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Christmas Gift Guide

Taking those first steps into a virtual world

Adult Swim Virtual Brainload

Mercedes VR for Cardboard

Proton Pulse

Tilt Brush Gallery

YouTube 360 videos

Jack White: Third-D

InMind VR

The North Face: Climb

The Google Play Store is already filled with apps that attempt to make sense of virtual reality. There are games, and videos, and things that are best described as experiences, which might see you hovering behind folks loping up a mountain, or seated a few steps behind a band in the middle of a show. Here are a few of our favorites.

Caption by / Photo by Nate Ralph/CNET

This one's short and almost wholly overwhelming. There are a lot colors involved, and something like a rollercoaster ride, monastic chanting and a cynical homage to Americana. You're really going to have to see this one for yourself.

Adult Swim Virtual Brainload

Caption by / Photo by Google

There are a couple of car experiences floating about the Google Play store, and they're all designed to emulate the feel of riding around in a very fast, very expensive sports car. There are only two videos here and the first is a bit dull. But the second features popular gearhead Chris Harris, and "riding" alongside him as he prattles on in his characteristically breathless way makes me wish all of the rest of his video reviews were in VR, too.

Caption by / Photo by Google

This one is a little cheesy, but also quite a bit of fun. Think of it as a 3D version of those classic brick breaker games: a ball bounces around a tunnel, and you'll need to keep it away from the floor by blocking it with a paddle. Except the "floor" is your face, and the paddle is also your face. You'll guide a translucent blue paddle by turning your head about, keeping the glowing ball bouncing until you've cleared all of the blocks hovering in front of you. It's a simple, fun experience with plenty of levels -- well worth $1.99 (£1.99, AU$1.99).

Proton Pulse

Caption by / Photo by Google

Tilt Brush is an app that will ultimately let you paint in three dimensions, in virtual reality. The company was recently bought by Google, and while they're not ready to let us paint just yet, the Tilt Brush Gallery app gives you an early taste of what's possible: you can load premade sketches and watch them be drawn in real time.

Tilt Brush Gallery

Caption by / Photo by Google

There are already plenty of 360-degree videos available on YouTube, ranging from music videos and movie trailers to a wide array of racing simulations. The quality here is going to vary tremendously as there are a lot of amateurs getting in on the act, but it's still a fun way to see how creative folk are making sense of virtual reality.

YouTube 360 videos

Caption by / Photo by Screenshot by Nate Ralph/CNET

There are plenty of snippets from concerts and full music videos to choose from among the apps available for Google Cardboard. I chose this Jack White sample because I've been to the Red Rocks Amphitheatre, and it's a stunning venue. This concert puts you backstage, behind the band and the members of the stage crew right in the middle of a performance.

Jack White: Third-D

Caption by / Photo by Google

This is short little game (also available for the Oculus Rift) is an experimental project designed to ease both the developers and gamers into the world of virtual reality. You play a pilot of sorts, traveling through the human brain zapping damaged neurons by looking at them. The entire experience is on rails, which almost makes it part rollercoaster, part turkey shoot -- a nice, free diversion, and a chance to try to rack up a high score.

InMind VR

Caption by / Photo by Google

When I hear "base jumping," the first thought that comes to mind is "Nope." That's the second and third thought, too. But this North Face app is a fun little approximation of what it's like to throw yourself off a cliff for your own amusement. To each their own, I guess? It's a fairly short video, though I'll admit it is rather fun spinning around in my swivel chair to figure out where the climbers are lurking, or following their leaps as the camera drone flies past overhead.

The North Face: Climb

Caption by / Photo by Google
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