Article and Photo by Jason Setnyk
I recently had the opportunity to try the Oculus Quest 2 VR headset, and I must say, I find the technology transformative. The ability to be fully immersed in a 360-degree environment has the power to revolutionize our perception and experience of the world and beyond. Many people may think of VR simply as a gaming system, and while there are certainly hit games like Beat Saber that have taken advantage of this technology, the possibilities extend far beyond entertainment. Exercise apps, similar to Wii Fitness, are also taking advantage of the immersive nature of VR. From virtual meetings to watching 3D movies, to roller-coaster rides, the potential uses for VR seem endless.
However, what has intrigued me the most about this technology is the opportunity to explore, learn, and experience new places. Imagine visiting a foreign country and exploring the sights and sounds without leaving the comfort of your own home or being able to walk through historical landmarks and experience history in a way that was previously impossible. The potential for education and cultural experiences with VR is immense.
The possibilities for using VR technology to explore the world are truly remarkable. For example, I recently tried an app called “Wander,” which imports Google Maps Street View. With this app, I can now wander the world openly through the magic of VR. From the comfort of my living room, I can teleport almost anywhere in the world. I can walk across the London Bridge, stroll through the gardens of the Taj Mahal, or witness the enormity of the Great Pyramids of Egypt. The possibilities for unlimited exploration are truly astounding. There is even a function where you can add ambient noise like “City” or “Nature” to make it even more immersive.
The first place I visited using this app was my hometown of Cornwall, Ontario. I used my childhood home as a reference point, saw my old high school, the parks where I used to play, and more. I could look up, look down, turn around, and I was completely immersed in a 360-degree photograph. I could even navigate to various streets, giving me the feeling of actually being there. Since then, I have already visited numerous countries and have had the opportunity to explore and learn about different cultures. More recently, I discovered that it is possible to tour inside some buildings like the White House in Washington DC and museums like the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The ability to see inside these places and experience them in a way that was previously impossible is truly remarkable.
Another app that I highly recommend downloading is YouTube VR. While you may already watch regular YouTube videos, this app is specifically designed to search for and display 360-degree videos. I have already found a few channels with excellent content that I would have never discovered otherwise. One of my favorite channels on YouTube VR is National Geographic. They have some awe-inspiring VR experiences. For example, I visited inside the International Space Station and saw the Earth from outer space. An astronaut narrating the video says something simple but profound: He didn’t think humans were ever meant to see the Earth from this perspective. The scene of the Earth from the ISS, along with the size and scale of being in outer space, was a profound experience that I will not soon forget. When I was a child, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut and venturing into uncharted territories. However, with the help of VR technology, I can now immerse myself in a 360-degree environment and explore other planets, such as Mars.
Another noteworthy video from National Geographic is a tour of Iceland’s glaciers. There are a number of perspectives, from a drone overhead to stationary positions on the ground, to being on a boat and navigating the icy waters. It was truly breathtaking to see these natural wonders up close and personal, from angles that I never imagined exploring and experiencing.
In addition to National Geographic, there is another VR YouTube channel that is worth exploring called VR Gorilla. Their tourism videos explore places in England, France, Germany, Italy, Vietnam, Thailand, Australia, Cuba, and more. They also have nature documentaries where you can get up close to elephants, giraffes, gorillas, penguins, underwater habitats, and more.
But where VR Gorilla really excels is in its 360 VR documentaries. These videos are powerful tools for storytelling, allowing you to experience the world from a completely new perspective. For example, in the video “Refugees in DRC Congo,” you witness extreme poverty and how radically different their way of life is compared to ours. It’s a jarring experience that is sure to make an impact.
Another powerful 360 VR documentary is titled “My Home, Shatila.” This video tells the story of Fadia, a 14-year-old Palestinian/Syrian refugee living in Shatila refugee camp in Beirut, Lebanon. It’s one thing to read about refugees or see a photo or video clip, but it’s another thing to be immersed in their world as they invite you into their homes and neighborhoods to share their stories. This type of VR storytelling has the power to create empathy and understanding in ways that traditional media simply cannot.
Not all VR videos are equal in quality; for example, I’ve noticed that many music concert recordings have been uploaded in lower resolution. However, I was thoroughly impressed by “A Virtual Reality Concert With Halestorm,” which was exceptionally well executed. It felt like I was on stage beside the lead singer. It’s exciting to think about a future where attending concerts, theater performances, and sporting events through VR technology could provide an immersive experience that feels like being physically present – whether on stage or front-row in the audience.
In conclusion, I believe that VR has the potential to be a transformative technology that can change the way we experience the world. From exploring new places and cultures to gaining a deeper understanding of the struggles faced by people around the world, VR has the power to create empathy and understanding in ways that traditional media simply cannot. While the technology is still in its infancy, I am excited to see what the future holds for VR and how it can be used to enhance our lives and broaden our horizons. While it may not be a replacement for real-life experiences, it is an incredible tool for those who cannot travel or simply want to try something new. I highly recommend giving VR a chance and seeing where it takes you. Who knows what the future holds for this exciting technology, but I am excited to find out.