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April 19, 2017

Explore the planet with Google Earth VR, now on Oculus Rift

by John_A

Thanks to Google, you can spend Earth Day in 2017 by flying around the planet — in virtual reality.

Google Earth got a massive revamp today, but the search giant also brought its Google Earth VR app to the Oculus store. The experience has been available for the HTC Vive since the end of 2016, and bringing it to the Oculus Rift means a wider audience. We got a chance to travel to various countries in VR with the Rift at a Google event in New York City. Suffice to say it’s an experience that will have you coming back for more.

“It’s an experience that will have you coming back for more.

The Oculus version of the Earth VR app works just like the Vive experience, except you’ll be using Facebook’s new Touch controllers. You start out in space, but you can use the the analog stick on the right-hand controller to zoom in to anywhere on Earth; the secondary index trigger lets you rotate the camera horizontally. You don’t have to stick to a bird’s eye view either as there’s a 3D view that lets you look at stunningly-detailed content. Google said Maps is powered with satellite imagery as well as aerial photography — the latter often looks better and is prevalent in featured places, like Florence, Italy. Colombo, Sri Lanka only used satellite imagery, and while it still looked great, it wasn’t as impressive.

Speaking of featured content — pressing the Y button on the left-hand controller opens up menu overlay, which lets you scroll through featured places to visit. You can also browse through some cinematic Tours of select areas here, and these are gorgeous shots mixed with heart-warming music that may or may not make your eyes well up.

If you’re planning a trip and are scoping out things to see, what’s neat is you can save locations by holding the X button.

But the killer feature in Google Earth VR is the god-like ability to control the sun. Find the source of light, click and drag it past the horizon to mask the world in darkness — and you’ll then see a brilliant sky lit up with the Milky Way. It’s a jaw-dropping moment, and we can’t see it ever getting old.

If you have an Oculus Rift, you can check out the new free experience at the Oculus store now. Again, it’s been available for Vive users for some time now, but you can grab it here if you haven’t checked it out yet. Is it worth buying a VR-ready PC and VR headset for Google Earth VR? Maybe not, but it’s a must-try experience if you have one lying around. We’re hoping Google brings it to more accessible VR platforms like Daydream and Samsung’s Gear VR.

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