises that MindLeap will be compatible with XBOX and Playstation as well as iOS and Android devices. Last year, Rockstar introduced a first-person mode for Grand Theft Auto V for the first time in the franchise’s history for the PS4 and Xbox One to much fanfare. Don’t be surprised if Grand Theft Auto: Virtual Reality manifests from the masochistic recesses of your mind into reality. No longer separated by a TV screen and remote control, you can become the Master Chief of your gaming experience.

Travel

hawaii-shoot-bts-1-1500x1000

Teleportation is a few quantum leaps from being a reality, but not from being a virtual reality.

With the help of panoramic photographs, 360Cities places you in the center of the Kivukoni Fish Market off the shores of Tanzania as Martin Broomsfield explains the fishing culture. Travel through the halls of history at the World Trade Center museum with Jook Leong.

EarthCam broadcasts live footage from hundreds of locations across the world to your computer for free. Adding a virtual reality component to those streams will have you vacationing to Waikiki on your morning commute. An immersive 360-degree virtual escape to tropical islands has not been scaled to fit inside your pocket, yet, but that future is closer than you may think. Last September, Marriott Hotels unveiled The Transporter, a makeshift booth wherein people experience a 360-degree visual immersion into various hotel locations across the world through Oculus Rift headsets.

A man was able to watch his third son’s birth in Perth, Australia while he was over 2,500 miles away as if he was really there with a Samsung Gear VR. Toyota is teaching safe driving by having drivers strap on an Oculus Rift while behind the wheel. A woman was even proposed to with the help of Google Cardboard.

Sony’s Project Morpheus and Facebook’s Oculus Rift are expected to reach consumers by the first half of 2016. Everyone from Adult Swim to ABC Family are using virtual reality to turn their audience from spectators to 2016 promises to be a watershed year for the commercialization of virtual reality and by the end of that year could Either that or Google pasted together six GoPro cameras for nothing.

See you in the (virtual) future.

Emerging Tech

What would it take to build a Matrix-level simulation of reality?

What would it take, technologically speaking, to build a real version of the Matrix? We definitely don't have the technical abilities to do that now, but we're rapidly approaching the point that we will. In this article, MIT computer…
Gaming

Everything we know about the PlayStation 5, including PlayStation Now plans

PlayStation 5 rumors have circulated for over a year, but there's still plenty we don't know. Here's everything you need to know about the PS5, including rumors about its release, specs, and games.
Product Review

Oculus Quest is the affordable VR rig we’ve been waiting for

Oculus announced that its Project Santa Cruz virtual reality headset will ship next year as the Oculus Quest, and we got to try out several new game titles on the Quest. Find out our impressions of VR without wires.
Mobile

Google’s new $999 augmented reality smartglasses are ready for business

Google unveiled Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2, a new version of its business-focused augmented reality wearable. The company's smartglasses ship with a faster processor, an updated camera, and safety frames from Smith Optics.
Deals

Dell Memorial Day sale demolishes prices on XPS laptops, 4K TVs, and monitors

The 2019 Memorial Day sales have already begun, and Dell has hit the ground running: The Dell Memorial Day Sale is destroying prices on laptops, TVs, and monitors, with discounts that can save you thousands. Read on to see the best deals.
Deals

Dell drops big savings on Alienware monitors, headsets, and gaming keyboards

Although known for its beefy PCs, Alienware also makes some great gaming accessories. A handful of them are on sale right now, too, so if you're upgrading to an ultrawide monitor or you just need a new mouse and keyboard, check these out.
Gaming

Amazon boosts productivity by gamifying warehouse workers’ tedium

Amazon is letting its warehouse staff play video games while they work. The games have been specially designed to inject some fun into the daily grind and, of course, to encourage them to work more quickly.
Gaming

Project xCloud vs. GeForce Now: Which will be PC gamers' favorite choice?

Game streaming services are going to be all the rage over the next few years. Two of the biggest are Nvidia GeForce Now and Project xCloud. Here is what you need to know about the services and how they operate.
Gaming

Take the quickest route to level 70 and learn how to level grind in FFXIV

Leveling in Final Fantasy XIV seems to get easier as the level cap goes higher. With around 25 classes to level up from scratch, we outline the best and worst ways to level up each one fast.
Gaming

Here are all the game streaming services you should know about

You can still get your physical video game discs or cartridges at your local store or download games digitally, but another option is even more convenient: Game streaming. Here are the best game-streaming services.
Gaming

Amazon slashes the price for Corsair’s HS70 wireless gaming headset

Amazon and Corsair totally blasted the price of Corsair's HS70 wireless gaming headset. With the HS70 price down to $60, you can save $40 when you pick up one of our favorite headsets with Wi-Fi wireless and 7.1 surround sound.
Gaming

Here are the best games to play with your friends on the Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch's hybrid design adds convenience to your gaming time, allowing you to play Switch games both at home and on the go. The design also benefits multiplayer experiences, from co-op to competitive and online to offline.
Gaming

This quirky, crank-operated console delivers an exclusive new game each week

Playdate is a handheld console from Panic that will deliver 12 games across 12 weeks. Owners won't know what they're playing before it arrives, but one of the games is a creation from Katamari Damacy designer Keita Takahashi.
Gaming

Apple Mac users should take a bite out of these awesome games

Contrary to popular belief, there exists a bevy of popular A-list games compatible for Mac computers. Take a look at our picks for the best Mac games available for Apple fans to enjoy.