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Google is bringing planet earth to virtual reality, allowing anyone with an HTC Vive headset explore landmarks and entire cities from home. Google Earth VR is available today as a free download on Steam featuring 175 cities with full 3D data, and over 600 ‘urban cores’, for completely explorable, virtual reality-optimized experiences all over the world.
The project has been in development for some time by the team behind Google Maps and the original Google Earth. It’s conceptually similar to the version of Street View that Google released on its Cardboard and Daydream platforms, except at a more massive scale. Google Earth VR’s primary locomotion system is flight, you begin your journey looking at the Earth from space, and from there you can then rotate the globe and choose where to begin zooming in.
If you can't decide where where to take go, Google has also included cinematic tours through places like the Amazon River, the Grand Canyon, the Swiss Alps, Manhattan and more.
The app uses a blend of satellite, aerial and Street View images like the original Google Earth, so how good a particular city looks depends on how much data Google has collected. But it should make up for the most immersive Google Earth experience so far and navigations seems intuitive too — just point where you want to go and press the clearly labeled buttons.
For now, Earth VR is Vive-only, although VR Apps product manager Mike Podwal says Google is “actively exploring support for other platforms.” We assume the company’s own Daydream platform is on that list. This is the second Vive app that Google has released, after painting app Tilt Brush, which it acquired along with VR development studio Skillman & Hackett in 2014.