IMAX wants to add VR to your next movie, by Rob Pegoraro

BERLIN — At a press conference before the IFA trade show here in Berlin, Germany, IMAX announced plans to add a bit of virtual reality to its IMAX theater experience with the opening of a new VR center in Los Angeles equipped with a new StarVR headset developed by Acer.

These short virtual-reality videos would essentially be the in-theater equivalent of the extras on a Blu-ray movie: additional content you can explore in virtual reality, the dessert you indulge in after a cinematic main course. And IMAX thinks you’ll want to pay $10 or so for this pleasure.

Rob Lister, IMAX’s chief business-development officer, described it as a logical extension of his employer’s mission “to give people an experience they can’t get anywhere else” and said the company (IMAX) is talking to “virtually every major Hollywood studio” about creating VR productions.

How it will work

Will you really want to pay $10 to experience one of these VR shorts after shelling out $15 or so for an IMAX flick? Lister seems to think so — explaining during an interview Wednesday that the experience would be more than just sitting inertly with a screen strapped to your face.

That is, it won’t be like that infamous photo from this February’s Mobile World Congress of Facebook founder and VR evangelist Mark Zuckerberg striding past an audience all wearing Samsung GearVR headsets.

Instead, Lister said, you’d have 15 to 20 “pods,” each with six to eight feet of space for you to walk around, HTC Vive-style, and explore a “heavily interactive” VR environment that would offer more than a simple movie trailer.

“I’m thinking seven to 10 minutes is kind of the duration of the ideal companion piece,” he explained. “It needs to stand on its own and have its own narrative. People wouldn’t pay $10 to watch a trailer.”

After L.A., IMAX is eyeing locations in New York, London and Shanghai. They could be added to an existing IMAX theater or set up in a mall or as a standalone establishment.

Google is also helping with the initiative, having announced a collaboration with IMAX in May. Acer, in turn, recruited game and VR developer Starbreeze Studios to develop the StarVR headset you’ll wear at one of these IMAX annexes.

The StarVR headset features two 5.5-in. displays that yield more than five million pixels of resolution and a wider field of view, 210 degrees instead of the usual 100 degrees. Starbreeze CEO Bo Andersson Klint bragged at Acer’s IFA press event: “We want to create the Matrix.”

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