The Future of IMAX: Would VR can rescue the premium cinema Experience?

2016 has been the year VR eventually arrived in a true way, and though the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive offer a really immersive and innovative experience, the technology has yet to reach the mainstream.  Part of this is down to the prohibitive price of a nice VR experience.

The latest PlayStation VR prices $350, although the above flagship cans from Oculus and HTC opt for upwards of $600 — and that is without considering that the high-powered PCs necessary to run them.

All of that means VR has a very long way to go before it turns into a legitimate occurrence, however, IMAX believes it’s the answer — or at least portion of it — using its fresh VR centers.  The business has started piloting a streak location-based VR centers, to try out the viability of VR as a new enterprise, together with 10 pilot centers planned for 2017.

LA has been the first city to find a such a center open, followed by Manhattan, together with strategies for more places in Manchester and Shanghai in September.

The notion for IMAX, apart from generating new revenue streams, would be to get ahead of the curve in regards to VR and to achieve this by focusing on something: distinction.

As Chief Business Development Officer in IMAX, Rob Lister clarified:

“We have designed the VR centers to be extremely sociable, so they are different than anything else you can get in your home.  I believe that the consumer proposal was somewhat challenging.  The cost point is sort of restrictive, but to me, that is a chance for us.  Folks desire a flavor of VR, but in lieu of spending $2000 and locating extra space in their houses, I think that it’s a much better proposal for them to invest $7 or $10 a have a superior VR experience.”

And that is precisely what traffic to the IMAX VR centers get.  I visited with the LA website to observe the way the organization is identifying its VR encounter — and I think that it’s really about to something.

The Future of IMAX: ‘ Pioneering ‘Social VR’ cinemas

The place itself seems clearly futuristic, such as stepping onto a set from among the newest Star Trek films — all sleek metal and slick lines.  The reception also borrows from IMAX’s theater heritage, using a display over the entry desk offering people a rundown of ‘showtimes’ for its a variety of VR experiences.

Tickets are broken down into two groups, with clients with a choice between paying $7 to $10 (~$5-10) to test out ‘featured’ names, or $25 (~$20) to get a ‘VR Sampler’.  The latter gives you approximately 30 minutes to test out quite a few different VR adventures, also represents the ideal value-for-money alternative for my attention.

When you get a ticket, then you pass some displays explaining the fundamentals of VR and enter into the main area, that was fitted with 14 VR ‘pods’.  These are basically 12×12′ cubicles which stand in for what could be the consumer’s space when the technician has been being utilized in your home, and also make use of either the HTC Vive or even StarVR headsets.  These pods also provide people the opportunity to test out different add-ons to boost the encounter, including haptic vests to simulate gunshots, and specially-designed gun peripherals.

I tried both of them during my period at the ‘John Wick Chronicles’ name, through which I flipped into a shocking performance trying to shield a rooftop out of hordes of encroaching thugs.  While my skills were not quite up to real John Wick amounts, the experience itself was unbelievably enjoyable.

With this adventure, IMAX was utilizing Starbreeze’s StarVR headset, which doubles the field-of-view on the Oculus Rift (210 levels rather than the Rift’s 110) attached to a pulley system overhead, in order to maintain the wires from getting overly intrusive.

For now, IMAX’s VR centers are among the only areas consumers can test out this type of technology, and it is an appealing offer for people seeking to find out what VR can really do when done correctly.  On the other hand, the VR centers’ actual selling point is not the customized components, impressive though that’s.

No, the true possibility here’s the social aspect.

Following John Wick, I attempted multiplayer activity FPS ‘Raw Data’ with a colleague.  It delivers an easy setup very similar to John Wick where you and your spouse are set up in an area and need to take out waves of bots intention upon dispatching you.  Simple though it’s, it is incredibly fun, enabling you to duck behind things and take out your autonomous adversaries while still dual-wielding pistols.

At the same stage, having taken care of a single set of automatons with some fairly fine gun function, I turned to see that my companion getting fast subsumed by a different set of enemies.  Maintaining the metallic bodies off my cohort and just rescue them from a young death established a true sense of camaraderie, also has been an undeniably trendy instant that did a whole lot to communicate how these VR experiences attain another level when you receive a set of your friends involved.

Despite racking up a gloomy score, I personally ended with a true sense of exhilaration, and a very clear vision of how VR centers such since this may develop into a new social destination for team outings.  Rather than laser label, or paintball, or perhaps viewing a picture, a group trip to one of those locations could supply as much, or even more, of the delight that comes from these excursions — and in a similarly approachable cost point.

“More than 90 percent of groups which have come into LA have been bands of 2 or longer, and more than 50 percent are in groups of 3 or even more,” explained Rob.  Moreover, based on IMAX’s statistics, 80% of people are first time VR consumers, which implies the provider is well-placed to help spread the word about a technology which has so far been hauled back from authentic mainstream adoption for a variety of factors.

Rob continued: “Both places have surpassed our expectations concerning admissions, and earnings.  Should they are still as inviting as they are, we then certainly see this like a business model which works for us.”

The Future of IMAX: Differentiation is the key

All of that sounds fantastic, but there’ll definitely be challenges ahead.  VR continues to evolve and will, as time continues, become an increasingly inexpensive technology for customers.  Businesses are continuously innovating in that respect, together with HTC recently announcing a brand new standalone version of its VR headset that is less expensive compared to HTC Vive appropriate.  It seems set to arrive only in China for today, but will undoubtedly launch elsewhere in the next several years.

Therefore, IMAX intends to adhere to its own ethos of distinction so as to be sure the VR centers stay popular.

Rob clarified how the firm has attempted to integrate the social aspect of VR to the centers’ design for a Means of ensuring distinction is built into the job:

“The components we made to truly accentuate the social encounter.  It’s possible to view your friends engaging in VR, you can observe them together with the cans on, you can observe them on the tracks.  We have expanded lots of our only player games to multiplayer matches, we are attracting more multiplayer matches.

“All of this was made to be certain that even if the cans become omnipresent in the house, you can not replicate the sort of social experience we are building here.”

“Along with this, we are aggregating so much superior technology, in regard to best-in-class cans, all these peripherals, all these haptic vests, and hands controls, making it rather different from everything you are able to get in the house.”

While much of the content available in the centers is accredited from third-parties and improved with all IMAX’s custom technician, there are strategies for more exclusive adventures later on.  Rob continues: “equally as significant, the material we are investing in will be exclusive to our VR centers, at least for a time period, which further distinguishes it in an at-home encounter.”

In addition to this, apart from supplying the hardware, IMAX’s partnerships with firms like HTC, Starbreeze, and Acer — that assembles the high-powered computers necessary for the VR centers to operate — permit IMAX to find out what is coming from the next generation of VR, and that, as Rob explains “provides us the capability to keep on the leading edge.”

The business has been growing its own VR camera, in partnership with Google, which Rob says will probably be in prototype-form at the close of the calendar year, also product-form by next year.  Most of all, the camera provides IMAX another means to differentiate its own VR offerings later on.

Rob explains: “If we are in a position to present our camera into one of those huge filmmakers that operate on IMAX films and make something which’s very unique, that is a different source of differentiation concerning content in our centers versus everything you are able to get in your home or at a different VR place”

IMAX Cinemas: An improbable VR savior?

Will all this be sufficient to bring VR in the margins of customer technology to the center?  Not alone, however, it has got the capability to play a large role in the general attempt to bring VR to the masses.  What is more, IMAX sees the partnership among the measures towards maintaining movie-going for a new creation.

This past year, among those big stories in the theater, was that Hollywood was apparently losing its grasp on its main market: 18-to-24-year-olds.  Statistics from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) revealed ticket sales for 18 to 24-year-olds dropped by over twenty-five, from 8.7 million in 2012 to 5.7 million in 2015.  Meanwhile, a number of ticket buyers aged 12 to 17 dropped from 5.5 million in 2013 and 2014, to 5.3 million in 2015.  That is also down from 6.3 million in 2012.

Put simply, Hollywood has a millennial issue.  However, IMAX is convinced all isn’t lost and sees its own VR aspirations as essential in the struggle to conserve the multiplex.

Rob states IMAX’s figures reveal that 70 percent of those bands attending the VR centers are millennials:

“That is super important.  Not simply because they assist dictate new tendencies in entertainment ingestion, but since if you are taking a look at going to the multiplex that is precisely the audience that the majority of operators are attempting to catch, or recapture.

“We could visit multiplex partners and inform them ‘not merely is that something which will assist your multiplex concerning increasing traffic, but also the visitors that you would be getting is precisely the target audience that you need to attract back into the multiplex’.

“I believe to the extent that you are searching to put in a completely new generation to movie-going or get more millennials to the multiplex, I believe VR is completely a method which may be carried out.”

It is going to take far more than the acceptance of millennials to shoot IMAX’s VR masterplan in the drawing board into the High Street, needless to say, but it is certainly a beginning point.

For the time being, however, IMAX is focussing on the 10 pilot centers it intends to start this season, and “assessing the operation and knowing whether that is, in fact, a company we would like to roll out to a worldwide scale.”  However, if the figures remain pointing towards a favorable reply, there are every opportunity movie theater lobbies can come with VR centers built-in later on.

Rob imagines such a long run as being one where IMAX is as spent in VR because it’s in films, including: “When it will prove effective, I will absolutely see developing a community like the 1200-screen network we have created in cinema.”