Thanksgiving may be over but with the holiday season ahead, here are the best VR experiences for family get-togethers. Looking back over the past year, there’s been significant progress in virtual reality. Yes, HTC Vive and Oculus Rift were available, but this year we have the new Samsung Gear VR headset, Google’s new Daydream and Pixel 2 setup, and the just-released Microsoft Mixed Reality headsets.
Speaking of the latter, we got our hands on the new Dell Visor unit. We have a review coming up in a few days – hint: it’s both frustrating and amazing.
Best VR experiences for family
When it comes to using VR with the family, your best approach is a mobile VR setup. The hardware is easy to use and the experiences simple to navigate. This is the advantage of three degrees of freedom. It’s not fully immersive, but great for someone who is just starting out in virtual reality.
If you have Vive or Rift, take the plunge, but you’ll have to spend the time helping out family members get through their first couple of VR experiences. And you’re going to have to stay close by – you really don’t want someone losing their balance in Richie’s Plank Experience and crashing into the coffee table.
Here’s our list of the best VR experiences for family:
Thanksgiving Day Parade in 360
You may have watched the parade on TV or seen it if you were in NYC. But as with last year, it was also shot in 360 video. This is a long experience – 3 hours long – and no one is going to sit through that. But it’s a good introduction to watching an event in 360. This year’s event is filmed over multiple locations on the parade route so jump around and see it from uptown or down near Macy’s on 34th street. Thanksgiving Day Parade in 360.
Within 360 videos
The well-known VR studio Within, run by Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin, has always been one of our go-to sites for introducing people to immersive technology. It offers a wide range of well-designed experiences from the classic Clouds Over Sidra to the more recent Asteroids! and the beautiful Hallelujah. To see more about where Within is headed, see our interview earlier this fall with Dave Cowling, their new VP of Engineering.
As with the Thanksgiving Day Parade video, these experiences can be viewed on Google Cardboard VR or even a Smartphone if you do not have a VR headset.
Ocean Rift VR
If you have a late-model Samsung phone and the new Gear VR headset, Ocean Rift is one of the best VR experiences for family on a mobile device. You’re still limited to 3 degrees of freedom, but it offers an amazing degree of immersion in mobile VR. And once someone gets underway, you won’t have to help out as the motion controls are intuitive and simple.
Google Earth VR
Of course, there’s a full range of VR experiences on the Oculus Store and Steam VR. But before dropping someone into a game with a steep learning path, Google Earth VR is one of the easiest high-end VR experiences. With the entire world in your hands, there’s no shortage of places to visit. And everyone will have a school, hometown or special place of interest they want to see.
It takes a little time to learn the controls, but it’s definitely worth the effort if you want to introduce your family and friends to high-end VR. And with the recently added Street View feature, you can step from flying over the world to virtually standing on your favorite street corner.
Next year at this time, we’ll most likely be playing around not only with VR but with AR experiences from Apple’s ARKit and Google’s ARCore platforms. And in VR, we’ll have the self-contained headsets we’ve been waiting for.
Enjoy the beginning of the holiday season!
Emory Craig is a writer, speaker, and VR consultant with extensive experience in art, new media, and higher education. He speaks at global conferences on innovation, education, and ethical technology in the future. He has published widely and worked with the US Agency for International Development, the United Nations, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Living at the intersection of learning, games, and immersive storytelling, he is fascinated by AI-based avatars, digital twins, and the ethical implications of blurring the boundaries between the real and the virtual.