YouTube is breaking into virtual reality.
The service announced today that its application for Android smartphones now supports Google’s Cardboard headset. This means YouTube users will be able to select a virtual reality video, stick their smartphone into the headset, and kick back as the future of video consumption appears before their eyes.
“If we’ve learned anything in the past 10+ years at YouTube it’s that capturing and sharing videos is a great way to bring people there with you,” YouTube says in a blog post, adding that it’s supporting virtual reality because it “makes the experience of being there even more awesome and immersive.”
The service dipped its toes into virtual reality content earlier this year with 360-degree videos that allowed users to swipe their way around whatever was happening on-screen. This update, combined with the capabilities inherent to the Cardboard headset, promises a more immersive virtual reality experience.
But there’s another, larger change in YouTube’s announcement: The service has made all of its videos available to view in Cardboard. “You can now watch any video using Google Cardboard,” it says, “and experience a kind of virtual movie theater.” This gives YouTube the largest virtual reality content library.
It will face competition, of course. Facebook introduced 360-degree videos to its service earlier this year, and if its $2 billion acquisition of Oculus, plus its increasing efforts to provide all the media its users could ever want right from its website, it won’t take long for a full-on virtual reality experience to appear.
Video producers are just as excited about virtual reality. The New York Times introduced its own virtual reality app (which also relies on Cardboard) early this morning. Jon Stewart is reportedly working with Otoy, a startup known for its 360-degree video technologies, as he develops a new series for HBO. The Associated Press also released a virtual reality film with RYOT earlier.
All of which means that some of the world’s most influential publishers are racing to embrace virtual reality while the most popular video service and social network duke it out for control of the new market. If that doesn’t portend a momentous shift in how we watch videos, I don’t know what will.