Imax brings virtual reality to movie theaters

We went eyes-on with this ambitious new cinema experiment, now open in New York City and Los Angeles.

Brianne Garrett Editorial Intern
Brianne is an editorial intern for CNET from Bay Shore, NY. She is a rising senior at Boston University, studying journalism and Spanish. A lover of food and travel, her passion is storytelling in all its forms.
Brianne Garrett
3 min read
Watch this: Inside Imax's first virtual reality arcade

IMAX VR: Tilt Brush allows you to use an entire room to create three-dimensional drawings.

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I flew over the Eiffel tower, fought off swarms of attacking mummies and made an entire room my canvas, all in the same day. Sounds impossible? Not with the new Imax Virtual Reality arcade that offers an immersive, lifelike experience, and it's coming soon to a movie theater near you (if you're in one of the initial test markets).  

Imax's VR arcade combines the features of video games and roller coasters into 10 very different experiences that involve both sitting, standing and, in some cases, walking around. That's the appeal of VR, you don't just get the 360-degree, 3D vision with the headset, you also vividly hear and feel every moment, and once the game starts it really does feel like you've stepped into another world.

I've tested out other virtual-reality simulations before, and some of the hardware used here is similar to what deep-pocketed consumers can buy (such as the HTC Vive ). But being able to feel the vibrations of a helicopter, the fast-paced motion of sliding down a steep hill, and the shaky sensation of falling on hard ground -- along with their accompanying sound effects -- made these simulations feel close to real life.

I mustered the courage to test out the Mummy Prodigium Strike VR option, despite popular belief that this demo (held in a small cubicle called a "pod") was the scariest one there. I'm usually the one laughing during a scary scene, but as screaming zombies, giant spiders and herds of crows started coming at me at super speed from every angle, I let out more yelps than I'd care to admit and found myself clutching my headset just to remind myself that it's only a game.

I also couldn't help but wonder how strangely funny I looked to the outside world and what my closest friends would be doing in these moments. I'd bet they'd most definitely be pulling out their phones ready to capture me in entertaining action.

That's exactly what Imax CEO Richard L. Gelfond says he had in mind with these Imax VR centers, intending to make it a social experience that can be enjoyed by people both inside and outside of the game. That's the difference, according to him, between the Imax experience and setting up an HTC Vive at home, which can play most of the same games, but costs an substantial amount to set up. In Eagle Flight Multiplayer, you can be a bird flying over Paris while your friends joke about your bizarre head and arm gestures as they wait for their turn.

What's better is that this all takes place in a movie theatre, making this a twofold entertainment experience. The Mummy VR experience and the film, in particular, were intentionally launched simultaneously, so people can watch Tom Cruise intensely battle against armies of mummies and, later, reenact an actual scene from the movie and test out his moves for themselves.

The VR arcade is currently only available in Los Angeles and New York locations, but 10 pilots are expected to launch by the end of the year in Imax movie theaters.