Today YouTube announced that the video streaming service will now support 360 degree video that can be viewed in the browser or through the Android YouTube app. There’s no VR support yet, but I’ve got a feeling that we can count on it coming soon.

It feels like it’s been a long while coming, but that’s probably just because we’ve been watching this space so closely as the world of VR video evolves. Of course it isn’t exactly trivial to add a huge new feature like 360 video compatibility to the world’s largest video sharing platform, one that sees more than 300 hours of video uploaded per minute.

Today’s initial rollout brings support for 2D 360 degree video to Chrome and the Android YouTube app, though it doesn’t appear that there’s any VR mode just yet (which would mean a side-by-side view for each eye, headtracking for view control, and, ideally, stereoscopic support). Below you can see can see an example of a YouTube 360 video, which should be functional right here if you’re using a recent build of chrome:

On the Android app, accelerometer-based view control is already supported, it’s just missing the split-eye view for Cardboard and other VR smartphone adapters. In Chrome on the desktop, the 360 degree view is controlled via the mouse.

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google cardboard android virtual reality

There’s good reasons to believe that we’ll soon see virtual reality support from YouTube. VR is very much on Google’s radar. The official Cardboard app actually already has a virtual reality YouTube environment, but for now it’s only steaming flat videos. Furthermore, Google has experimental builds of their Chrome browser which already support the basics of VR on the web (even on mobile!). And to top it off, the company has been hiring specifically for virtual reality positions since at least December.

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While there’s no mention of VR from the company’s YouTube 360 announcement today, what I see is a foundation being laid for support that’s soon to come.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."

    This is awesome, but it also brings to mind some concerns. Youtube is known for having a diverse array of quality in its content. When your average Joe posts a terrible video, you think “Well, that’s 30 seconds of my life I can’t get back” but if your average Joe posts a 360 video full of jump cuts and fast panning, you’ll think “Okay, now I need to find the nearest bathroom and vomit.” I wonder if Youtube is the best place to consume 360 video in these early days, or if it will do more harm than good for VR adoption.

    • David Mulder

      Youtube is just the distribution platform, if somebody has the skill to make a 360 VR video and makes it crappy then it simply won’t be shared and if it’s made by somebody you know then it’s probably worth watching even if it makes you a bit sick, so honestly, I don’t see the issue.

  • Don Gateley

    I just hope their Android YouTube app provides for better control. Many devices for which the cardboard could be used don’t respond to the magnet. Integration with a Bluetooth game controller would probably be too much to ask. All the apps for the Cardboard should integrate them.

  • Stray Toaster

    The pace of cuts is too high for a video where the viewer has to orient him or herself in every shot.

    Still, this is a good development for the advancement of VR into the mainstream consciousness. It is early days yet, so the bandwidth and technology is not available to offer an ideal experience.

    I hope these YouTube videos can inspire hardware manufacturers to bring to market optical media that lets the viewer view high definition 3D VR video with the option of changing POV at will. For example, in a concert VR video, pressing a button on the remote to transition from the audience to the stage.

  • pato

    You actually can use Go Show to view this content. Just add it to your “watch Later” play list.

    • pato

      Oh and it responds to the magnet click

  • monkeyTrainer

    I don’t see how VR video will ever work effectively (although it would be fantastic!). The content will surely have a fixed viewing position? When we view the world we don’t swivel our heads around a fixed point, our heads tip forward and back and move from side to side. Although I concede that this movement is relatively small it is this sort of mis-match that causes motion sickness. I would love to be proven wrong though!