If you are new to virtual reality (VR) and want to find how and what kind of multimedia content you can watch using VR headsets, then you have arrived at the right place. The topics I am going to cover in the article:
- What kind of content can you watch in VR (2D vs 3D vs 180/360)
- What’s the exprience like watching movies in VR?
- Should you get a VR headset just for watching movies & videos?
- What VR headsets are best suitable for movies?
Without further ado, let’s dive in!
What Kind of Content Can You Watch in VR? (2D vs 3D vs 180/360)
I remember the time when I was just learning about VR but hadn’t actually used a headset in real life. I was having trouble understanding what it is that you can actually see and do in virtual reality.
In addition to the confusion with VR games, I also had my share of questions regarding watching movies and other types of multimedia content in VR. To hopefully make the process easier for you, I am going to explain and demonstrate the different types of content you can watch in VR.
Regular (2D) Movies, Videos & TV
Virtual reality is about 3D and being immersed in your virtual environment. But what about regular movies, TV shows, and other types of regular flat screen content that we usually watch on our TVs, smartphones, tablets, etc?
The short answer is that you can use a VR headset to watch movies, Youtube, Netflix, sports, and your favorite TV shows. VR does not transform regular flat screen content in any way (e.g make it 3D), but it does give you a very large screen and a “cinema” type of feeling when watching the content.
Most of the popular services (e.g Youtube, Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and others) have their own dedicated app for VR. For the services that don’t have an app, you can use a regular web browser in VR and still watch the content. Essentially, everything you can watch from your PC / smartphone, you can also watch using your VR headset.
3D Movies & Videos
One of the huge benefits of owning a VR headset is that you can watch movies and videos in 3D (the content that is created in 3D). I don’t know about you, but I thoroughly enjoy the objects popping out the screen and the illusion of actually being in the movie.
Compared to other methods (3D TV and glasses or going to the cinema), to me, the VR headset 3D experience is the most immersive of the bunch as well. So in that sense, VR fills a large gap in the market for the ones who enjoy watching movies this way.
There are several different ways you can watch 3D movies using a VR headset – the easiest is using Bigscreen which allows you to attend scheduled movie sessions or rent a 3D movie and watch it at a time that suits you best.
An alternative way to watch 3D movies in VR is ripping 3D Bluray movies and playing them with a media player (or using Bigscreen). I have described all of the different ways to watch 3D movies in VR (that I know) in my previous article.
Another video format for VR that has become more and more popular is VR180 (sometimes also referred to as “180 3D”).
As the name suggests, it offers a 180 degree that is displayed in 3D. In this format, you can glance around in a limited 180-degree area (by moving your head) but the scenery is cut off from the edges (black area appears). You can watch an example of a VR180 from the Youtube video below:
The reason that the content is in 180-degree format (and not 360) is that it is much easier to produce and control the environment. I won’t go into details here, but if you are interested in finding out why, this article explains it very nicely.
The easiest way to watch a large selection of VR180 videos is using the Youtube VR app where you can filter results based on this format. In Youtube VR you will find a large array of different content, starting from music and thrilling roller coaster rides and ending with breathtaking nature videos.
360 Degree Videos
Last but not least, there are 360-degree movies and videos which are further divided into stereoscopic (3D) and monoscopic (flat screen experience). In this video format, you can do a full rotation around your axis and view everything that is around you for a truly “being there” sensation.
You can find great examples with explanations of both the 3D and monoscopic variation of the 360 video format from the 360 Labs Youtube channel.
I must mention here that due to the complexity of creating 360-degree videos, it is not the most popular type of content. Still, you can find a large selection of 360-degree videos from the Youtube VR application.
What’s The Experience Like Watching Movies in VR?
I am next going to do my best to describe what it is like to watch multimedia content using a VR headset and discuss some of the pros and cons for those that are new to VR. I am doing this mainly on the example of the Quest 2 headset which I personally own and is currently the most popular headset on the market.
The Quest 2 comes with a single LCD panel that offers a resolution of 1832 x 1920 per eye. The overall image quality I would say is comparable to a decent HD TV. Maybe just slightly worse, but still very good nevertheless. This was not the case for the original Quest 1 (which I also own) that had a slightly more blurry and pixelated feeling.
If you are a quality nerd who is used to a high-end 4K television, then you’ll probably find the image quality of the Quest 2 lacking. It just isn’t as sharp and fluid. However, if you are an average Joe like myself, the Quest 2 does indeed provide a very decent visual experience that is plenty good for an enjoyable movie session.
However, there is a downside to all current VR headsets, including the Quest 2. Due to the tiny displays used in headsets (where the image is magnified and modified using lenses), the image is sharp only in the center of your field of view. This means that when you move your eyes and gaze towards the edges, you will notice that the image gets gradually blurrier.
For me personally it isn’t such a big deal since you mostly focus on the center of the image anyway. Having been involved in various VR communities for multiple years now, I would say that the vast majority of VR users agree with me. However, there are definitely some people who find the lack of quality in peripheral vision disturbing.
Screen Size, Curvature & Location
Have you ever been to the cinema and watched a movie from a first-row seat? It is not really my cup of tea personally, but I know there are many people who enjoy the grandiose experience of an extra-large screen in front of you.
Watching multimedia using a VR headset allows you to do exactly that. The advantage here is that most apps allow you to resize the size of the screen dynamically. You can make it as big or small as you want and thus find the “sweet spot” that best suits your preferences.
Additionally, you can usually also adjust the curvature and the location of the screen within the headset. With a bit of fiddling, you are sure to find the best settings depending on the movie itself and whether you are sitting or laying down.
One of the biggest drawbacks of watching movies in VR is the issue of comfort. For optimal image quality, the headset needs to be strapped rather tightly on your head. This, however, means that after some time, you will start to sense pressure and a feeling of discomfort on your forehead, nose and other parts of your face.
With my Quest 2, I can usually go comfortably for up to an hour until I feel like I want to take the headset off and get some rest. And this is often fine! Grab some snacks, walk around a bit and you will have “rested” enough to continue your movie session.
There are also ways you can significantly improve the overall comfort level of the Quest 2. The official Elite strap or any other third-party strap will significantly improve the experience and the duration of your movie session. You can also purchase custom foam padding that will make the headset feel softer and nicer your head.
If you won’t be using an Oculus Meta Quest 2 headset, then this likely won’t be a problem either. Most of the popular headsets have custom accessories available that you can purchase.
One advantage of watching movies and other types of multimedia content using a VR headset is that you can do it in any position. Sitting is the most obvious choice of course, but you can also watch your multimedia content while lying down.
As discussed earlier, with the ability to resize and relocate the screen in your headset, you can find a perfectly comfortable screen adjustment whether sitting, lying down, or even standing if that’s what you prefer.
Should you Get a VR Headset Just for Watching Movies & Videos?
I am going to start with the fact that I personally own a Quest 2 and I still do 95% of my multimedia consumption using my 49 inch HD TV and also my notebook.
The biggest reason for me is that for 2D flat screen content (e.g Netflix and regular movies), VR does not give any real advantages over a regular semi-decent TV. The image quality is about the same, but the fact that the headset is hanging and pressing against the face makes it a nuisance.
And you can’t properly drink and have snacks without removing the headset. And I like my chips and bubbly beverages during movies!
However, there are scenarios where purchasing a VR headset solely for multimedia consumption makes perfect sense. These are the ones that come to mind right away.
An excellent time for watching movies in VR is when traveling. Airports, hotels, trains, buses, airplanes (read my guide) – these are all great places to enjoy some VR movies and pass the time. So if you are the kind of person who moves around a lot, then using a VR headset for entertainment purposes is actually a really good fit.
While VR adds quite little to regular flat screen movies, 3D content, on the other hand, is very pleasurable to watch with VR headsets. So if 3D movies are something that you enjoy, then you will quite certainly get a positive kick from VR. You can read more about different ways to watch 3D movies in VR from my previous article.
Watch Movies Together With Other People (who are far away)
Although VR is generally an “isolated” experience, it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. Quite the opposite! Apps like BigScreen bring cinema to your home! Join a virtual movie session where you can engage both with the movie as well as other participants.
This would also be an excellent way to watch a movie with your friends and loved ones, who are currently far away from your physical location. Heck, you can even mess around and throw your virtual popcorn and spill your drinks all over them if you are feeling goofy.
No TV / Don’t Want to Disturb Others
If you are the kind of person who does not have a TV at home, VR would be an excellent alternative to enjoy some movies. It quite certainly offers a more immersive experience than watching from your notebook, for example.
VR would also be great if you do not want to disturb others but still enjoy some entertainment. Flatmates, small children – whatever the reason, with VR you could enjoy a movie session quietly from the comfort of your room.
What VR Headset Is Best For Watching Movies?
Getting adequate recommendations from the internet can be hard sometimes. There are a lot of “best X for Y” articles endorsing products that are not suitable for the purpose written by people who have never used them.
I must admit that I did that during the earlier times of this website as well. But with time, I have gained experience in the field and used a variety of different headsets (Oculus Rift CV1, Quest 1 / Quest 2, Valve Index, HP Reverb G2). I have also spent countless hours researching VR and spending time in the communities reading other people’s opinions (and expressing my own).
With that being said, the best VR headset for watching movies in 2022 is Oculus Meta Quest 2. It is portable, offers a clear image, and comes at an affordable price. The only real drawback of the headset is the comfort of the default strap it comes with. For movies, you might consider getting the official Elite strap or other third-party comfort accessories.
Alternatively, if you don’t plan to do any gaming, you could consider getting a VIVE Flow for multimedia purposes. The headset requires an Android phone, which is used both for generating the content (mirrored to the headset) and also used as the controller.
The pros of the Vive Flow is that it is very light and compact (foldable arms and the headset fits into a small container). The image quality is reportedly pretty much on par with the Quest 2 (I haven’t gotten my hands on one). On the other hand, I personally couldn’t justify the price tag (499$ at the time of writing) for the limited functionality the headset offers.
If you want the best image quality consumer VR currently has to offer, another option you might consider is HP Reverb G2 (599$ at the time of writing). The headset requires a decent VR-compatible PC and you must be tethered to the PC to watch movies.
However, the Reverb G2 is definitely an overkill if you just want to watch movies. With the current selection of headsets available, it is plain and simple to me that the Quest 2 offers the best value for your money, whether you want to watch movies or play games.
And that is from me. I hope this article was a nice introduction to the multimedia side of VR and you learned something new today!
HARDWARE USED FOR TESTING AND WRITING THE ARTICLES:
* Meta Quest 2 (My “daily driver” headset which I absolutely love & recommend)
* Lenovo Legion 5 Pro (AMD Ryzen 5 5600H, Nvidia Geforce RTX 3060, 16GB RAM)
* TP-Link Archer C6 (budget dedicated router for Air Link, see my full setup tutorial)
ESSENTIAL QUEST 2 COMFORT ACCESSORIES:
* VR Cover Foam Replacement (one of the easiest & cheapest ways to improve headset comfort)
* BoboVR M2 Head Strap (reduce pressure on your head and improve the overall fit of the headset)