After all this time, you can finally feel it in the air: virtual reality and augmented reality are about to make the leap we’ve all been waiting for. As far as mainstream devices go, VR had all but been abandoned until Oculus came along and rekindled the world’s interest in virtual reality. Development of VR solutions has since accelerated, and now a high-quality virtual reality experience can be had for as little as $99 thanks to Samsung’s Gear VR headset, which works alongside the company’s most popular phones.

To really reach the masses however, VR must move beyond gaming, which has been the main focus of companies like Oculus and Samsung thus far. And with Monday’s launch of 360-degree live streaming support, YouTube may have just helped turn the tide.

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Gaming is a fantastic and obvious use case for VR. The technology is designed to immerse the user in a virtual world while he or she remains stationary. By moving a video game off of a television screen and onto a virtual reality system like the Oculus Rift or Gear VR, the player is surrounded by the landscape created in the game and removed from reality.

But gaming isn’t the future of virtual reality.

Think about video games in the context of computing as we know it today. Yes, video games make up a massive industry worth billions of dollars each quarter, but how does usage of dedicated consoles, PC gaming devices and video game software compare to computing in general? It’s a blip on the radar. People work on computers. They browse the web. They communicate. They stream videos and music. They carry tiny computers in their pockets and use them constantly to connect with the world.

Virtual reality and augmented reality have a long and bright future ahead, but video games are just a small part of that future. VR and AR computing will cross into many computing experiences, and on Monday we saw a big one begin to take shape.

YouTube’s new 360-degree live video streaming product has the potential to be a huge moment in VR’s timeline. Because of the tremendous amount of time and resources needed to create most VR experiences, user-generated content is huge for the VR market. That’s why companies are beginning to place so much emphasis on new 360-degree cameras and similar accessories — by giving people affordable tools with which they can easily create 360-degree videos and photos, the amount of available VR content grows exponentially.

Think about it: instead of watching your favorite YouTuber’s vlog each day, you can virtually experience what the vlogger is experiencing. Instead of watching a video of a concert, you can become a virtual audience member. And YouTube’s 360-degree video experience isn’t confined to VR devices, which is also hugely important to adoption. Viewers can still enjoy a great experience using YouTube’s 360-degree video viewer.

Check out this example and you’ll see how cool this tech really is:

Imagine what the internet would be like if users only had access to the same small pool of content every day. VR needs more experiences and an ocean of content to grow, and giving end-users new ways to make high-quality user-generated content quickly and easily is a key ingredient. Access to the same content outside of VR is another key ingredient while virtual reality gear just begins to proliferate, and that’s another reason YouTube’s 360-degree video streaming has all the makings of a pivotal moment for VR.

Dollars and Sense is a recurring column by BGR Executive Editor Zach Epstein. It offers insights on subtle changes in and around consumer electronics with the potential to have a broad impact on companies that drive the industry. Contact the author at z@bgr.com.

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