No matter what media technology you’re talking about, one thing is always true: content is king. It doesn’t matter if you have the best platform or hardware, if the public have nothing to actually do in your ecosystem it’s likely to crash and burn.
YouTube can certainly not be accused of being light on content. It’s not too far off the mark to say that they have the largest content repository in the world. Most of it is user-generated granted, but it’s content the public at large clearly wants.
YouTube has also been ahead of the curve when it comes to supporting new video content formats. Long before anyone actually had devices capable of showing 4K or 8K footage, you could already create and upload that content to YouTube. Along with the Google Cardboard came native support for 360-degree stereoscopic video and today YouTube is probably still the easiest and most reliable way to share such footage with the world.
Now Google have made the jump to PC with their YouTube VR application. One that we’ve already seen on their Daydream platform.
Getting Steamed Up
Rather than releasing YouTube VR as a standalone download, Google have made the curious decision of releasing it as a Steam Early Access product. That means it’s officially still in development and user feedback will be used in order to perfect the software.
People enjoy watching standard 2D content in virtual spaces, as made evident by the popularity of the Netflix VR application on the Gear VR platform. There are many situations in which you’d want to view regular 2D content in a virtual space, not to mention the glut of native stereoscopic VR content.
YouTube VR is an entirely new reimagining of the YouTube interface. Google has made good use of the virtual world to immerse the user in YouTube content. This seems to be a UI that was born and bred in VR, which means that even if you only want to consume normal 2D content it’s still worth experiencing everything else in your own private YouTube VR bubble.
Of course 360 and 180 degree video content can now be experienced on high-quality HMD hardware, liberated from the grainy world of mobile VR headsets.
Unfortunately at the time of writing the app is buggy enough to keep away users who aren’t interested in participating in the development process itself. So this is only technically a software release, the nature of Steam Early Access is that the developers make no promises about the technology’s functionality or quality. It does however give us an early look at what future VR UIs might be like to use.