There are many ways to experience virtual reality. With a VR-ready PC, you can strap on an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive, with the prospect of the Razer OSVR to come. Google Cardboard and the Samsung Gear VR enable you to transform a smartphone into a pair of VR goggles. While PS4 owners will get PlayStation VR later this year.
These virtual reality systems offer a range of 360 degree ‘experiences’ — a dizzying ride on a VR rollercoaster, diving down to see the wonders of the Great Barrier Reef, a cautious wander through a dark, haunted house. Some VR apps even allow you to do things that you couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do in real life. Like…
Landing on the moon
The Apollo 11 VR Experience from Immersive Education brings together “a mix of original archive audio and video together with accurate recreations of the spacecraft and locations” to recreate the famous 1969 moon landing.
You don’t just watch the mission in VR, but take part in it, controlling the command module, landing the LEM and exploring the lunar surface. Wonderfully immersive, this sort of VR content could well represent the future of documentaries and museum exhibits.
Travelling back in time
If the Apollo 11 VR Experience is any indication, expect other historic events to be dramatically recreated in VR, enabling you to virtually step back in time. In the US, for example, MatterVR has built an extraordinarily detailed VR representation of the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight in an aircraft.
Its producer, Jonah Hirsch, is currently working on a VR experience based on the life of Anne Frank, with a Beethoven project planned down the line. “Recreating history is really kinda cool,” he told the Animation World Network, “much more fun than reading about it in a textbook.”
Flying like a bird
Mankind has always dreamt of flying like a bird and with VR you can do exactly that. At one end of the VR scale, Somniacs has built Birdly, a combination of head-mounted display and mechanical wings that you flap to stay airborne. At the other, Ubisoft’s Eagle Flight delivers a giddy experience to VR-ready systems, which enables you to soar, dive and glide like an eagle through an eerily abandoned Paris.
Going inside the human body
Imagine shrinking down to a size of eight micrometers and embarking on a virtual reality dive inside the human body. That’s exactly what The Body VR aims to do, a Fantastic Voyage/Inner Space-style experience that allows you to swim through a bloodstream, explore a body’s living cells and see how the human immune system battles viral invasions.
Stepping into a movie
The traditional way of watching a movie is to sit in front of a screen. There’s a separation between content and viewer. But what if you could watch a movie from inside the screen? What if you had a 360 degree view and the action unfolded all around you? This is exactly what happens in the animated short film Invasion, showing the direction that some filmmaking and storytelling could turn in the future.
Climbing Mount Everest
Most of us will never try rock climbing, let alone trek up to the summit of the world’s tallest mountain. According to the British Mountaineering Council, Everest expeditions can cost anywhere between $35,000 and $60,000 per climber, while data for the period 1922 to 2014 shows that over 265 people have died attempting to scale it.
Everest VR hopes to give you the experience without the cost or danger. Developed by Icelandic outfit Solfar Studios, it combines photo-realistic graphics and intense 3D audio to convince you that you are standing on a narrow, icy ridge, thousands of feet up, teetering on the edge of a terrifying sheer drop that isn’t really there.
Get a VR-ready PC
For this, and many of the other experiences here, you’ll need a VR-ready PC — an Intel Core i7-6700HQ processor or better, NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 or better, 8GB of RAM, plus connectivity options that include three USB 3.0, one USB 2.0 and an HDMI 1.3 port.