The Wall Street Journal has revealed that large format operator Imax is venturing into the virtual reality (VR) market in partnership with Google and Swedish technology developer Starbreeze AB. The venture will see special VR venues launched in cinemas and malls, as a precursor for any move into the home and consumer market.
Imax first announced a collaboration with Google to launch a 360-degree camera that will capture surround images to be experienced with VR headsets, set to be launched before the end of 2017. Imax will also use Starbreeze’s VR headsets and games, ahead of any film launched specifically for its devices.
Initially the Imax VR deployment will be in six venues, of which Los Angeles is expected to have the first one, with China expected to be amongst the next destinations. Having recently launched into cruise liners and even cycle spinning classes, WSJ quotes Imax’s CEO Richard Gelfond as stating that VR being part of a larger strategy to take the Imax band beyond just movies.
“Virtual reality in the home is going to be a crowded space, but we thought the idea of doing VR in the multiplex of the future was a place where we can provide a superior experience and a social experience, which are the same reasons people go to movies.”
VR content is expected to be linked to major film franchises, with a ten minute VR experience sid to be priced at between USD $7 and USD $10. Carmine’s CEO David Passman is quoted as saying that Imax VR rooms could be retrofitted into arcade spaces or auditoriums with flattened floors.
With advanced VR systems such as Facebook’s Occulus Rift requiring tethering to powerful PCs – as opposed to Samsung’s Gear and Google Cardboard, which are built around smartphones – there will be a high initial cost and limited market, which is why Imax sees VR as first taking off in public places before the home.
“We’ll be able to leap five years ahead of what most people can do in their homes,” Starbreeze CEO Bo Andersson Klint is quoted as saying.
Regular readers of Celluloid Junkie will know that we predicted Imax’s move into VR almost two months ago – as an April Fool’s Day joke!