Being far away from the people you love the most is the pits, and it’s often times the little things you miss that really wear on your special friendships. This year is different though, as social VR apps are beginning to bridge the gap between us with their immersive virtual environments.

Watching TV, playing games, or having a drink together becomes a chore when you’re long distance from your loved one—ultimately leading to hours of phones pressed squarely to your head while you try to synchronize Netflix in an effort to casually enjoy each other’s company. Not ideal in the slightest.

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Shared viewing in ‘Oculus Social’

But social VR apps—both mobile and tethered—present you with a new way to connect, one that’s surprisingly convincing. It’s uncanny how the slightest nod or shake of the head locks you into the experience using something as simple as the Gear VR, a ‘head-tracking only’ mobile headset. Provided you have the requisite Samsung flagship phone, you and your far-flung lover can run down right this second to the nearest Best Buy and grab the Gear VR for $99.

Watch and Play with AltspaceVR

AltspaceVR offers a number of beautifully polished spaces including movie theaters, desert islands, and more than a few firesides to warm the cockles of your virtual heart. Not only does it have ample spaces and an intuitive UI that let you browse the web or watch streaming video both privately or publicly, but it’s at the top of our list based on cross-compatibility.

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Owners of Gear VR, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive can have a chat, watch videos, play officially licensed D&D, and much more all in the same place. You can also use AltspaceVR on a desktop, making it an indispensable app for long-distance couples who may or may not have headsets.

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See the World with vTime

Created for face-to-face conversations, vTime gives you the much needed ability to create private rooms, customize avatars, and view 360 photos in a shared space.

The scenery is nothing short of masterful in vTime’s outdoor spaces, featuring randomly queued events like waddling storks and scuttling crabs that give you pause while you sip champagne on the deck chairs at ‘Paradise Island’, and many other expansive environments.

Currently there is no way to watch shared video, but in an interview with the devs we’ve been told that the feature will come soon along with a host of improvements, including support for Google Cardboard.

Go Exploring in VR Chat

It seems like every week that passes a new intricately-built room springs up on VR Chat, a VR platform that not only lets developers freely build environments and avatars, but also hosts weekly live events like Gunter’s Univere, a talk show featuring devs and other industry pros. Now with a drastically simplified UI, the app has really come into its own—serving even the most casual user with an Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, or traditional monitor.

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The set of Gunter’s Universe

Although VR Chat isn’t on mobile VR headsets, the opportunity to explore hundreds of extremely cohesive rooms may actually ply you to login on a traditional monitors so you can at least take advantage of streaming video in rooms like the ‘Otaku Anime Room’, a recreation of a Japanese-style apartment where you can watch streaming anime to your heart’s content.

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VR Chat has so many rooms in fact that exploring them (by jumping through portals, of course) and seeing creations from throughout the world could be more than an evening’s worth of fun. Private instances of rooms are also available for more intimate chats.

Hob Nob with VR Noobs in Oculus Social

If you’re looking for a private place to connect, Oculus Social for Gear VR may not exactly be what you’re looking for. But if you don’t mind a few other VR enthusiasts popping in as you watch Twitch or Vimeo streams together in a casual atmosphere, you’re sure to enjoy the ease of use provided by the app, which is as close to ‘plug-and-play’ as it gets.

Most people on Social at any given time are new to VR. Because it doesn’t offer private rooms or friend’s lists yet, user retention is still pretty low, but that can’t stop you from connecting for a magical evening.

When you pop in you’re liable to run into a person trying VR for the first time, and asking them what they think is always an easy way to break the ice with strangers. More than once I’ve had a room full of people laughing like old friends, telling stories about the latest VR drama and having a good time. While it may be a somewhat impersonal space, it’s by far the easiest to use for newcomers to virtual reality, and might be a good way to ease your loved one into your new long-distance alternative to Skype.

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  • Siddharth Saxena

    Cardboard support for vTime already exists.