10 Top Virtual Reality AppsPhoto: Oculus Rift
1. Google Cardboard
The Google Cardboard app turns any smartphone into a VR viewer. In order to use the app, you'll also need a physical viewer. Inexpensive viewers are available through the Cardboard site, or you can, quite literally, build your own using the instructions Google provides. All you need is a few things you can find at any hardware or craft store: cardboard, lenses, magnets, Velcro and a rubber band.
The Cardboard app is free for both Android and iOS, and the Google Play store lists quite a few apps specifically designed to work with Cardboard.
If you love a good documentary or artistic film, Within is for you. It offers a collection of VR movies that tell "extraordinary stories," and many of the films have won awards at various film festivals. Currently featured titles include "Mr. Robot," "Walking New York," "Clouds Over Sidra," "Invasion!," "The Click Effect," "A History of Cuban Dance," "My Mother's Wing," and others. The Within team is collaborating on content creation with several other organizations, including The New York Times, NBC, Vice, the United Nations, Apple and U2.
The app is available for free for both Android and iOS. Note that it used to be called Vrse.
Another option for viewing VR content, Jaunt offers a collection of mass-market-friendly VR videos. It has a large collection of travel-related content, which translates particularly well to the VR format, as well as sports, music, popular movies and content created by Paul McCartney. Some of the titles available include "Shaq Goes to Cuba," "Visiting Dirk Nowitzki," "Zoolander No. 2," "The Lion King 360," "Escape the Living Dead," "Jack White: Freedom at 21," and "Pure McCartney: Early Days."
The Jaunt viewer is available for Android, iOS, Gear VR, VIVE and Oculus with PlayStation VR support coming soon.
The New York Times has been at the forefront of the VR trend with its nytvr app. Available for both Android and iOS, it offers content put together by award-winning journalists. Currently featured content includes stories on the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, summiting the spire on 1 World Trade Center and the recent missions to Pluto. They post new content about once a month.
The app is free through the App Store or Google Play, and it works with Google Cardboard.
5. Google Expeditions
Google created its Expeditions app to highlight the possibilities of the virtual reality format. Designed for teachers to use with their students in a classroom setting, it transports viewers to a variety of exotic locations like coral reefs, the surface of Mars, a TV studio, Machu Picchu, Antarctica, the International Space Station and more. Educational content accompanies the immersive video.
Currently Expeditions is available only for Android, but Google has said that it plans to make an iOS version as well. The app is free and currently has 4.4 stars from reviewers.
You might not realize it, but YouTube has a growing collection of virtual reality content available through its 360° Videos channel. Best of all, you can access the content through the regular YouTube app, which you likely already have on your smartphone or tablet. If not, you can download it for free from Google Play or the App Store. On the channel, you can find content from MTV, Conan and The New York Times, as well as plenty of videos related to sports, music, travel, horror and much more.
7. A Chair in a Room
In an immersive environment, ghost stories become much, much scarier than when they are on a regular video screen. A Chair in a Room is a highly rated six-chapter horror story that puts the viewer in the action. If you want a VR experience that makes you jump and (possibly) scream, this one's for you. It even includes a warning not to use it if you have a heart condition.
For now, A Chair in a Room is only available for Android devices, and it was built for use with the Cardboard viewer.
8. End Space
Several reviewers have pointed to End Space as one of the best VR games currently available. It's a first-person, arcade-style shooter set in space. You can use it with trigger buttons if they are available with your VR controller, or you can shoot virtual lasers at the enemy just by looking at them. Movement is controlled with your head, and the game offers immersive sound for realistic action.
Unlike most of the apps on the list, this one isn't free. It's $1.09 on Google Play and $0.99 on the App Store.
9. Lamper Cardboard: First Flight
Another popular VR game, Lamper Cardboard: First Flight is a highly addictive endless runner. Players assume the role of a small firefly making its way through a cartoon-like 3D world that is full of tunnels.
As you might guess from the title, this game is intended for use with a Google Cardboard viewer. It's free on Google Play, but isn't available for iOS. Currently, it has 3.8 stars from reviewers.
There's also a follow-up game called Lamper VR: Firefly Rescue, which features the same character, similar gameplay and better graphics.
10. NBC Sports
Given that we are in the middle of the 2016 Summer Olympics, this list would be incomplete if we did not mention that you can watch coverage of the games in VR—if you have a Samsung Gear. You'll also need either the free or paid version of the NBC Sports app for Android.
NBC has a step-by-step guide to getting the VR to work. The coverage is delayed, but it includes highlights of some of the most popular events at the games, such as the opening ceremony, beach volleyball, boxing, gymnastics, track and field, fencing, basketball and diving.
Clearly, virtual realty apps are on the rise -- virtual reality (VR) is finally becoming a reality. According to Deloitte, the VR industry is likely to have its first billion-dollar year in 2016. The bulk of that revenue—$700 million—is likely to come from sales of hardware like Facebook's Oculus Rift, HTC Vive and Samsung Gear VR.
However, it's worth noting that you don't need expensive hardware in order to enjoy VR content. If you're the DIY-type, you can use the Google Cardboard VR app and about $5-$10 worth of supplies from a local hardware store to turn any iOS or Android smartphone into a VR viewer. Or you can spend as little as $15 to buy a pre-made Google Cardboard device.
For now, Deloitte believes that most of the VR content sold will be games, although movies, entertainment and work-related VR apps will become more important in years to come.
On this list, we're highlighting 10 of the best VR apps that you can get and use today. It includes entertainment, news, games and education apps that are worth checking out whether you have a VR device or just a smartphone.