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Thursday, May 23, 2024

How to Watch Movies in Virtual Reality

With bots and console resellers snatching away many people’s chance to directly purchase a PlayStation 5 or a new OLED Switch, virtual reality headsets were a popular gift during the holiday season. The Meta (Oculus) Quest 2 in particular experienced a surge in corresponding app downloads heading into the new year.

Whether you’re finished slashing through Beat Saber’s Lady Gaga music pack or need a break from the Horizon Workroom, VR headset owners can take the time to kick back and stream a movie. (That Supernatural workout can roll over to tomorrow, you’ve earned this.)

Outside of a few experiences, watching a movie with a VR headset does not mean you are immersed in the action. When streaming in VR, your avatar is often placed in a virtual room or cinema with a 2D viewing screen.

Streaming services like Netflix and Prime Video have native apps for the Quest that are easy to download. Video-on-demand rentals through YouTube or Bigscreen require a couple more steps, but the process is straightforward. Other movies can be accessed on VR browsers or downloaded to the headset.

Although setting up a Remote Desktop Client through Bigscreen takes a few minutes, the process is worth it for those who have video files saved to their computer and mainly use a headset at home. Our guide to VR movie watching is primarily focused on the Quest 2, but some suggestions are applicable to the HTC Vive and Valve Index.

How to Stream Netflix Movies and More

From Don’t Look Up to Twilight, you just need to download the Netflix app to watch the streaming service’s movies in VR. After the app downloads, active members can sign in and new members can sign up for Netflix. (Personally, I recommend watching the Fear Street trilogy of movies for a bit of spooky, bloody fun.)

Amazon Prime members can stream movies in VR through the Prime Video app. All you need to do is download the app and log into your profile to start watching movies like Alien, The Big Sick, and Jennifer's Body.

Any Showtime subscribers out there? The service is fairly niche, but the Showtime app lets you experience Moonlight and other award-winning movies with a VR headset.

How to Rent Movies

If you want to rent recent movies to watch in VR, the YouTube app offers a sizable catalog of films at various price points. Free Guy is available to rent for $6, while Dune costs a whopping $25. Additional YouTube rental highlights include: Barb and Star Go To Vista Del Mar ($6), No Time to Die ($6), and Spencer ($5). After renting a movie from YouTube, you are given one month to begin streaming and 48 hours to finish the film.

Another essential app for watching movies on your VR headset is Bigscreen. It’s basically a virtual movie theater where you enter different environments and stream movies alone or with other people. The selection of rentals is not as extensive as on YouTube, but popular movies like Arrival ($4), Top Gun ($5), and Titanic ($5) are available. Unlike in the physical world, if you're streaming a rental with friends in VR, you all have to pay the fee.

Do the VR Browser Workaround

What about all the streaming services without a native app? HBO Max, Hulu, and Paramount Plus may not have VR apps, but headset owners can open the websites in a browser as a basic workaround. The Firefox Reality app is on Oculus and works more consistently for videos than other VR browsers.

Open Firefox in VR and visit the website for the streaming service you’re interested in viewing. Use your member information to log in and start watching movies. This method is a little clunky and less reliable than streaming from a dedicated app. If any issues arise, you can troubleshoot by toggling between mobile mode and desktop mode in Firefox.

Watch Movies From Your Computer

The Bigscreen app can be used for a lot more than just movie rentals. Any movies available on your PC can be streamed in VR. It’s possible to load movies onto your Quest 2 for offline viewing by plugging the headset with the charging cable into a PC. Put on the headset and allow data access for the connected device.

Once this is completed, the Quest 2 should appear as a device within the This PC tab. Load any entertainment you would like to watch in the Movies folder of the Quest 2. Restart Bigscreen on your headset, and in the Watch section choose Videoplayer and then Local Video Files to access the downloads.

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Staying home for the evening? It’s not necessary to download all those movies onto your headset to watch them in VR. With a PC, visit the Bigscreen website and click Download and Remote Desktop. After it downloads, log in to the same Bigscreen account on your PC and VR headset.

Now that you are remotely connected to a desktop through Bigscreen, any saved files are easy to boot up and stream. The feature will not work if you have an active VPN or if the devices are connected to different Wi-Fi networks. For more information about streaming movies with other people, watch this step-by-step video from Bigscreen.

Know When to Take a Break

The straps on a VR headset may not feel comfortable enough to wear during lengthy movies. Trying to watch Netflix’s The Irishman with the Quest 2 in one sitting would likely be an unpleasant experience.

That said, streaming movies in VR is great for users who want to watch entertainment alone or connect with friends who have headsets. (Don’t worry if the people you want to watch movies with don’t have a headset. There are plenty of other options to host a virtual movie night.)

While it’s fun from time to time, I cannot see myself relying solely on VR for movies anytime in the near future. The communal aspect of sitting next to family and friends on the couch when possible still has a pretty strong appeal. Plus, the popcorn is real.

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