Ever wondered what it would be like to swim with sharks, perform before thousands of cheering fans, or walk on the moon? Virtual reality (VR) can make those Walter Mitty musings seem remarkably real. All you need is your smartphone and a viewer as basic as the $15 Google Cardboard. Or you could spend $600 on a state-of-the-art, gamer-friendly Oculus Rift. Watching VR videos on those devices is like being immersed in the action: Turn your head from side to side or up and down, and the view changes just as it would in real life.

Like any nascent technology, VR still has some bugs. There’s a big gap in quality between the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, which require a powerful—and usually pricey—computer, and the Google Cardboard, which borrows its processing power from your smartphone. Even with the expensive gear, the picture sometimes lags. Still, the overall experience can seem so vivid that consumers are projected to buy about 13 million VR headsets this year. The selection of VR videos is rapidly increasing. You may have to do a Google search to see whether you need a downloadable app from a VR content company. Many can also be found in a search on YouTube. Here are a few examples that opened our eyes—literally—to VR’s very real possibilities.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the October 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.

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