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Peak outer-space VR is here: Oculus Rift releases Spheres

The trippy space flick was the first virtual-reality experience to sell to a distributor for more than a million dollars.

A silhouette of a person in a VR headset
Facebook's Oculus Rift will be the first headset to make Spheres available outside the film festival circuit. 
James Martin/CNET

Spheres, the virtual-reality experience that made waves earlier this year when it landed VR's first seven-figure distribution deal, is breaking out of the film-festival circuit and is now available for public consumption: The three-chapter series debuted for $9.99 on Facebook's Oculus Rift VR headset Tuesday. 

So far, scarcity of quality VR content has been a persistent weakness crimping virtual reality's growth. VR has been one of the buzziest tech areas in the last five years, as giants such as Sony, HTC, Samsung, Google and Oculus have poured resources into the head-mounted devices that transport users into a digital world. But VR has yet to strike gold with a gotta-see-it experience that popularizes the format with the mainstream. 

If Spheres is going to be that killer app, it's a wildly mind-bending savior. 

The experience takes viewers on atmospheric tours around the cosmos. One chapter, titled "Spheres: Songs of Spacetime," has actress Jessica Chastain narrating (actually, whispering) your trip inside a black hole. If you don't regularly spend your time pondering the mysteries of the universe, prepare to come out of your headset wondering what the heck you just saw. 

Songs of Spacetime, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year, triggered the dealmaking that concluded with the record seven-figure distribution buy. In addition to that landmark deal, Spheres won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Virtual Reality Immersive Story at the 2018 Venice Film Festival. 

Spheres' other chapters are Chorus of the Cosmos, narrated (well, really whispered) by Millie Bobby Brown of Stranger Things, and Pale Blue Dot, narrated (you guessed it: whispered) by punk-rock icon and best-selling author Patti Smith. 

The project was executive produced by film director Darren Aronofsky, no stranger to mystifying experiences, with films such as "Requiem for a Dream" and "Mother!" It was written and directed by Eliza McNitt, a virtual reality creator who has focused on cosmic experiences in the past. 

"It's been a dream to collaborate with this team to bring Spheres to life," McNitt said in a statement. "This experience makes the invisible universe visible as you become the cosmos."

Oculus said that it doesn't currently have plans to bring Spheres to its cheaper Oculus Go headset, which is more technologically limited than the tricked-out Rift. 

First published Nov. 13, 10 a.m. PT.
Update, Nov. 13 at 2 p.m. and Nov. 14 at 12:52 p.m.:
Adds comment from director and Oculus Go details. . 

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