IMAX will bring VR to a UK cinema by the end of 2016
VR experiences at the Manchester Printworks Odeon will take place in pods and cost between £8-10. The foyer of a Manchester cinema will be the home of IMAX’s first virtual reality centre in the U.K.
Twelve medium-sized pods will be placed in Manchester’s Odeon and allow people to step inside, strap on a custom VR headset, watch short movies and play games. Richard Gelfond, the CEO of the American visuals firm, told WIRED the capsules will be opening for paying customers by the end of 2016.
“You go into these pods, each one will have a headset in, you’ll put it on and we will have varied programming. When we open one of the things we will have is the Walking Dead,” the CEO who has been in charge of IMAX since 2009 says.
For content, Gelfond says the firm is working with a number of partners to produce experiences for those inside the pods. These include gaming firms as well as those producing movies and film.
“Over time the plan is to have content that is related to a movie that’s showing there,” Gelfond, who earned $14.5 million (£11.8m)in 2015 says. “You could do it before you go to the movie, after you go to the movie, or never go to the movie”
The Manchester Printworks Odeon will be one of six “pilot centres” around the world. The first IMAX VR centre – which, will be a separate facility not in a cinema – will be completed in Los Angeles in the next two weeks.
For the project IMAX is working with Star VR to use its headsets within the pods. The firm’s technology has a 5K quality and 210-degree field of view (larger than the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive) and will be manufactured by Acer.
Within the enclosed space the headset will be tethered to a PC controlling the experiences, but there will be space for the wearer to move around and, eventually, interact with objects.
While there is no set pricing structure, Gelfond says his firm is looking at setting the cost of each experience at around £8-£10.
Each of the sessions will last from anywhere between five and 15 minutes (depending on the content and video footage needed). As they develop, Gelfond says the duration of VR films isn’t likely to match full-length feature films.
Along with the UK branch, there will be another based in Europe, one in North America, and two in Asia. The exact locations of these have not been announced by IMAX yet, although he says one is likely to be in China.
Overall the CEO, a former investment banker, estimates it will cost $300,000-$500,000 (£244,000-£406,000) to “fit out” 15 VR pods in a space. These pods, if a company wished, could be bought by a third party and installed in their own locations – although, he says, IMAX has no plan to do this itself.
“If we fail, the reason will be we are too early. If you scale it, then it doesn’t have to be too early,” he says. “We’re trying to do it in a measured way”
Despite a measured approach, there are plans for fast expansion if the scheme is successful. He says: “If it keeps working then we will have 30-50 by the end of next year; if that still worked then I think 2018 would be an aggressive time for us.”
Bringing its VR centre to the UK is part of a wider move from IMAX, which is also developing VR cameras. Working with Google the firm is making a “consumer grade” 360-degree video camera and separately is making a professional level camera for filmmakers.
Source: Wired UK