Finally, one of the two major video streaming services available in VR will let you watch with your friends. Hulu has broken ground on social video viewing in VR with an update to their Gear VR app which lets up to three people watch regular and 360 videos together.
Although it was promised way back back that Netflix would see social/multiplayer viewing in VR, it’s Hulu who is taken the first step. With the latest version of the Hulu app on Gear VR, users can watch content together online.
The app is now fully integrated with Oculus Rooms, Gear VR’s hub for social VR activities. You can bring friends into the Hulu VR app by bringing a party together in Oculus Rooms first, then launching the app from the launcher table. This will transport up to three players into the app, sitting them on a virtual couch in front of a giant screen. Users can switch between several surrounding virtual environments.
Through the Hulu VR app, the company makes available both their standard streaming content (for subscribers) and a collection of 360 degree content (which is free to watch even without a subscription).
The app respects each player’s avatar as built in Oculus Rooms, and also supports voice chat through the same mechanism.
The Hulu VR app itself isn’t the best looking Gear VR app we’ve seen, exhibiting quite a bit of aliasing in the surrounding environment. Fortunately, the app’s core function (video playback) seems to work well and at high quality.
At the moment the app seems to be available only in limited territories. I was able to find and install it fine in the US, but colleagues in Canada and Italy both were barred from even finding the app on the Gear VR store.
On the Rift front, the Hulu app has recently received an update that adds rudimentary Touch support (just the ability to browse menus). Unfortunately the Rift version of Hulu lacks the social/multiplayer of the Gear VR version, which is a little odd given that the Rift is powered by significantly more capable hardware. Our guess, however, is that Oculus Rooms (not yet available on the Rift) is the holdup, as it provides important social functions that makes Hulu social viewing possible on the platform.
We hope that Hulu’s move into the social viewing space will compel other streaming services in VR to up their game and offer the same feature, as it feels like a critical and overdue capability.