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YouTube Expands Virtual Reality Features with 3D Support, Theater Mode

YouTube took another step towards embracing virtual reality (VR) Thursday with the launch if two new features for its Android mobile app that make it easier to consume content with Google’s Cardboard VR viewer.

Cardboard owners can now watch what YouTube calls “VR videos” with the headset by tapping the Cardboard icon within the app and sliding their phone into their viewer. VR videos are essentially 360-degree videos that make use of stereoscopic 3D. Stereoscopic 3D splits the screen in half and delivers two slightly different images to each eye, tricking the mind into perceiving a sense of depth.

At launch, YouTube is only featuring about a dozen of these VR videos, most of which have been recorded with Google’s own Jump VR camera rig and production environment. However, any publisher will be able to upload VR videos to the platform.

This comes after YouTube already rolled out 360-degree videos in May. 360-degree videos can be watched with a Cardboard viewer as well, but users can also decide to just watch them on their phones without any headset by tilting the handset and exploring the space in a kind of “virtual window” mode.

In addition to VR videos, YouTube has also added a theater mode to its app, which allows users to watch any existing YouTube video with a Cardboard VR viewer. This is similar to the way Samsung and Oculus make 2D video content available within their headsets. In fact, Google previously experimented with bringing YouTube videos to Cardboard through its own Cardboard app, but that feature was removed a few months ago.

With that in mind, Thursday’s announcements aren’t exactly earth-shattering. But they do show how YouTube and Google increasingly banking on VR, just as viewers are starting to reach a wider audience. This coming Sunday, the New York Times will deliver Cardboard-based VR viewers to a million of its subscribers. The paper does this to promote its own app — but those Times readers will now have even more things to watch.


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