Disney mulls virtual reality for its video games

The media powerhouse sees an opportunity in bringing its Infinity franchise into the world of virtual and augmented reality.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
2 min read

Disney Infinity ropes in many popular franchises like Star Wars and Marvel. Disney Infinity

Walt Disney may be the next major company to take a plunge into virtual reality.

The Burbank, Calif., multimedia conglomerate is intrigued by the prospects of both virtual and augmented reality technology, and would consider adding the technology to its Disney Infinity video-game-and-toy franchise, as well as other videos games. The company may even build specific games to take advantage of the medium, Reuters reported Thursday from an interview with Disney Interactive President James Pitaro.

Disney would be just the latest major player to dip its toes into virtual reality, a burgeoning technology that takes you to computer-generated worlds thanks to a sophisticated headset paired with a computer or smartphone. Virtual and augmented reality were one of the key themes of this week's Electronics Entertainment Expo, the video game industry's largest annual conference, with products like the Oculus Rift and Microsoft's HoloLens generating a lion's share of the excitement.

Another recurring theme of the E3 show was the proliferation of toys that are meant to work with video games, which includes Disney Infinity. A logical next step would be to pair that market -- already worth $4 billion a year -- with virtual reality. Disney has already successfully crafted toys using well-known company-owned franchises like "Star Wars" and Marvel's "Avengers" and its own animation like "Big Hero 6."

While virtual reality takes you into different world, augmented reality, as pioneered by Microsoft's HoloLens headset, overlays computer-generated images on top of the real world. Microsoft, for instance, showed off a demonstration where it used the headset to create a digital Minecraft environment on top of a real table. Both technologies have long been touted, but have picked up steam in the last few years.

More competition is coming in VR. The Vive VR headset from Valve and HTC is expected to make its debut for the holiday season, and Oculus, a unit of Facebook, will make its headset commercially available early next year. Microsoft has said it will make the HoloLens available within the time frame of the Windows 10 operating system, which is set to launch in late July. But it's unclear whether this means HoloLens will be released this year or sometime within the entire lifespan of Windows 10.

Disney could easily expand the toy-box-like environment of its Disney Infinity franchise into virtual or augmented reality, Pitaro told Reuters, adding he is impressed with the technology.

A Disney spokeswoman wasn't immediately available to comment.