If you have been following the VR market closely over the past few years you will have, no doubt, heard of the company Starbreeze. Starbreeze boasted one of the most impressive HMDs yet to be announced in their StarVR headset, with a 210° FOV, 2560×1440 per eye resolutions, paired with the 6DOF of more common headsets, meaning it is capable of positional tracking and therefore room scale, meaning in theory the StarVR has the capability to be the next generation of VR. However, it is no longer StarVR.
Late last year, Star Breeze decided to pair with several larger companies, with the big fish realizing the potential of the headset. Among others one of the biggest backers was IMAX, who eventually formed a full-fledged partnership with Star Breeze, re-branding the StarVR as the IMAX VR, and admittedly this was somewhat of a red flag to me in that I was worried IMAX would try to push VR as a gimmicky way to consume traditional media much in the way of 3D/4D movies, and I felt this would push people away from the concept of VR as realistically I’m not sure I would enjoy watching a full movie on a warm screen attached to my face.
However, from what we have seen so far, I am happy to admit I was very wrong. IMAX VR is trying to do with VR what Cinemas do to watching movies at home. What I mean by this is when you watch a movie at home, even though you are watching the same movie, the experience is rarely the same, and IMAX are trying to offer the same service for VR. They can do this in a few ways, with a big one being that they will almost always be able to supply any needed peripherals, for example, they will set up the plank for you to walk across for Ritchie’s plank experience, or they will provide a VirZoom to use with games like Special delivery (a Paper Boy clone), and this just adds to the experience immensely, in the same way that when you go to see a movie, it always feels like a more refined experience with Cinema made popcorn and a drink (as well as commercial level equipment), as it feels as though that is how it is ideally meant to be watched. Another point is that they can sell VR experiences in the same what they would sell movie tickets, and this to me is pretty crazy. Part of the fun of going to the cinema is physically going to the cinema, looking at the posters for upcoming movies, and just enjoying being out of the house, and with IMAX VR, they have realised how important this sort of atmosphere is and have set-up the building with this in mind, and honestly, after seeing even just the poster for Eagle Flight multiplayer, I was ready to eat my words after saying IMAX would waste the tech.
With the fact that IMAX is focusing on SteamVR experiences and trials of full VR games, I think to incorporate this with standard Cinemas could be amazing. For example, set up an IMAX VR centre, next to a pre-existing IMAX cinema, and allow customer to buy a ticket for Star Wars: Episode VIII which then also gets them access to 10 minutes playing Trials on Tatooine, their tickets to John Wick 2 gains them access to the first level of the John Wick Chronicles, and in the future this paves the way for the merging of the mediums, to create either full interactive VR movies, or at least movies that are halted periodically for you to have some sort of input, even if it’s just shooting a few bad guys with a sniper to cover the protagonists back.
Putting IMAX aside the headset itself is actually quite amazing, with a 210° FOV meaning, unlike the Rift or Vive, the IMAX VR headset covers most of your peripheral vision. Pairing this with the superior resolution, I find it hard to believe anyone using this headset will not be blown away (my first experience of VR was Google Cardboard and it still blew me away) however, beyond the selling point of the (what seems to be) superior headset, it is yet to be seen what IMAX can offer beyond what you could get from a more traditional VR arcade.