As new technology appears, news agencies have constantly been reinventing themselves. That’s why the New York Times is rolling out a new smartphone app today that lets you dive into their stories–literally–using virtual reality.

The Times has always been a tech-forward outlet–it’s even got a smart furniture-filled R&D Lab that makes prototypes that predict the future of media consumption. Now the 164-year-old newspaper is trying to make VR news mainstream.

This weekend, subscribers to the Sunday Times print edition can expect to receive Cardboard VR viewers in the mail. Simply download the NYT VR app for free on Google Play or the App Store, stick your smartphone into the paper-and-velcro viewfinder, plug in headphones, download the selected video, and let ‘er rip.

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You can watch the videos without Cardboard, as well. It won’t be 3D, but you can still explore the 360-degree “world,” using your phone as a “window” and moving it about to see more of the environment.

There’s a short GE-sponsored animated video that basically shows what the app can do: A giant cobra lunges at a parrot (and you); a trippy sequence explains how bird feathers influence jet turbine design.

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There are also a few journalistic pieces available for viewing right away, too. One piece puts you in the middle of famous street artist JR’s studio. Put on Cardboard, look around, and you’ll see yourself actually in his studio, among his colleagues and the art equipment, talking about projects in New York. Later in the piece, you’re on a helicopter choppering above the sunny streets of Manhattan.

Yeah, it’s cool and definitely a new way of experiencing the news.

Here’s what your phone screen looks like in Cardboard mode, without the Cardboard

Also available is an over 11-minute long feature called “The Displaced,” is the first VR film released by the Times. It’s part of a New York Times Magazine cover story about the global refugee crisis. The VR film follows three children (from Lebanon, South Sudan, and Ukraine) who are among the 30 million around the world who’ve been driven from their homes by war and persecution.

The Times isn’t alone in this News of the Future endeavor. Today, Fast Company is reporting that the Associated Press has reportedly been pursuing VR content, as well, and could be available within five months.

But NYT VR could mark a milestone. It’s not asking readers to buy additional, pricy peripherals like an Oculus Rift to enjoy virtual reality. It’s asking them to use smartphones they probably already have and stick them in cheap VR tools that’re being mailed to some subscribers for free.

Right now, though, since it is Cardboard, it’s kinda lo-res and the double vision might give you a headache. Still, just as new ways of storytelling exploded with the advent of radio and TV, virtual reality could offer the next generation-shaping news medium.

[The New York Times]

Top image credit: NYT VR


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