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All right, look. There are a lot of things you can already do with virtual reality (VR). But now you can also use Google Earth on the Oculus Rift headset. The app came to the HTC Vive a few months ago, and now more people can try it.

Sure, you can go to beautiful places, like the middle of Paris or Devils Tower in Wyoming. But you can also search. You know, like your hometown, or your office, or the city where you used to live. Wherever, really. The important thing is the freedom you have to go anywhere and then, once you’re there, to move around the area or go somewhere different. The detail is there, right in front of your eyeballs.

Getting close to the neighborhood where I grew up, in New York, was what really got me tearing up. It brought back so many memories. It’s not like Google Earth on a phone or a tablet or a laptop. It’s you, there, and if you look off in another direction, you’ll see what’s actually there, almost immediately. It’s not only immersive; it’s meaningful.

It’s certainly one of the top five things I’ve tried in the Oculus Rift. It makes me more confident that building a PC for VR and then buying the Rift and buying the Rift’s touch controllers was all worth it.


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You start with a zoomed-out view: the whole earth. Then, if you’re ready, you can zoom in. For example, you can go right here, to San Francisco. You can get close to the buildings downtown. You can go to Coit Tower. You can check out the hole in the ground that has since been filled up by Salesforce Tower. You can inspect the windmill on the west end of Golden Gate Park.

Or you can get way, way out of San Francisco. You can plop yourself down in the middle of the ocean if you’d like. Or you can bring up the search box and start typing in addresses, just like you can in Google Maps, and Google Earth will deliver you to a high point near the location. A pin is hovering over the place you searched for, so you can see it in geographic context. Even when you zoom way, way out, you can see where the place is, because the pin will stay there, unless you opt to remove it.

It feels a little bit like an open world game. But it’s the real world.

Except you’re not inhibited by the natural daylight in any given place on the planet. If you look up at the sky and use the drag function, you can select any time of day that you want — sunrise, sunset, the middle of the night, midday, whatever. It’s truly impressive.

But don’t take my word for it. If you have a Rift and ::deep breath:: 4.64GB of space on your hard drive, go try Earth for yourself. Oh, and if you want to share videos of your travels, you might find it easier to use the Steam version and a recorder like OBS.

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