To be clear, YouTube has been able to play 360-degree videos since March. You can watch those by moving your phone around in the air, or clicking-and-dragging with your mouse, Street View-style.
Today’s announcement is different in that in addition to spanning 360-degrees, the videos are now in 3D as well. Using Google Cardboard (or any other smartphone-powered VR headset), each of your eyes sees a slightly different image, allowing you to perceive depth and differentiate between near and far objects.
That said, it’s worth noting that 3D comes at the cost of some sharpness due to having your screen essentially split in half (and thereby halving the resolution when the images are combined). Virtual reality is pretty much the only time a QuadHD (or even 4k!) panel actually makes an easily noticeable difference on a phone, particularly given the image is magnified to occupy a greater portion of your field of view.
Of course, in order to get those 3D experiences, the videos have to be filmed in 3D in the first place. That’s a tiny portion of YouTube’s catalog, so for everything else, there’s a new Cardboard mode that basically makes it look like you’re watching video in a theater:
It’s a little goofy, given you’re purposefully making the video smaller and losing even more resolution just to get a psuedo-3D effect, but it’s nice to have as an option. It could be fun for like five minutes, and there’s little native content available for Google Cardboard right now anyway.
Both updates should make for a more immersive experience overall, give Cardboard owners a lot more content to play with, and hopefully inspire others to create more VR videos. Google’s already convinced me VR is here to stay, it’s just been missing enough content to make VR viewing a frequent endeavor.
➤ YouTube presses play on virtual reality [YouTube Blog]