IMAX VR experiences are coming, and it looks like they’re going to be here a lot sooner than you might think.
The company has today announced that it is planning to open its first location-based VR centers in the fourth quarter of this year. That news was revealed by IMAX Chief B.D. Officer Rob Lister at Taiwanese tech company Acer’s IFA 2016 press conference in Berlin, Germany. Lister took the stage to confirm that these new centers will be found in multiplexes, shopping malls and standalone locations. They’ll be using StarVR, the new VR headset from both Acer and Starbreeze, which is now shipping to IMAX and other customers too.
Lister also laid out exactly what function these experiences will serve. Each will offer “companion pieces” to movies currently in theaters, which a customer would be able to pay a bit extra for to see alongside the regular IMAX experience. “Let’s say a movie goer is spending $15 to see Avatar 2 or Avatar 3 in IMAX,” he explained to the crowd. “For $25, after they’ve seen the movie experience they can move over to another auditorium next door and experience the VR experience and walk onto Pandora [Avatar’s fictional world].”
Content shown on these headset will be “short form”, likely similar to some of the promotional VR tie-ins we’re already seeing. They’ll have been shot using IMAX’s own VR cameras, which were announced in partnership with Google earlier this year. Lister described them as “cinema-grade” devices that IMAX was planning to give to “the JJ Abrams and the Chris Nolans of the world” to produce cinematic VR content. You’ll then be able to watch these experiences on StarVR’s 5K screen which offers a 210 degree field of view list Lister described as “very IMAX-like”
It’s a bold move on IMAX’s part, given VR’s relative obscurity in the mainstream. The company is bullish on it’s chances though; Lister described VR as the “next generation” of entertainment, reassuring that IMAX was talking to “virtually every major Hollywood studio about a slate of VR content”. The company is also in discussions with Chinese studios and gaming developers. The aim is to create high caliber content that people will “leave their couches” to go and watch, much like the current IMAX experience.
The first of these centers will be debuting in Los Angeles within the next few months, though IMAX is also planning to launch “pilot centers” in Shanghai, London, and New York before the end of the year. We don’t know exactly what companion content will first be put on display though there are several huge blockbusters lined for the end of the year that could certainly give it a boost, including Star Wars: Rogue One and Dr. Strange.
Starbreeze also already has its own range of VR videogames for the device, like Overkill’s The Walking Dead VR Experience, so it’s possible we could see these here too.
All-things considered, it looks like location-based VR is about to get very, very big.