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Soon you won't go to an Imax for just movies, but for VR too

Imax thinks virtual reality should be enjoyed in a more social setting; this year it's setting up collections of VR pods at select theaters around the globe.

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I hear a lot of excitement when I mention virtual reality around people who haven't tried it yet. So why haven't they taken the leap? I get these three explanations most:

  • It's too expensive.
  • There isn't enough room in my house/apartment for a good VR space.
  • Most of the games look like demos instead of full games.

Those are all perfectly justifiable reasons not to invest in VR yet, so it might be a while before we see more casual consumers incorporating VR into their home entertainment setups. Still, people usually enjoy the technology when they do try it, which is why Imax thinks its Imax VR Centres will be a draw.

Each Imax VR Centre will have sleek, futuristic pods equipped with a headset and other peripherals.

Imax

The first of these recently opened in Beverly Hills, California, so I dropped by to see what it's all about. It's designed a lot like a movie theater. There's a lobby with large posters promoting the games currently available and coming soon, and a screen flashing various "showtimes" for each title. There aren't any concessions, though, and that's probably for the best, as you don't want someone else's greasy popcorn fingers ruining the controllers before it's your turn to try them out.

At the Beverly Hills installation, there were 14 pods; future locations will have between 10 and 15 pods depending on available space.

The pods have a clean, simple layout, with a TV mounted on a wall and some seating and storage space to dump your things in. Games will rotate in and out like theatrical releases, which seems like a good way to get people to come back often.

Some of the games have added immersion in the way of peripherals like rumble vests and D-Box seating, but one of the coolest ideas was a headset and machine gun pairing from Starbreeze for the John Wick Chronicles pod.

I tried a handful of pods: Eagle Flight, Knockout League, Rabbids VR Ride and Archangel. All offered very different experiences, which was a fun way to sample the range VR offers without buying a headset. During a presentation before the demos started, Imax reps said VR is a lot more social than people think, and they believe people will bring friends to its locations to enjoy the magic of virtual reality and share their experiences on social media. I don't know that I want my friends Snapchatting how dumb I look with a VR headset on, but your mileage may vary.

Some pods have special equipment for a more immersive experience, like this Starbreeze VR headset and gun controller pairing for John Wick Chronicles.

Imax

Imax plans to launch five additional locations this year: two in New York, a second location in Los Angeles, one in the UK and one in China. Almost all these centers will exist at an Imax theater location. The idea is that moviegoers might be more inclined to check out a John Wick VR game after they just watched him kick everyone's ass at their local cineplex.

It makes sense as an added-value kind of thing, plus Imax has enough locations globally to make it feasible for a wide rollout if the concept proves successful.

Pod time costs $7-$10 for around 5 to 15 minutes of play. If you wanted to check out that 15-minute demo for John Wick Chronicles, for example, you'd shell out $10. The shorter, simpler Rabbids VR Ride sets you back $7.

Doing the math, it would take around 100 pod visits to hit the price of either the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, the prevalent headset at the Beverly Hills center. But I imagine you'd know you were sold enough on VR to buy yourself a headset long before that point.

Considering movie tickets generally cost between $10 and $25 depending on where you live and what kinds of screen you're getting, this looks like a decent value for what you're getting. It's not a huge bargain by any stretch, but considering each pod is staffed to help visitors get started (not to mention the cost of kitting out each space with tech), I understand why it's priced the way it is.

Time will tell whether Imax has a hit on its hands with this foray into VR, but I can say I had a fun time checking everything out. If I were leaving a theater and saw one of these installations, I would probably spend a couple of bucks checking out something like, oh, say, a "Pacific Rim 2" experience or a Star Wars piloting game starring me and Poe Dameron.

Hint, hint.

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