Gaming gets a lot of attention when it comes to virtual reality, and that's not unjustified, but there's more to VR than immersive video games. Whether you're looking to explore the various capabilities of the medium or are just plain ludophobic, these are some of the best non-game VR apps out there.
Many think that the key to VR's mainstream success isn't even in gaming at all, but will in fact come about with the first smash hit VR movies. While we're not quite at full VR blockbuster summer movies yet, there is plenty of fantastic VR movie content out there already to discover.
NextVR was a pioneer of broadcasting live events such as sports games and concerts in VR, and that's still its forte, although there's now a variety of on-demand and episodic content available on the platform. As well as soccer and basketball games, wrestling and boxing, you can also see bands, stand-up comedians, and documentaries, all as if you're actually there as the action unfolds.
Platforms: Daydream, Gear VR, Oculus Go, PSVR, VIVE, Oculus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality, iOS & Android
Within specializes in thoughtful documentaries with high production values. It's a place where you can get an immersive, in-depth look at issues like cyberwarfare, climate change, art, politics and more. It's not all so serious though. For lighter entertainment, there are also cute animated series and music videos and shows. And it doesn't neglect VR horror movies...one of the most chilling experiences you'll ever have.
Platforms: Oculus Rift, Oculus Go Samsung Gear VR, HTC Vive, PSVR, Daydream, Google Cardboard
Escaping the outside world with a headset strapped over your eyes may seem isolating, but virtual reality can be a great tool to connect us to others, especially if your friends and loved ones live far away.
Oculus Rooms is, naturally enough, the social app of choice for Oculus sets like the Rift, Go and Gear VR. You get to decorate and customize your own hangout room in which to entertain your guests. Of course, you can hang out and chit-chat, but there's more: you can also watch videos together and play simple games while catch up. You can also launch multiplayer VR games from within Rooms.
Platforms: Oculus Rift, Oculus Go Samsung Gear VR
vTime is available for most VR platforms and is made for group chats in which you and your friends sit around a central point. Not only do you get a fully developed and customizable avatar (hair color, eyes, clothes etc) but there is a big range of different environments to choose from, from a cozy study with a roaring fire, or around an ice-fishing pool in the frozen tundra.
Platforms: Windows Mixed Reality, Daydream, Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, Gear VR, Google Cardboard
VR has the potential to unleashed untapped creativity, making the world of your imagination 'real' around with digitally created mediums and surfaces.
Tilt Brush is an art app developed by Google that lets you paint in 3D space using the motion sensors that come with VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. The virtual brush is easy to use and accurate, plus there are additional effects such as sparkles and smoke to jazz up your painting. It's an eye-opening new way to exercise your creativity, even if you don't consider yourself a particularly arty person.
Platforms: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift
From art to music, Soundscape drops you into a futuristic-looking virtual studio from which you can compose and edit music. This is a cheap ($3) but fairly lightweight music editor - you can add notes, effects, filters, and instruments to a single-song track that plays on an endless loop. Others can also join in for online collaboration.
Platforms: Gear VR
One of the most beautiful things about VR is how it can take us ever closer to parts of the world that remain physically or financially inaccessible to us. Whether you're scoping out a holiday destination or just curious about what our planet has to offer, VR can give you an immersive glimpse.
Google Earth VR
Chances are you've already used Google Earth to indulge your wanderlust from the comfort of your home. The addition of VR makes it all the more exciting, as you virtually jet off to tropical islands, snow-capped mountains, historical monuments and the most glamorous city districts. Of course, detail can vary depending on your platform and how accurately mapped an area is, but for free and on every VR platform, what more could you want?
Platforms: Windows Mixed Reality, HTC Vive, Daydream, Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, Gear VR, Google Cardboard
But why limit yourself to VR exploration on land? Dive into the depths of the deep blue seas with Ocean Rift. In this underwater safari, you'll encounter creatures such as fish, stingrays, dolphins and seals, but also dangerous animals like sharks that can even turn the experience into something of a survival game. The demo of Ocean Rift is available for free, but the full experience costs $10.
Platforms: Gear VR, Oculus Rift, Oculus Go, HTC Vive
It may sound wishy-washy, but VR 'experiences' are basically just apps that deliver something that's more interactive than a movie, but not really a game either. They can be focused on new kinds of sensory experiences or simply explorations of impossible or very unlikely environments.
Notes on blindness
Created by French/German media company ARTE, Notes on Blindness is a free app that uses VR in an innovative way to help you experience what it means to live as a blind person, based on the audio diaries of writer and theologian John Hull, who gradually became blind in 1983. While it may sound scary to some, the combination audio-visual journey manages to be both educational and emotionally touching.
Platforms: Gear VR, Oculus Go
The Body VR
If virtually traveling around the world and the depths of the ocean is too mundane for you, how about a fantastic voyage into the human body itself? In the Body VR you can surf the bloodstream to different parts of the body and see what makes all the cells and organs tick and how everything works together. Watch out though...there are also nasty viruses lurking in wait.
Platforms: Gear VR, Oculus Go, HTC Vive
Have you tried any great VR apps? Recommend your favorites in the comments!