Blueplanet VR Explore V2

4-star rating
PCVR, Quest, Link
Education, Travel
Comfortable, Roomscale

Blueplanet VR Explore V2 title

Updated January 2024 review, including new UI and expansion packs.

Blueplanet VR Explore invites you to marvel at natural and cultural landmarks from around the world in three dimensions of virtual reality. Setting itself apart from similar products, Blueplanet's base content includes a massive fifty different sites over 40 locations, and offers four packs of 'add on' content which contain a further 40 more sites in total.

Sites range from ocean overlooks to caves, canyons and lava tubes; from ancient temples to an old western ghost town. All of these you can visit in solitude at your own pace, without the bustle of tour groups and sightseers. Updated with an improved user interface in early 2024, Blueplanet greets newcomers with a massive wall of spheres representing all the sites you can visit. There's also an option of a short introductory video that we found to be very helpful.

Touching a sphere with your controller will transport you directly to the location of your choice. As your selected landscape is revealed, a panel appears allowing you to orientate yourself with a world map, a model of the site and a short description about the location.

Navajo Nation Cliff Dwelling.
Navajo Nation Cliff Dwelling.

Blueplanet version 2 introduces a novel twist interface that is a simple and effective way to access controls. Rotate your controllers outward and you're presented with short menus. Use the opposite hand to select an option. Using the twist interface you can now skip between locations without going back to the main menu, and because all content is pre-loaded it only takes a couple of seconds before you materialize somewhere new.

Locations are realized using photogrammetry methods – a three-dimensional technique that stitches together real site photography taken from multiple angles, then places it over shaped models. Using teleport locomotion and snap-turning you can move around the rendered landscape to appreciate many different angles, enter a cave or step to the edge of a ledge and appreciate distant views.

Virtually hang-gliding over Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring.
Virtually hang-gliding over Yellowstone's Grand Prismatic Spring.

Some locations feature additional layers interpretive content, or lead you to neighboring locations. Occasionally a location will be enhanced with computer generated shafts of light, or an animated waterfall.

The quality of the 3D imagery at some sites took our breath away. However, at other locations a lack of definition and roughly modeled shapes left us disappointed. This is particularly obvious when the background image has a higher resolution than the fuzzy foreground, and even more so when the background is a repetition of the modelled foreground image (example).

The Grand Canyon with added geological context.
The Grand Canyon with added geological context.

It's also a problem at locations where intricate rockwork is the main attraction – like Blueplanet's rendering of Fantasy Canyon in Utah, that turns the massively tangled natural rock formations into a confusing mess of jagged and oversimplified polygons. We're not convinced that any current technology could truly capture and reproduce the detail of Fantasy Canyon in VR at this time and suggest that Blueplanet's ambitions for specific locations sometimes overreach.

We've explored all the locations that Blueplanet has to offer, including base content and the four packs of additional locations that are available for purchase. Some locations include large landscapes to explore – much larger than competing travel VR products. However around a half of the locations that are available are much smaller in size and have limited scope for movement and explorations. We also noticed that Blueplanet didn't always capture a location's best features – for example, compare Blueplanet's Vasquez Rocks imagery (top) with photography from our sister website Trailspotting. Blueplanet does give you the freedom to climb up this one spire, but it also undersells the dramatic topography of the site.

Side-by-side comparison of Vasquez Rocks photography
Vasquez Rocks: Blueplanet vs Trailspotting

Striking a balance between image resolution, size of area captured, number of locations available and size of download is still an exercise in compromise with current technology. Blueplanet's base content of fifty locations is only possible because of a massive 20GB download, and further improving the fidelity of the visuals would likely increase this size dramatically. We do prefer this 'big download' approach over individual location downloads though – in Brink Traveler we found ourselves waiting up to 5 minutes for a new location to be downloaded.

Blueplanet VR Explore offers more locations to investigate than any other VR photogrammetry travel product available. With this quantity comes a mixed bag of quality - some immersive locations took our breath away, while the visual fidelity of others left us underwhelmed. We've included a map below to give you an idea of the breadth of the app's coverage:

All Blueplanet VR's locations around the world.

Blueplanet VR's photogrammetry can produce great results.
Blueplanet VR's photogrammetry can produce great results.

An information panel brings up a model, a location, or descriptive context.
Information panel brings up a model, a location, or descriptive context.

The updated Blueplanet app is now available for Meta Quest 2 and up, but there are no Quest 3-specific upgrades. We're advised that the upgraded Steam PCVR version will follow soon. Note that the Oculus Rift version is considered depreciated and will not receive updates.

✅ Many immersive 3D environments to explore.
✅ Large range of content and detail.
❌ Lack of global variety of locations.
❌ Visual quality of locations is a mixed bag.

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