Do you want to experience an enhanced reality that you couldn’t otherwise live? Here are the top 17 virtual reality experiences featuring the Oculus Rift, the Samsung Gear VR and the HTC Vive. In no particular order, these are the coolest VR experiences that you’ll definitely want to try.
1 – Fly! Be Free!
The drop. The acceleration. The ascent. The exhilaration of flying like a bird has inspired mankind for centuries. Now, the onset of Virtual Reality has gotten many people excited about the possibility of producing realistic flight-like experiences.
Researchers at Zurich University’s Interaction Design Program have developed the most realistic birdlike flight experience, Birdly. Its goal is to allow the user “to enjoy the ultimate freedom of a bird and intuitively explore the skies.” The reason Birdly produces such an authentic flight experience is that it goes beyond a VR headset and headphones.
Rather, users simulate flight posture, lying on a padded, cross-shaped apparatus while wearing the headset. As you fly over the Swiss countryside or over the buildings of downtown San Francisco, the device’s flaps become your “wings.” Thanks to its hydraulic mechanism, the platform tips forward when you dive in the virtual world, matching the angle of your “bird” body. There is also a fan whose speed adjusts according to your flying speed. The whole thing is meant to recreate the experience of flight as realistically as possible by engaging your whole body.
After several prototypes and two years of testing, Birdly is now commercially available. But when we reached out to the people at SOMNIACS to ask how we could procure our own flying machine, they told us they were completely sold out for the moment, although they expected to enhance their serial manufacturing process to be able to reach more clients. In other words, if you want to own your own Birdly, you might have to wait. But if all you want to do is to experience flight, you might not have to wait that long. Different Birdly installations have been going around the world, making flight available to the general public at venues like the different Swiss consulates, or even the Sundance Film Festival. Just stay on the lookout for when Birdly will come to you town next!
2 – Go extreme mountain biking
We all crave adrenaline. Perhaps you’re interested in careening down paths at 40 mph, dodging boulders, your handle bars trembling.
VR can help you experience the best mountain biking has to offer. You hop on a stationary bicycle while wearing a VR headset that simulates uphill or downhill mountain biking. Now, you can’t quite go out and get this in a ready-made package… yet. Although some people have managed to experience VR biking, either at expos or by procuring the different pieces themselves.
In general, you need three things to go extreme mountain biking without leaving the comfort of your living room. You need a stationary bike, hopefully one that can communicate with your VR software; a high-end VR headset (and associated hardware), which at the moment means the Oculus Rift, and an extreme mountain biking app.
We have found at least two stationary bikes that will work well for this set up:
– The Ebove B1 by Activetainment was designed to be natively compatible with VR technology. It’s capable of responding to whatever you’re doing in virtual reality, tilting forward, backward and to the side. It is now available for pre-orders to be shipped in Q3 of 2016. If you want to just demo the bike for an event, you can rent it temporarily. And if you happen to be in or near Oslo, where Activetainment is based, you can actually drop by and try it out. Finally, you can also check out their calendar to see when they’ll be hosting an exhibition near you.
– VirZOOM is another stationary bike that serves as a VR controller. It is also available for preorders to ship in Q2 2016. It is compatible with PS4 and PC, and is suitable for Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and PlayStationVR. It is probably less fancy than the Ebove, since its reactiveness is limited to the speed you pedal at, but at just $199.99, its also much cheaper (The Ebove costs between $6000 and $8000 depending on the specific model you get).
In addition to your VR headset, you’ll also need an extreme biking app to accompany your morning workout. There are several out there.
– MTB Freeride is a challenging downhill cycling game currently in development, but which promises to bring great excitement to VR biking. You can currently download their alpha version, which works on PC and Mac, and which integrates well with the Ebove.
– Widerun is another app that replicates real-life urban and off-road cycling in VR. It works best with Oculus Rift, and is capable of connecting to your bike as a controller. However, if you don’t have a Rift yet, you can also use Samsung gear VR, or even Google Cardboard. At present, it offers more than 10 settings where you can take your VR cycling experience, from the streets of San Francisco to autumn landscapes.
3 – Fly a virtual World War II fighting plane
Short of hopping on a flight simulator, the video arcade was once as close as you could come to the feeling of piloting a jet without actually being in a plane. But virtual reality changes that. With the right hardware and an Oculus Rift, you can now experience life-like flight combat experiences that are far more sophisticated and immersive than any arcade flight simulator ever was.
There are, of course, several ways to go about this – there are several VR flight simulation apps out there– but we’ll outline just one of them. Look at how this guy set up his cockpit!
War Thunder, when experienced with the Oculus Rift, gives you a 3D, 360 head-tracked experience, fully immersing you.
You can fire loudly at the enemy and watch as wreckage flies below you and the defeated crew bails out with parachutes.
One key accessory is a flight stick, which can be as sophisticated as maxflightstick.com’s $2,000 MaxFighter Extreme or as simple as a $33 Extreme 3D Pro Joystick. Once in the game launcher, go to advanced graphics settings and mark the “Oculus Rift” checkbox. And voilà you’re ready for combat!
4 – Life-like Shooter Games
What’s outside the frame what’soutsidetheframe? If your neurons aren’t chanting that at you when you’re playing shooter games, you’re not doing it right. VR lets you crank your neck and have a peek.
Bullet Train – From Epic Games, this shooter game pits you against thugs who would wreak their havoc at the train station. Be the vigilante that’s been hiding within, playing within an ultra-realistic urban setting.
Now, how real are shooter games? Well, Bullet Train makes them only too real when you integrate it with the Oculus Rift. The game provides haptic feedback, which means you can feel what it’s like to handle various guns and grenades.
It also allows you to teleport into a new locale, as opposed to lumbering from place to place, which has been known to cause motion sickness.
Zombie Shooter This game has a unique wrinkle: it’s free via App Store/Google Play. That means that VR rookies can climb aboard for a minimal investment.
The game’s name does a pretty good job of summarizing its focus. The VR experience comes from a headset made by Fibrum. As with the flight simulator, above, turning your head with this game means seeing around you 360 degrees. The graphics are sharp, and the zombies have a killer slouch.
5 – Ride real-life roller coasters
Think about it this way. When your boss has been pernickety and the kids are grumbling about homework, you need a pick me up. No Limits 2, a coaster simulator, is like going to a theme park for a half an hour or so, catching an adrenaline buzz, then zipping right back.
Put your hands in the air; feel the gravity! Go upside down.
No Limits 2 is compatible with Oculus Rift. It gives you a standard-looking theme park and has you pick a coaster. Using the OR, you can look all around for perspective, which makes the coaster simulator a lot more realistic than without the VR headset.
It can work without the Oculus headset. This means that people who haven’t invested in the headset can use the game. One thing they can do with it is to build their own roller coasters, which you can sample.
6 – Virtually Visit College Campuses
Who doesn’t love a college campus—the spires, the ivy, the games of hacky-sack (Millennials standing around with their phones playing video hacky-sack), the little circles of people protesting something. Energy!
If you’re checking out schools or if your kids are getting to that age, you face the daunting task of heavy travel. This means, for some people narrowing choices based on travel budget. To heck with that, we say! And so does youvist.com, which will digitally school you, either via Google Cardboard or the Oculus Rift.
Youvisit is loaded up with video and pics of thousands of international colleges and universities. With the Rift, you can walk around, look around, and enter buildings. It’s pretty cool, since being in a building and getting the feel for its feng shui is what really matters, right? You can look from wall to wall, ceiling to ceiling. You can find out, in some cases, how much of your kid’s—or your—stuff won’t fit in the dorm room.
7 – Volvo HoloLens Showroom
Volvo and Microsoft have a pretty futuristic and groundbreaking invention, the HoloLens Showroom. We’re talking about a holographic car that shimmers in front of a potential buyer who’s standing in an actual showroom.
The customer puts on a HoloLens headset to see the bare bones of a car, in this lets him or her add or change features as he chooses.
It puts the buyer in the role of superpower—she can literally cause the hologram to lift off the ground and rotate in space. From there, s/he gets rid of various features and adds new ones.
It is a mixed-reality experience, meaning that the user is still in the actual world around him and can see it, yet interact with something virtually in a way that hadn’t been possible before.
The device is set for release soon, and is projected to run about $3,000. As with most of the innovations we’re featuring, it’s in developing and subject to variations and updates, etc.
8 – Visualize a home or building before it’s actually built
This one is particularly cool and impressive. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not entertaining the way a shooter game is, but it’ll do wonders for your frontal cortex, which should love thinking about what other frontal cortexes have brought into being.
Arch Virtual is a company that produces virtual reality applications for makers of buildings of all kinds. But we’re not talking about going in and shooting video of your house and then slapping a headset on someone at the other end of the process. Rather, these simulations are of spaces that haven’t even been built.
Using computer models, basically the digital blueprints, Arch Virtual develops a fully immersive animation of the building’s interior. It looks pretty much like what you’d see in Second Life or the Sims or a high-def video game. Once you dip into the Oculus Rift D2K, you can examine the stove top, the floors, the comforter on the bed. You can look at an incipient basketball arena from the cheap seats. It’s amazing.
For example, they made a sim for the Sacramento Kings when the team was erecting a new arena.
So, if you have an applicable project, it’s worth checking out. But their site is really fun for anyone to tool around, and it’s exciting to see this VR advancement.
9 – Visit virtual real estate
You want to move to Maine but you don’t want to go out there a bunch of times to look at houses? If only…and there is a way. Yes, VR is definitely in play in one of the more intuitive applications, allowing a future homeowner to virtually tour a home.
- VR Global – This VR company specializes in real estate solutions, and creates VR experiences for Oculus and Samsung Gear VR. The agent slaps the headset on a client and whisks them into homes across the globe.
They allow companies to customize their apps, with the apps that run things being a pretty important part of VR.
- Youvisit.com– Our friends who offer the college campus tours also take real estate listings. These work with Oculus Rift.
Virtual real estate is about as pragmatic a use of VR as there is. VR will probably have to be seen as more than a high-tech diversion to really take off, and these sorts of time and money-saving applications may help with that.
10 – Switch genders and enter someone else’s body
It is called The Machine to Be Another.
That is poetry.
Shouldn’t VR be all about thinking big? Crossing new frontiers? Stepping outside one’s skin?
The Machine to Be Another is in development, a project of BeAnotherLab. One component of it is an application called Swap Genders, which comes specifically from Oculus Rift. Now, this is all in development, but the idea is to get a better understanding of someone else, in this case, one of the opposite sex.
OK: say you’re a man. You have to have a female partner, and the two of you strip down pretty far. Each of you wears a headset, but you also wear a camera on top of the headset. See where this is going? You’re seeing the feed from her, she’s seeing feed from you.
The two of you are supposed to mirror each other’s actions, so if you rub your hand over your abdomen, she does too, seeing, of course, your stomach while she touches hers.
This is part of BeAnotherLab’s larger project whose mission is to teach empathy. One application involves people of different races mirroring each other’s actions, which allows you to, virtually, see yourself as a member of another race.
11 – Create 3D art like you’ve never created before
VR can help us find beauty in ways not possible before. Actions sports and athletic simulations are wonderful, but they’re just part of what VR can do. Tilt Brush is a great VR app for artists and it really throws you into a futuristic world!
You’ve seen the movies or comics: images floating in mid-air. In that regard, the future can be now, as Tilt Brush is designed for painting in the open air in front of you.
First off, one uses HTC Vive, the headset, and Steam, with which it operates.
From there, it’s all about choosing which types of brushes you’d like to use, including flame-spitting and sparkling varieties.
Then, pick some space and create some dazzling art you can walk around. According to the demo vid, you can make images of just about any kind, from representational and realistic, to very abstract. A person without an incredible artistic talent seems to be able to use the brush kind of like a can of spray paint, making doodles and drizzles or letters or graffiti tags, etc.
This is an amazing application of VR, giving you creative capabilities you couldn’t have possibly had otherwise—more than a simulation!
12 – Skydiving!
What is that second like: just before you pull the rip cord? The end of your free fall, your dangerous exploration of unthinkable altitude?
Well, pay for a sky-diving package and find out. Or go the route of a really good simulator. The world of skydiving simulation is being explored by a few parties, and here they are.
- Volo Airsport This simulator is for Oculus Rift, and it’s actually a physics game. That makes it a bit more cerebral and advanced. You have a hand controller for your “guy,” a robotic dude who kind of looks like a flattened hard plastic storage unit.
The proper nuance is more than necessary to make him properly careen down the very interesting scapes the simulator provides.
- TU Jump Into the Future This project really puts the “reality” in “virtual reality.” Brought to you by the Technical University of Vienna, this simulator has you parachuting onto campus, with a head-mounted display bringing various sensory cues. What sets the Jump Into apart is that it harnesses the user into a prone position like one would be when actually skydiving. In fact, you actually jump off a little block to get started. Because it’s centered around an apparatus like one would find at a convention or a fair, it’s unclear who will be able to use this, when and where.
13 – The Surreal World of the Cirque du Soleil
The women are clad in orange jump-suits with concentric swirls; the stage is aswarm with creatures with llama heads, magicians, giant mechanical hands…you get the picture? Well, with Samsung Gear VR and the Cirque du Soleil Kurios app, you can essentially be onstage for a performance of Cirque du Soleil.
It’s not just a general simulation, with a spread of objects and landscapes. Rather, the show, “Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities,” is all about a box of wonders that opens all around the user in the immersive environment.
But isn’t VR all about participation? To that end, the producers of this experience engineered things so that the user ends up being one of the curiosities, surrounded and gazed at by other members of the show.
14 – Watch a movie on a 60-foot screen
The inventors and 20th-century practitioners of cinema didn’t intend for their creations to be viewed on 4×6 inch screens. Now, with your Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge or Note5, you can strap on a Samsung Gear VR headset and project movies onto a home theater screen.
Netflix brings the movies and the theater experience. The theater is called the Void and its function and mission are twofold. First, if you’re on a subway train or at the in-laws’ for the weekend (but you still have the headset with you), it creates a cozy and fun place in which to watch the movie. But secondly, and probably more importantly, it gives you the illusion of watching the film on a huge wide screen.
By placing the headset on your head, you enter the virtual realm provided for you: a log cabin-y kind of living room with a large movie screen in front of you. The screen is adjustable, but there aren’t, yet, a lot of other features. Like many things with Oculus and other VR applications, these will surely evolve before long.
15 – Virtual Racing
Video gamers are always looking for more: more realism, more of the sights and sounds, more immersion. Stock car racing is a perfect venue for VR.
- Project Cars This well-known racing game is now expanding to VR, partnering with Sony’s Project Morpheus. The experience is pretty intense, with more than enough engine noise and great graphics. One of the things that supplies a nearly dizzying realism is the experience of palm trees, buildings, and guard rails zipping past you on either side, even as you’re trying to focus on the road—it really turns what could otherwise be a canned race track into a full world.
- Assetto Corsa This racing experience uses “mixed reality.” In this case, this means splicing in, instead of animation, actual video showing all the stuff on the edge of the racing track.
At first, this project was all about the Oculus Rift DK1; both Assetto Corsa and Oculus spent some time on other things, and are now interested in bringing the experience back to the newest release of Oculus.
There’s no question that this mixed reality experience is rich and complex.
16 – Virtual off-road experience
Off-road 4-wheeling is all about noise and dust, tight turns and cool equipment. Youtube allows for a VR experience of sitting in the front seat and getting up close and personal with the treacherous terrain.
You can use either the Youtube app for android or the Cardboard option. Go to the Nitto Tire youtube page and ride along with Shannon Campbell.
17 – Hit the waves while surfing in Tahiti
A lot of us find surfing not only glamorous, but a bit intoxicating due to the variety of fun sensations. And so few of us live down the street from an ocean. Surfing is tailor-made for the virtual reality experience.
GoPro has a facebook-enabled virtual surf experience ready for you. It requires a Samsung Galaxy. It’s a good way of showcasing the capability of the camera. It gives you a 360 degree immersive experience so you can see and feel those waves of Tahiti flying at you however you’d like.
There’s no question that the capabilities of VR will allow you to feel that wave cresting over your head and curling over you. And that’s what VR is all about—it’s not for a nice panorama.