Had an interesting tour of IMAX VR. (First location is across from the Grove in LA) so I thought I’d share my 2 cents.
IMAX is in a fascinating position — of all companies that touch theatrical “Exhibition” they are acutely conscious that if they don’t pivot hard to AR/VR their business disappears entirely. Their brand stands for larger-than-screen-entertainment and if you can have VR in the home — well then there’s your large screen right there ;)
They have already been doing this in 3 key ways.
- Physical locations — they intend to leverage the physical locations they already have — (e.g. in a bunch of shopping malls) — to launch VR experience arcades. The Los Angeles center is the first such test experience. It clearly has some teething problems (more on this later) but it’s refreshing to see a physical goods company doing a live beta test — effectively behaving like a lean start-up.
- Hardware partnerships — They have partnered with Starbreeze studios makers of (amongst other things) the new 210 degree Field-of-View Starbreeze headset and those kinds of partnerships will continue as they select best of breed equipment. The first official hardware integration of Tobii’s eye-tracking tech will be in Starbreeze headsets (although I saw it implemented in an HTC Vive also)
- Content — IMAX has already announced a 50 million USD content fund
(there is a 4th supposedly — a new 360 video camera — but I have yet to see or hear anything about it…)
If you think about it the model makes quite a bit of sense. Leverage the relationships with the studios/IP holders (straddling gaming AND movies) and simultaneously create a monetisation model by creating a space where people can come and actually PAY to try experiences they cannot try in the home.
But of course this hinges on a key thing — namely the quality of the content. At the moment two of the experiences run on the new StarBreeze headset and the others are on HTC Vives. They are all room-scale experiences organised into 12x12 foot pods. Players play about $5–7 to schedule an experience (Which last 5–8 minutes) and after going through an onboarding experience they strap on the HMD and away they go.
This is where it gets interesting. The space is well organised, the price point is low (or at least significantly lower than the Void — which costs about $55) — but ultimately the interesting point here is that (with the exception of the Starbreeze hardware which is not on the market) an end-user can have this experience at home — so long as they have a room-scale setup.
The costs of a room scale setup vary from $1500 or so for a full Rift setup (a little more for a Vive) to as little as $900 for a PlayStation VR (full setup). Obviously it’s quite a bit less if you already have the computer or PS4 and just need to add a headset.
Room scale setups are kind of a pain to configure for everyone other than early adopters (as it happens this is where the PS4 totally destroys all competitors — but that’s another article) — so let’s just say that for now with the prices of an in-home experience still fairly high — it’ll be very interesting to see how a public sample of this is received by the general public.
Quick thoughts on content — I played the “John Wick” experience and the “Star Wars Tatooine experience”.
John Wick (at least the level I played which is the top of the hotel) — involves you playing (duh) John Wick himself — trying to fend off a bunch of baddies that helpfully tend to come only from one side ;) — and eventually destroy a helicopter (by shooting the main rotor and tail rotor hub). Your controller is a custom made MP5k which is somewhat entertaining since it appears on screen also.
As an FPS game level this works well enough (and so it should) however the problem with a little bit of movement is that (of course) I want a LOT of movement. You can really only take a step here and there, duck for cover and that’s about it. The volume was nowhere near loud enough and the environment not destructible enough.
There was no noticeable lag which was a nice thing — however I did find the headset itself a bit of a challenge. I own a Rift, Hololens, PSVR and I have spent significant time in a Vive — and I’ve already tried an ODG R9 and Meta 2. Of those the Hololens and the PSVR are easily the best balanced.
The Starbreeze is very front heavy and may not comfortable for prolonged wear because of this. The tracking is solid and the field of view of is of course amazing — but whatever optical trickery they are using is more noticeable than I expected. It wasn’t the shimmer so much (although it was there on text heavy screens) but something was causing me to see edges/overlaps — as if there were more than 2 screens in the headset (even though I know there were only 2). I’ll comment on this again when I go back.
Star Wars — on the other hand was in the Vive. It uses one Vive controller which allows you do a few simple things (like lower a panel on the Millenium Falcon and push a few buttons) but the piece de resistance is getting handed a light-saber by Artoo — which you then wield to throw blaster bolts back at Stormtroopers. For any Star Wars fan (and I am of course one of them) this is amazing…but…it’s also possible to do this at home on your Vive.
Even though the lightsaber (and the Lucasfilm/ILM sound effects, texture maps and 3D models) are a lovely touch (as is the fact that R2-D2 moves away if you walk the lightsaber towards him) — my time spent playing Rogue One on the PSVR provided a far more visceral fix than this did.
So — in summary — it was very interesting to see. But neither the hardware nor the content are there yet. The Void made a conscious decision to create an environment that does MASSIVE-scale experiences (i.e. way beyond room scale) which allows multiple groups of people to experience something at once. I think IMAX is likely to go in that direction also — because if they do not — there is too much danger that the consumer will be able to replicate this exact experience at home (the exact thing they are attempting to mitigate)
Eye-tracking is clearly a first step in that directions — haptic suits likely next.
Either way I think this is an important and brave first step.
I will say one thing — from my perspective I would caution too much reliance on gaming and not enough on story because this