With 2016 set to be the year of VR, there’s a good chance you won’t be the only one picking up a HTC Vive, an Oculus Rift, a Samsung Gear VR or a PlayStation VR. Thing is, with virtual reality poised to go mainstream across games, film and more abstract experiences, you’re not going to want to using your headset to do the same thing as everyone else.
So we’ve collected together some of the best (and wackiest) things you can do with a VR headset and a set of odd and quirky hardware. Sure, let your friends stand there looking at 360-degree photos while you skydive or have a dogfight in space!
Fly down a hill on a mountain bike
Why not kick things off at a sedate pace, huh? Actually, who are we kidding? Let’s start by throwing you down a dirt slope on a tricked out mountain bike! Okay, it’s a simulation, but with your senses immersed in a VR headset you’ll be practically tasting mud by the end of your ride.
Like so many of the experiences on this list this requires a special rig that’s been designed to sway, shift and rise with the GoPro footage being fed into your headset. Apps such as MTB Freeride are perfect, as are stationary bikes such as the VirZOOM.
Watch a film on a cinema-aping big screen
After sending you down a slope on a two-wheeled extreme sport, how about a quiet breather and nice movie… on a giant cinema screen! VR’s immersive nature means even passive experiences can be turned on their heads, so something simple as watching a flick can be transformed into something far grander.
The Netflix app (for platforms such as Samsung Gear VR) has its own bespoke theatre to watching films on a much larger scale - the Void Theatre removes all other features around you and projects your chosen film or TV show episode onto a 60-foot screen. Who needs the cinema, eh?
Plummet with a virtual skydive
Using a specialised rig, it’s possible to recreate the inertia and terrifying freedom of freefall. With a compatible headset (we’ve seen Oculus Rift used most often for demonstrations such as these), you’re strapped to a series of wires that tilt and shift to simulate inertia, while giant fans blow upwards for that all important skydive face.
The SkyDIEving program by developer nDreams (that emphasis on ‘die’ is theirs, with the experience described as a, “death plunge” simulator) recreates the thrill of freefall and adds in a fun mini-game of shifting your weight to avoid floating platforms. Not one for the weak of stomach.
Explore Los Santos in GTA V VR
What with Rockstar creating a first-person mode for the PC version (and current-gen console iterations) of its money-printing sandbox sequel, a VR-integration seemed inevitable - but that hasn’t made the prospect for driving and shooting through Los Santos in proper first-person via virtual reality.
And while Rockstar hasn’t officially made its game open to VR, there have been plenty of modders who have already opened it out to the medium. Check out VR apps such as VorpX (compatible with Rift and Vive) for an immersive (if a little natious) take on GTA V. It’s still a little buggy but it’s something to behold with a headset on.
Dogfight among the stars
To keep our brief gaming theme running for one more entry, we have one of the most exciting titles to coming to all three of the biggest and most powerful VR headset (Vive, Rift and PlayStation VR) - EVE: Valkyrie. Set in the same universe as CCP’s real-time space war sim, Valkyrie drops you into the seat of a space age fighter and says, “Go get ’em, kid!”
Slipping on a VR headset, breaking out a compatible controller and soaring into a gravity-free space battle instantly recalls memories of Star Wars: Rogue Squadron and Crimson Skies - add in slick head tracking controllers and some top notch audio and you’ve got one hell of a way to use VR.
Swap bodies with another gender
We love the subversive concept of this co-operative VR sim, which offers you the chance to jump into a live camera feed linked up to another user. If you have your camera-wearing partner be of the opposite sex, you can technically look down and around and see yourself in possession of a starkly different body to the one you’re used to.
The app, Swap Genders, has been developed by design studio BeAnotherLab. The program also works by your partner wearing their own headset with a camera braced over your shoulders to give them a similar POV. It’s been designed to promote empathy for the opposite sex, with users encouraged to mimic their partner's movements and mannerisms.
Cycle the world (and get fit
Rather than relying a huge rig (like the skydiving experience), this cycling-orientated bit of software instead uses a decent VR headset (it currently works with Samsung Gear VR and Oculus Rift) and a modified turbo trainer (a set of rollers that you fit your road, hybrid or mountain bike so you can train in the winter months).
Widerun recreates a number of different cities in the USA, as well as routes through the Alps to give your usual indoor cycling training a new lease of life. Successfully funded on Kickstarter last year, Widerun uses actual GoPro footage, headtracking and in-app stats to help you beat times and challenge friends.
Sure, you could go on a virtual skydive, but why be a slave to the forces of gravity when you can take to the virtual skies and soar like a bird/plane/Kryptonian? Take the hardware and software setup that is Birdly, which uses a specially designed rig where you lie on your front and flap your arms while connected to a pair of sensor-lined paddles.
Created by a team of researchers at Zurich University’s Interaction Design Program, Birdly’s platform tilts back and forth and side to side as you glide across real life locations. With an Oculus Rift headset and a set of fans, it’s certainly one of the most immersive VR experiences out there.
Take to the skies and fly!
Few things offer as much satisfaction and accomplishment as creating your very own painting, but doing it on a canvas, in two dimensions no less, feels a little… well, flat. With VR, you can now go one better and create artistic masterpieces in 3D, conjuring an art form that combines brushstroke mastery with the added dimensions of sculpture.
Tilt Brush, which works with the HTC Vive, enables you to craft new creations from a virtual easel containing a variety of paints and brush types - and being able to approach your work from any angle gives it a sense of control that will make anyone with even the slightest artistic streak the canvas to run wild.