Get the 3D Experience at Home: How to Watch Movies in VR

how to watch movies in VR

Don’t you wish you could visit Hogwarts every time you watch a Harry Potter movie? Even if you are not a fan, that magical castle just calls out to you. You can always head over to the highlands of Scotland, Oxford, London, or the multiple other spots around England where the films were shot.

But while you plan that tour, you can get a virtual experience of it at home. How? Get a VR headset and read on to discover how to watch movies in VR.

What can you watch on VR?

There are three types of videos you can watch on a VR headset:

  • 2D – Yes, you can watch 2D movies on VR headset. These are ordinary videos and movies you can find on YouTube, Netflix, or DVDs (if you still use those). They look like you are watching something on a screen.
  • 3D – These videos or movies are the reason you bought a VR. For those who don’t know, 3D videos give you the illusion of actually seeing an object rather than just a moving picture on a screen. Do you know what it’s like to watch a 3D movie in a theatre? Well, with a VR headset, it’s like you have your private theatre.
  • 180/360 degree – This is another step forward. 180/360 degree videos give you the impression of being inside the movie. You can see beyond your frame of sight. You can drag and view above, below and to the right and left. Using a VR, you can just move your head and you will be able to see around you. Mainstream cinema has not yet adopted this format, but they’re probably not very far from it.
watching movies with a VR headset

What do you need?

You need four simple things:

  • Get a VR headset
  • A smartphone or laptop to connect it to
  • An app to play the movie, and
  • A good pair of headphones (optional, good surround sound speakers also work well)

It is that simple, but only for smartphones. Your laptop or PC has to be VR compatible (meet very specific system requirements – processor, RAM, graphics card, etc.) for you to use them.

Apps you can use to watch movies on VR headset:

  • Netflix VR
  • Hulu VR
  • BigScreen Beta
  • Skybox VR Player
  • Prime Video VR
  • Virtual desktop

What do you have to do?

Since virtual reality systems are not as universal as Android or iOS apps, the setup process differs for each headset. Also, how you navigate to the movie depends on which app you are using. However, here is a general guideline:

  1. Connect your headset to the PC or laptop, or attach your phone to it.
  2. Make sure your laptop or phone is connected to the internet.
  3. Go to your preferred app. For streaming apps, you can use them the same way you use it on your device. For offline media players, open the app and select the movie from your storage/ library.
  4. Pick the theatre you want to use. You can have a particular background, like, living room or movie theatre.You can also pick void. Here, you will only be able to view the screen and the background will be dark. If you pick this option:
    • Put on your headset and assume a comfortable position – it can be straight ahead or above if you are lying down.
    • Tap the center of the touchpad and the screen will appear at your eye level.
  5. Adjust your screen size and start the movie.

Recommended headsets for movies

These are not the best in the market but they are most suited for videos and movies:

  • Oculus Rift
  • Samsung Gear VR
  • HTC Vive

Oculus Rift

To use the Oculus Rift, you need to set it up on your PC. After the setup is complete, the Oculus app will be downloaded on your computer. To download content, you can use one of the following:

Option 1: Go to the Oculus app on your computer and download movies/videos on your computer. To access these, you will need to connect your headset to the PC.

Option 2: Put the headset on and go to the Store app. You can directly download files onto your headset from there.

Here is how to watch 360 videos on Oculus Rift using the Virtual Desktop app:

  1. First, install the Virtual Desktop app on your headset. It’s not free, so make sure you are willing to make the investment.
  2. Use your browser and find a 360-degree video from YouTube. (It is doubtful you will find a 360-degree movie).
  3. Copy the video URL.
  4. Open the Oculus app.
  5. Click on Virtual Desktop.
  6. Open the Videos tab and paste the URL.
  7. The video will have downloaded on its own. When the download is complete, hit play.

Samsung Gear VR

This one uses a phone-based system, so you cannot go about it with a laptop or PC. There are two versions and they are not compatible with all Samsung phones, so make sure you verify this before buying. (The older model is compatible with Galaxy S6 and S7 phones.)

Remember that you need to set up an Oculus account as part of the setup as well. Once you have set it up, here is how to watch movies on Gear VR:

  1. Open the built-in Video app and you see a selection of options. Facebook 360 videos, Twitch, Vimeo, etc. with your library at the very bottom.
  2. Select whichever platform you want to use.
  3. Select your video or movie.
  4. Pick your preferred theatre.

For movies or videos stored in your PC:

  • Once you have set up your headset, you will find a folder in your drive labeled ‘oculus’, inside which you will find ‘movies’.
  • Inside ‘movies’, create a separate directory for 2D movies and label it ‘normal’. Then create a separate directory for 3D movies/videos and label it ‘3D’ and another directory for 360-degree videos and label it ‘360videos’.
  • When you download videos, make sure they are categorized into the correct folders before you transfer them to your phone. This way, when you open them on your headset, the new Gear software will change its setting based on which category of video you pick.

HTC Vive

The best app to use for this headset is the Vive video app that you can freely download using Steam. Here is how to watch VR videos on Vive:

  1. Click on the Vive video app.
  2. There is a file picker that you show you the folders on your PC. Pick the file you want to play.
  3. Click on the file.
  4. When the video starts, you will notice the player has a small eye icon at the bottom right. Select it. This option lets you ‘select viewing mode’.
  5. Select the options you want for your screen – depending on what video you are playing.
    • For 2D videos, you do not need to change any settings.
    • For 3D videos, you can choose either “over or under” (top and bottom) or “side by side” (right and left) from the Stereo option.
    • For 180/360 degree videos, you have to choose 180 or 360. If the video is 3D as well, you have to make one of the Stereo choices from above. If it is not 3D, you can pick Mono. This is how to watch 360 videos on Vive.
  6. Click ‘Done’ to confirm and enjoy your video.

You can also watch 360 videos from YouTube on the HTC Vive using the Virtual Desktop app. You have to copy and the video URL in the app. The method is the same as it is on the Oculus headset.

HTC Vive headset

Important tips

Watching a movie on VR is very different from watching a movie using a projector. So here are a few tips you should keep in mind when you watch any video in VR:

  • Give yourself time to get comfortable. It depends on your headset as much as it depends on you. Using a VR isolates you from your surroundings, especially if you are also using headphones. It may be overwhelming for some people.
  • Take breaks. You should always give your eyes a rest when using a screen for a long time, but even more so when wearing a VR headset. It is recommended that you take two breaks in a 90-minute movie.
  • You can use them with glasses. Most models with padding can easily be worn with glasses as long as your frames are not too big. (The shape of your frames is also a factor). You can adjust the straps and see how they fit. Gear VR, Oculus Rift and Vive can all be used with glasses.
  • You can adjust the settings and enjoy several different video formats on VR. However, movies for VR goggles like The Hunger Games are intended to give you a 3D experience. So you will enjoy these the most.


If you are using a phone, the quality of your picture will only be as good as the video quality of your phone. But as long as you have high-quality video, you can even enjoy it even on a low-quality headset.

VR movie experiences can be great. They are not very expensive and – with all the 3D movies and videos available – provide a remarkable experience.

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David Castano

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