whirligig controls

You probably got that Oculus Go, Oculus Rift, or HTC Vive to play games, but VR can also offer a seriously immersive video-watching experience. Here’s how to watch a movie on any VR headset, whether it’s a regular 2D movie, a 3D movie, or a full 360-degree VR production.

We’ve got instructions on how to watch VR videos on Oculus Go, Rift, Vive, Daydream, or Gear VR — keep scrolling until you get to the section that applies to you.

Why Would I Want to Do This?

Why watch a video when VR was made for so much more? Well…it’s really cool! Imagine watching a 3D movie, on a 100 inch curved TV that completely fills your field of vision. It’s like having Barney Stinson’s TV strapped to your head.

There are downsides, though. VR is still in its infancy, and your headset’s resolution isn’t really good enough to offer the highest quality video. As in games, you can definitely see the pixels, and your movie will have that “screen door effect” on it. In addition, I found my eyes started to hurt after an hour or so, and the straps started to hurt my head after an hour and a half. Your mileage may vary, of course, but it’s probably not ideal for watching full movies. It is great, however, for watching your favorite scenes in a way you’ve never seen them before, or watching shorter videos meant to be seen in 3D or VR.

If that gets you pumped to watch the Tron Legacy lightcycle battle in huge, in-your-face 3D, here’s how to make it happen.

The Four Kinds of Videos You Can Watch on Your VR Headset

There are four kinds of video you can watch in VR, each of which you can obtain from different sources:

  • Regular 2D video: These are the normal videos you find on YouTube, or rip from DVDs and Blu-ray discs.
  • 3D video: You’ve seen 3D movies at the theater, and you can buy those 3D movies on Blu-ray, too. To watch them in VR, you can rip that 3D Blu-ray to a “side by side” or “over under” format, which is playable on a VR headset in 3D. (You’ll usually have the choice between Full SBS, which contains each eye in full resolution, or Half SBS, which contains each eye in subsampled half resolution. Full SBS videos are noticeably higher quality, but take up more hard drive space and more graphics power to play.)
  • 180 or 360 degree video: These types of video are fairly new, but you can check out lots of them on YouTube or download them from other sources. On your 2D monitor, you can use the mouse to drag the video around to see different views, but played on an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, you can actually look around using your headset’s head tracking. It’s very cool.
  • Full VR video: This format combines 3D and 180 or 360 degree footage for a completely immersive, 3D, head-tracking experience. You can watch a few for free on YouTube, and buy some video demos from companies like VideoBlocks. Though if we’re being honest, most of the VR videos out there right now are, well, porn.

There aren’t nearly as many 360 and VR videos out there as 2D and 3D movies, but as VR continues to grow, so will the selection.

How Do You Get Movies or Videos Onto the Oculus Go Headset?

If you wanted to watch a movie on the Rift or Vive headsets, you just put the movie on your PC and play using the instructions further down in this article. But if you’re using an Oculus Go headset, everything is self-contained and it doesn’t plug into your PC at all. So how do you get the movies onto the headset? Here are your options:

Important Note: If you are streaming directly off a website, make sure to click once the movie starts playing and click the HQ icon and change it to HD or the highest resolution possible. Most sites default to a really blurry resolution but they have HD if you manually choose it.

How to Watch Videos on the Oculus Go, Daydream View, or Gear VR

When it comes to watching VR videos, you can always view streaming content in the browser, watch local videos, or anything you’ve paid for in the app store. But when it comes to watching downloaded content, you’re going to need to look at other options, like Skybox VR, our favorite choice.

Note: Got a Plex server? You can just install the Plex client from the store from the respective link (Gear VR, Daydream, or Oculus Go) and connect to your server. That’s pretty much all there is to it. If you don’t want to mix your VR videos into your Plex server, or you just want to play content that you’ve downloaded directly onto the headset itself, your best bet is to use Skybox VR Player instead.

For all intents and purposes, Skybox is a content library–a digital VR theater, if you will. It catalogs local video on your device, allowing you to watch pretty much anything you want in VR on your Daydream View or Gear VR—simply install the app and let it do its thing. But here’s the best part: it doesn’t just work with videos stored locally on your phone—you can also use the AirScreen plugin to stream videos from your PC as long as it’s on the same Wi-Fi network as your phone.

First, install the Skybox client on your VR headset by grabbing it from the store on your Oculus Go, Daydream, or Gear VR. If you’ve already got the videos locally on your headset, that’s all you need to do.

If you have the videos on your PC, head over to Skybox’s download section and grab the client for your computer (PC or Mac). Note: The Windows client is 64-bit only. Once downloaded, go ahead and give it a quick install.

Using Skybox is very easy: just click the “Open” button to add files or folders to its library. You can also drag and drop then into the player window.

These are the only types of videos I had available. Don’t judge me.

It will take just a bit to populate (especially if you choose a folder with quite a few videos), but once it’s finished everything should show up in Skybox.

To connect to your PC, click on the AirScreen button on the left side, then choose “Search Device.” It shouldn’t take long to find your PC.

When your PC is discovered, it’ll show up as a button. Click that to connect. Boom—all the videos you added to the Skybox library on your PC are ready to view.

Fixing When Skybox Doesn’t Display Your Movie Correctly

It’s worth noting that if your movie isn’t displaying correctly, you should bring up the menu by clicking and use the cube icon to adjust the playback options. You can choose between side by side and 180 or 360 formats. If you aren’t sure, just keep changing the options until the picture looks right.

Otherwise, you can use the settings button to change the aspect ratio and whatnot.

How to Watch Videos on the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive

Skybox VR Player

Update: Since the first time we wrote this article, the Skybox VR player has really improved and is well worth testing out first, mostly because it’s completely free, and offers not just local playback, but also the ability to stream across the network from another PC. You can download it in the Oculus Rift Store, or for Vive users, get it on Steam.  It’s a great app with a lot of options for tweaking the playback.

Like we noticed for the Oculus Go earlier, if your movie isn’t displaying correctly, you should bring up the menu by clicking and use the cube icon to adjust the playback options, and choose between 180 or 360 and side by side vs regular. And if you aren’t sure, just keep changing the options until the picture looks right. You also might need to install the K-Lite codec pack to get things working if the movie won’t play at all—just be careful of crapware in the installer.

If Skybox doesn’t work for you, keep reading for our previous pick:

How to Watch Videos on the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive Using Whirligig

There are a few different apps for watching videos in VR, but after testing a few, we settled on Whirligig. You can download an old free version on their web site, or get the $4 version on Steam, which gets occasional updates, improvements, and new features. I definitely recommend buying the $4 version, but you can try out the free version to see if it’s your cup of tea first. (Note that the free version may stutter when playing large files.)

RELATED: How to Play SteamVR Games (and Other Non-Oculus Apps) on the Oculus Rift

If you have an Oculus Rift, you’ll first need to enable Unknown Sources to allow SteamVR to use your Oculus Rift headset. By default, the Rift only allows apps from the Oculus Store, which means SteamVR and Steam games won’r work.

If you buy the $4 version of Whirligig on Steam, I also recommend opting into the beta. Whirligig is still under development, and if you want the best playback possible, you’ll need the beta version with all the latest improvements. I found that large, full SBS videos stuttered in older, non-beta versions of Whirligig on my PC, but played just fine in the latest beta.

So, after buying Whirligig, open Steam, head to the Library tab, and click “Games” in the upper right-corner of the sidebar. Click “Software” to find Whirligig in your Library.

Then, right-click on Whirligig in Steam’s sidebar, and go to Properties. Click the “Betas” tab, and opt into the latest beta in the dropdown menu. Whirligig will update to the latest possible version.

Lastly, depending on the videos you plan to watch, you may need to download and install the K-Lite Codec Pack. I recommend installing the Basic version. Be sure to click the “Expert” radio button and pay close attention–K-Lite does come bundled with crapware, you just need to decline to install it during the wizard.

Once that’s done, launch Whirligig in your VR environment of choice, and you’ll be presented with Whirligig’s heads-up overlay. You can control Whirligig’s menus with the HTC Vive’s touchpad, an Xbox 360 or One controller, or a mouse and keyboard. I highly recommend using a mouse and keyboard, as it’s much easier than any of the gamepads.

To watch a video, click the Browse button in the top left-hand corner of the menu. You’ll be able to browse your hard drive to choose a video file. (Whirligig also claims to support YouTube links in its Settings, but I couldn’t get that to work at the time of this writing.)

whirligig controls

As the video starts to play, you’ll probably want to adjust some settings using Whirligig’s heads-up controls. Here’s what we recommend for each type of video:

  • Regular 2D video: Set Projector to Cinema or Cinema Curved.
  • 3D video: 3D video comes in a few different forms, so check the video you downloaded–or the settings you used when you ripped it–to see whether it’s Half Side-By-Side, Full Side-By-Side, Half Over-Under, or Full Over-Under. Set the Projector to either Cinema or Cinema Curved, then select SBS or OU instead of Mono. If the video is Half SBS, set Stretch to “100” so it displays in the proper aspect ratio.
  • 180 or 360 degree video: The video will usually tell you whether it’s 180 degrees or 360 degrees on the site you download it from. If it’s 180 degrees, set Projector to “Fisheye” and set FOV to 180. If it’s 360, set Projector to “Barrel” and FOV to 360. You may also have to tweak “Tilt” for 180 videos or “Rotation” for 360 videos so that the video is facing the right direction.
  • Full VR video: Combine the correct settings from “3D video” and “180 or 360 degree video” sections of this list.

You can also adjust the Scale and Distance settings to fit your tastes, or click the Settings cog in the lower right-hand corner for even more options. Whirligig also has some other cool features like saving different presets, but these basics should get you up and running pretty quickly. For now, sit back and enjoy the movie!

Whirligig isn’t the only way to watch videos on your VR headset, but it was the best cost-to-performance ratio in our tests. If you’re willing to pay a little more, Virtual Desktop ($15) is also pretty good, and can do a lot more than play videos–it is, as the name implies, a full version of your PC’s desktop in virtual reality. Just play a video in your favorite desktop player (like VLC), set it to full-screen, and go. If you have problems with Whirligig, Virtual Desktop is almost sure to impress.

Profile Photo for Whitson Gordon Whitson Gordon
Whitson Gordon is How-To Geek's former Editor-in-Chief and was Lifehacker's Editor-in-Chief before that. He has written for The New York Times, Popular Science, Wired, iFixit, The Daily Beast, PCMag, Macworld, IGN, Medium's OneZero, The Inventory, and Engadget.
Read Full Bio »