Plex gets into VR with a new app for Daydream-ready Android phones

As part of its broader, long-term strategy to appeal to content producers by offering them more exposure, media software maker Plex today is unveiling its new VR experience, Plex VR. The addition will allow Plex users to not only watch videos in VR, but also co-watch with friends – a social component to media consumption that a number of companies, including, recently, Facebook and YouTube, have begun to explore.

Plex VR is initially compatible with Google Daydream VR headsets and Daydream-ready Android phones, allowing users to play back local media content on their Android device, including 3D and 360-degree and 180-degree video. Over time, it will be able to stream other content from Plex, as well.

The VR app itself offers a couple of basic “scenes” to choose from as the venue for launching into this VR experience, including a city apartment and drive-in theater. Some of these scenes will require a Plex Pass subscription, but VR streaming itself will be free to all Plex users.

There are little details to make the scenes fun – like how you can honk the car’s horn at the drive-in, or pick up items on the table (like your popcorn) and move them around or even throw them.

Watching videos in VR still feels like a bit of gimmick these days (especially if you’re only viewing standard video that’s not designed for 360 degree viewing). However, the social layer to Plex’s experience is a bit more interesting.

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Plex VR will allow you to watch videos with three other friends at the same time. When co-watching, your friends’ avatars will appear together in the scene and their head positions will update in real-time, so you can tell what they’re looking at. To talk, you just press the button on the remote.

The app’s co-watching feature will be a premium feature for subscribers only. However, Plex is making it available for free for the first week, so everyone can give it a shot.

With the VR app, up to four friends can watch together in real-time as well as voice chat with one another while viewing the content.

With the feature, Plex is joining a growing number of media companies that are experimenting with co-watching features as the next step that follows the shift in programming from the TV set to computer and smartphone screens. Facebook’s video hub Watch, for example, just rolled out a test of group video viewing, while Google offers a standalone app called Uptime for watching YouTube videos with friends. Meanwhile, streaming TV services including both Hulu and newcomer Philo have co-watching social features on their roadmap, too.

Whether the idea will actually catch on is less certain. Startups have tried for years to make co-watching take off to little success. Arguably, some may have entered the space too early – before cord cutting took hold in favor of streaming services, and before bandwidth – mobile and otherwise – was as readily available.

Plex VR is available today for all Daydream-ready Android phones.