I was standing in the middle of Yosemite National Park hearing President Barack Obama talk about the place, which was funny since I haven’t been to Yosemite since 2001 and have never had a personal chat with the president.
I did, however, have a Samsung Gear VR headset strapped to my face, which teleported me from a Washington hotel room to the picturesque California park.
As VR productions go, this one — shot over six days, includingObama’s Father’s Day visit to the park this year — looks pretty static. We see Yosemite from the Merced River to the tops of its mountains, but most of the shots keep us in one place. The video does a better job of capturing time, as seen in a panorama of sunset over Yosemite’s summits, than of the magnificent expanse of the park.
Yet being able to look around and up at Half Dome and El Capitan and hear the river trickling by still induced some powerful nostalgia for the place I last saw in August 2001.
Obama shares his own nostalgia in the video when he talks to a park ranger about his childhood visit to Yellowstone National Park—44 years old by the timePresident Woodrow Wilson signed the“Organic Act” founding the National Park Service on Aug. 25, 1916. The president recounts his 11-year-old self being awestruck to see bison, moose and bears for the first time.
“Places like Yosemite make us feel part of something bigger than ourselves,” Obama says. “We connect not just with our own spirit, but with something great — with the spirit of America itself.”
On the other hand, most people aren’t even in a position to don a VR headset, much less in the formats “Through the Ages” supports.
Samsung’s Gear VR is relatively cheap at just $100, but it remains a curiosity in the mass market. TheRift headset developed by Facebook’s (FB) Oculus subsidiary, which will get a version of the Obama experience soon, may be better known, but it’s also $599.
I was reminded of this a day after my advanced look at “Through the Ages” when I visited a VR arcade in Washington. As far as I can tell,NotionVR is the only such arcade within 300 miles or so of the District; the next closest option may be an establishment calledCtrl V in Waterloo, Ontario.
The VR-development firm NotionTheory opened this arcade to show off the medium’s possibilities. For $30 an hour, visitors canstrap on an HTC Vive and experience titles like Halfbrick Studios’ “Fruit Ninja VR“ and Google’s “Tilt Brush.”
As a visiting journalist, I didn’t have to pay, got to linger for more than 30 minutes and enjoyed every minute of it. If you’ll be around D.C. and want to check out VR, you might want to book time there yourself.
But if you want to regain a renewed appreciation for our national parks, step away from whatever device you’re reading this on and go visit one this weekend. It’ll befree, and if you take enough photos you canstitch them into your own 360-degree panorama.
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