Everyone has a bucket list of adventures: maybe you want to watch a show on Broadway, or swim with the sharks. Maybe you’ve always dreamed of seeing the Eiffel Tower, or taking a helicopter tour of the Arctic.
Now, you can. Sit front-row at a showing of The Lion King, or walk around backstage while the performance goes on; go scuba diving in Belize with a school of piranhas, or go beyond earthy limits — take a tour of Mars, for instance, or free-fall from outer space. Do all of this and more, without moving an inch.
Cheap and do-it-yourself virtual reality (VR) headsets have, over the past year, become available in India. VR headsets create what appears to be a life-size, 3D virtual environment, without the boundaries associated with screens on smartphones and laptops. So you could survey the Grand Canyon while looking around your drawing room, feeling fully immersed in the environment.
Filmmaker Clyde de Souza, who made India’s first cinematic VR video in November, says, “It’s better than just 3D, and goes beyond gaming. It can also be used for journalistic experiences, such as immersive experiences in Syrian refugee camps. This inspires empathy in a way that other media can’t.”
Here’s some of the most innovative VR content available for free, for the next mini-vacation you take without leaving your seat.
Outer space travel for us non-astronauts seems unlikely in the foreseeable future. In the meantime, try one of the many VR-enabled space travels available online. For instance, a video allows viewers to experience Apollo 11, the first spaceflight to land on the moon, through the eyes of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. This is fun for history buffs as well, with interviews with the astronauts playing over the footage.
To remind you why it’s probably a good idea to be on solid ground, check out Freefall — a recreation of what it would feel like to tumble freely in the Earth’s orbit. With an eerie soundtrack and and the constant sound of breathing into a helmet, it can result in feelings of vertigo and claustrophobia.
If you prefer the view from the ground, try a video showcasing a 3D timelapse from a hilltop, with the Milky Way moving across a clear sky.
“Clear skies are impossible in the city, so I loved the Google Cardboard experience,” says Sunayana Sharma, 22, a Bandra-based biology student. “You can actually trace constellations. It’s very cool and peaceful.”
Physics junkies can check out a 360-degree tour of CERN, the largest physics laboratory in the world, which houses the Large Hadron Collider. Usually closed off to civilians, the tour takes you underground and up-close through the long tunnel that houses the LHC.
Groaning about how long it is until the next Star Wars instalment? Get in the role of a secret agent of the ‘Resistance’ on Jakku, the desert land featured in the last film, on the movie’s official website.
Manisha Jodhi, 34, says she used her VR headset to sit next to Paul McCartney on stage, and virtually attend music festival Tomorrowland. “Going to Tomorrowland is way out of my scope at the moment,” says the Malad-based architect. “The headset put me right in the middle of the action. People were dancing around me, the music was pounding and I had the best seats in the house.”
If you’ve always dreamed of a visit to the city of romance, download the Paris VR - Google Cardboard app. You can tour the Louvre, go to the top of the Eiffel Tower, visit the Louis Vuitton Foundation, and go to the Notre Dame.
If Paris is too mainstream, try taking a helicopter tour of the Arctic. This simulation has the viewer in the passenger seat, dipping and flying above the icy landscape, along with a guided tour for the same.
“With the helicopter ride, it actually felt like I was in the middle of the sky, which was very unnerving,” says Pranav Tonsekar, 24, a content writer who lives in New Marine Lines. “I also took a Mercedes test run, and rode a rollercoaster on the headset.”
This one is not for the faint of heart — a VR video by Curiscope, a VR production website, allows you to get up close and personal with the Great White Shark. The shark, initially a dot in the distant waters, will approach the viewer with threatening proximity. The soundtrack, interesting facts interspersed with a soundtrack that wouldn’t be out of place in the movie Jaws, doesn’t help either.
What it costs
You can assemble the Google Cardboard headset using a kit available on Amazon for Rs 130.
Alternatively, buy an assembled headset, in cardboard for about Rs 120, or plastic, made by brands such as Aura VR, available on Amazon for Rs 640.
For a sophisticated experience, try the Lenovo ANT VR. Selling for Rs 1,299, the device is distortion-free and can be used to watch movies in VR.
You can also try the Samsung Gear VR headset at Rs 13,998, compatible with select Samsung devices. The high-tech device offers clarity and comfort.