​YouTube brings virtual reality to Android app

You can now watch virtual reality videos on YouTube.

The company announced Thursday that its Android app now supports VR video. When viewed through Google Cardboard -- a cheap viewer than holds your smartphone in front of your eyes as an alternative to a pricey VR headset -- virtual reality content becomes an immersive interactive experience, letting you look up, down and around the scene you're watching.

Of course, there's not a lot of virtual reality content to watch, at least not yet. Google posted a playlist of about a dozen VR videos currently available. But the move paves the way for a VR-friendly future.

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YouTube also has made 360-degree video viewable in 3D through Cardboard. The site added support for 360 video in March, which also lets the viewer look around "within" the scene. It makes those videos seem more VR-y, but the videos shot specifically for VR offer a more realistic sense of depth, where foreground objects look closer and background objects seem farther away.

Finally, Google's announcement included the revelation that you can now use Google Cardboard to watch all existing YouTube content, creating "a kind of virtual movie theater." The feature -- which can be accessed by selecting Cardboard from the menu of viewing options -- mirrors recently announced offerings from Netflix and Hulu to give users options for browsing and watching shows and movies in a virtual environment.

"The implications are real," wrote CNET's Richard Nieva after testing out the technology at YouTube's San Bruno, Calif. headquarters. "By making its entire video library workable with Cardboard, YouTube is creating the biggest collection of VR-ready videos in the world. That might not mean much now, but it could get YouTube's massive audience familiar with the idea of VR. That's especially crucial as the biggest tech giants in the world, including Facebook and Samsung, try to bring VR into the mainstream."

At the demonstration, Kurt Wilms, senior product manager for YouTube VR, said, "YouTube is about democratizing. It's about bringing this kind of video to everyone."