The new Taster VR app brings VR content from the BBC to your smartphone

The BBC today released a new mobile application that will allow it to experiment with transforming BBC content into VR experiences. The app, called BBC Taster VR, comes from the broadcaster’s testing ground for new ideas, Taster, and uses technology from EEVO to publish videos in a VR format. Initially, Taster VR only offers a couple of projects, one of which is 360 video from the popular nature documentary, Planet Earth II.

In the Planet Earth VR story, David Attenborough guides viewers through six of Planet Earth’s most amazing destinations, explains the BBC Taster website. It also allows viewers to choose their own path through the story.

In addition to interactive 360 degree videos, the broadcaster says it will roll out other projects in the future featuring animated VR, dynamic binaural audio, and branching narratives. The latter is an area Netflix recently delved into, as well, with its launch of “choose-your-own-adventure”- style programing on its service. These videos offer a way for viewers to take control over the narrative, and are the sort of experiences that couldn’t have been offered via traditional  TV.

The only other piece of content in the new Taster VR app at launch is a trailer for the upcoming BBC Three feature-length documentary, “One Deadly Weekend in America,” which focuses on gun crime. This trailer was developed by BBC Three in collaboration with VR studio, Parable VR.

With the launch of the new app, BBC Three controller Damian Kavanagh will also now serve as editorial lead for BBC Taster going forward, the broadcaster says – a role which will see him working closely with BBC’s Research & Development arm.

“My new role as editorial lead for BBC Taster will help use new technologies to explore a new ways to tell stories that will engage our audience,” he says. “This new VR trailer is a fantastic first step. Using virtual reality it literally puts the audience in the shoes of the victims of gun crime featured in our truly brilliant feature-length documentary, ‘One Deadly Weekend in America.’ It’s the first time the BBC has ever used VR in this way, and offers a whole new way to engage an audience,” notes Kavanagh, in a statement.

The new app is initially available on both iOS and Android, and is available outside U.K. However, when testing Taster VR, we found it took quite some time to download the VR Planet Earth story – which you have to do before viewing. After several minutes, the download was only a quarter completed, which is a tedious way to get started.

When the download is complete, you can watch the video via a Google Cardboard or compatible devices, choosing to travel between regions like “Jungles,” “Deserts,” “Islands,” Mountains,” “Cities,” or “Grasslands.” The video itself was a bit shaky – and the app even warns of potential for nausea, eye strain, and dizziness. But the stories themselves were engaging enough and, for a while, fun to view in 360. However, in the long run, Planet Earth’s footage just looks better on a big HD TV, rather than in a VR app. (Oh and the iOS app crashed a couple of times, too.)

The app will be updated with more BBC content in the weeks and months ahead, the BBC says.

Taster VR is a free download on both iOS and Android.