Whenever a new piece of consumer-facing technology is developed, one of the first questions asked is “How can the porn industry use this?” Unsurprisingly, virtual reality is no exception. As soon as the Oculus Rift was announced, the prospect of VR pornography immediately became part of the conversation. Even though the retail versions of the three biggest VR helmets still haven’t shipped to consumers just yet, VR pornography is already widely available: All you need to get started is a modern smartphone (running iOS or Android) and a $20 pair of cardboard goggles. But then there’s the million-dollar question: Is it worth it? Here’s how to find out for yourself.
Acquire the goods
By far, the most well-known purveyor of virtual reality pornography is a company called Naughty America. For about 25 bucks a month, you’ll get access to it’s entire video catalog — including over thirty VR titles. Once you sign up for access, you’re given the option to download different versions of each video for smartphones (for use with Google Cardboard), the Gear VR, or the Oculus Rift.
Other companies and individuals have also begun producing VR porn in various streaming formats, but we won’t be covering these other methods today. Instead, let’s focus mainly on playing good old-fashioned .mp4 files stored locally. If you’re more interested in free streaming options on the PC, grab a copy of JanusVR, visit the xxxvrsites subreddit, and have fun.
Watching on Google Cardboard
The most straightforward way for most people to start watching VR porn is with Google Cardboard. Any pair of compatible goggles should work, but you should probably consider investing in a pair with a strap for… better immersion. If you have an iPhone, Naughty America recommends using either an app called Mobile VR Station or an app called Homido 360 VR Player to watch the videos. However, the Homido app is much easier to navigate, and it doesn’t hide any functionality behind in-app purchases.
If you’re using an Android phone, Naughty America suggests an app called AAA VR Cinema. However, the Homido 360 VR Player is available on Android as well. Either app should work without issue.
For iPhone users, the simplest method is to drag and drop the files in iTunes. Plug in your phone, navigate to the iPhone tab in iTunes, and scroll down to the “File Sharing” section. Select your VR app of choice, and simply drag the file into the “Documents” area of the screen. After it transfers, you’ll have local access to video on your phone. As for Android users, saving the file directly from your browser should work without a problem. Once the download is complete, you can navigate to the local file from your VR app of choice. However, you might need to adjust the viewing settings depending on your specific headset and smartphone.
Alternately, you can stream the videos directly from a server. The Homido app has a built-in browser, and you can use it to stream videos from the Naughty America mobile site directly. Unfortunately, it requires you to log in frequently, and you’ll only have access as long as you’re a paying customer. You may find it easier to download files to your computer, load up free web server software like MAMP, and then stream the files to your smartphone over your wireless network. It only takes a few minutes to install, and then a simple bookmark of something like http://system-name.local:8888/vrporn or http://192.168.1.21:8888/video will give you quick access to your stash.
Other ways to watch
Of course, there are other options available if you’re willing to spend a bit more money on a real VR helmet. You can watch VR porn on the Gear VR and the Oculus Rift as well, but the process varies wildly from one platform to the other. If you’re using the Gear VR, you’ll need to move the video files to a folder titled “MilkVR” in either your phone’s root directory or your SD card’s root directory. How you go about moving the files is up to you, but Naughty America recommends using the MyFiles app. Once the files are in place, simply insert your phone into the Gear VR, launch MilkVR, navigate to the “Downloaded” section, and then navigate to the video you’re interested in watching.
As for the Oculus Rift, things are much more complicated. Naughty America recommends using an app called Whirligig on Windows and OS X, but that’s easier said than done for some of us. The most recent version of Whirligig only supports Windows, but an older version with OS X support is still available on the Oculus app store. Just keep in mind that your milage will most certainly vary. Assuming that you can get Whirligig up and running, you’ll need to move your media into the designated media folder. Naughty America lists the folder structure as Whirligig\production\media, but that may differ depending on which version and platform you’re using.
Once the videos are in place, launch Whirligig, and configure your viewing experience. Naughty America recommends using the following settings: Viewing set to “Dome SBS,” tilt set to “90,” field of view set to “180,” and radius set to “9.0.” However, you can always tweak the settings to fit your preferences. If you have trouble running the latest version of the Whirligig app on Windows, check out the troubleshooting page. If you still can’t get it to work, you can try contacting the developer, but remember that this is being made by an independent dev, and released for free. Support is not guaranteed.
MaxVR and VR Player are other options for Windows, but it’s slim pickings for Linux and OS X. LiveViewRift works with both Windows and OS X, but not Linux. I can’t vouch for the quality of any of these apps, but I expect to see significantly better options become available after the retail version of the Rift ships later this year.
Is it worth the hassle?
So, how well does VR porn trick your brain into feeling like the experience is, um, real? For me, it was highly variable depending on where the actors were in relation to the cameras. When the woman in the scene was standing or leaning over the man, the effect was much more convincing. But the second I see the man’s limbs making any movement I’m not making with my own limbs, the illusion breaks immediately.
To keep up with VR best practices, the camera’s position is completely stationary at all times. If the perspective needs to change, there is a short fade to black, and a new angle is then shown on-screen. It’s very similar to the warping we’ve seen in numerous VR games, but it tends to make the interactions feel less dynamic than most typical porn scenes. It’s completely reasonable that Naughty America doesn’t want to make anyone puke, but it’s clear that there’s still a lot of work to be done in this field before it’s superior to boring ol’ 2D videos.
Using higher-fidelity headsets will improve the experience, but there’s a hard limit to how much better it can be. Because of the inherent limitations of interactivity and camera positioning, even using the best VR tech in the world won’t matter much at this stage of the game. That might well change when we start getting more elaborate VR porn, but you’re fine with Google Goggles or Gear VR for the time being.
Personally, the titillating aspects did little for me. Any thrills I got were regarding the novelty of it all — not so much in the erotic department. Truth be told, my favorite part of my research was experiencing the free demo on Naughty America’s site in which you’re in a woman’s point of view. It felt very strange, and it instantly had me thinking about crazy new VR games that could play around with putting you in someone else’s perspective. It was thought-provoking and surprising, but that four and a half minute clip was the high watermark of my experience. Nothing else really stood out as particularly impressive.
Worse yet, that one free clip is the only woman’s POV I’ve found from Naughty America. After paying for a month of premium access, the only VR videos I could find were from a man’s point of view. While I’m sure that’s a business decision they made based on the demographics of their paying members, I was disappointed that the VR porn library wasn’t more varied in scope. If all you have to offer is novelty, I want some damn novelty!
[Image credit: Maurizio Pesce, cropped]
In time for GDC 2016 and VRDC, we’re covering VR, gaming, and augmented reality all this week; check out the rest of our VR Week stories for more in-depth coverage.