Today in several Marriott hotels, guests can order a Samsung Gear VR head-mounted display to be delivered to their room, in what is charmingly called VRoom Service. The headsets come pre-loaded with a number of virtual experiences set around the world, from Chile to Beijing, and are on loan to guests for up to 24 hours. These “virtual postcards” are a marketing play to increase Marriott brand awareness and attract tech-savvy millennials to the chain, and are expected to roll out to more locations soon.
YouVisit and Littlstar Virtual Vacations
Taking Marriott’s idea of virtual travel to its logical extreme is YouVisit. Using proprietary cameras and video streaming techniques, YouVisit has amassed an impressive library of HD virtual travel experiences. Using a Google Cardboard mobile-based headset, the viewer is taken on a virtual tour of locations from Alaska to a Carnival cruise ship.
Although they are technically 360° videos, not true virtual experience where the user can move around at will, YouVisit still provides an excellent and economical way to travel the world without leaving home. The videos are a great way to choose one’s next big vacation destination, or just kill some time while waiting to board a plane.
YouVisit isn’t the only 360° travel video repository. Littlstar, YouVisit’s main competitor, bills itself as a VR cinema network and maintains large variety of 360° still photos and videos. Going beyond self-produced content, the library includes pieces from name brands like Discovery and National Geographic. Although Littlstar does not have YouVisit’s strict focus on travel, they have enough videos in the travel genre that both companies should be inspired to keep improving and refining their offering.
Virtual Museum Tours
Museums have been placing their art online for years. Art deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible, but many people will never get the chance to travel to the Louvre, the Met, or other famous locales around the world.
However, still pictures can only go so far. So much of the museum experience is rooted in walking the halls, standing before a piece in contemplation, and discussing it with friends, family, or fellow art enthusiasts. Skilled curators are a key component of art appreciation, but text or even recorded audio simply don’t have the same impact.
Startup firm Woofbert hopes to use virtual reality to change that. Compatible with Oculus Rift and Samsung Gear VR head-mounted displays, their app WbVR creates virtual art galleries. Users are free to wander the halls and view pieces from any angle. Meanwhile, educational content such as narration from cultural icons like Neil Gaiman are unobtrusively surfaced. The effect is much like renting an audio tour from a brick-and-mortar museum. Wandering the halls as one pleases, listening to the soothing sounds of the gallery and an expert narrator, is extremely immersive.