For most people, the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the words “virtual reality” is entertainment. After all, a VR headset seems on the surface to be essentially a very high-tech video game. The truth is, though, it goes far beyond that. Not everyone plays video games, but everyone loves to be entertained in one way or another. Movie theaters, TV, and even theme park rides are never going away, no matter how advanced VR becomes.
On the contrary, it appears that virtual reality will support those entertainments more than replace them. Entertainment is often built on bringing the impossible to life. VR offers both a massive technology upgrade and a massive cost savings over simulating exotic environments in the real world.
For example, theme park ride designers are catching onto this fact quickly. Parks across the world are already incorporating elements of virtual reality into their creations. Attractions like Disneyland’s Radiator Springs Racers, which cost over $200mm to construct, are not likely to go away, but they almost certainly will become a rare sight in the wake of financially accessible and wonderfully convincing virtual experiences.
Here are some of the best things happening in the entertainment space as it acclimates to the advent of VR. All in all, it’s an exciting time to be a fan.
Movie theaters are typically ready and willing to try new technologies to keep their seats full. The silver screen and the theater experience are already quite immersive, but theater owners are always on the lookout for a new edge over home entertainment.
The trend goes all the way back to 1960, when the film Scent of Mystery incorporated the “Smell-O-Vision”, which released odors and scents to match the action. More recent and less comical innovations D-Box, 3D, and IMAX have enjoyed varying degrees of popularity.
In fact, it is IMAX that is at the forefront of the latest technological upgrade to the cinematic experience: Virtual reality. The firm has partnered with video game developer Starbreeze, director and producer Michael Bay (Transformers), and Google to open 6 “virtual reality hubs” around the world. Rooted in the movie theater experience, these VR centers are expected to incorporate the stunning cinematography and awe-inspiring vistas for which IMAX is known.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Amsterdam will soon be home to the VR Cinema. Eschewing the trappings of cinema entirely, VR Cinema showings operate more like silent disco. Patrons sit in a plain room, devoid of a screen and equipped only with comfortable, spinning office-style chairs. Wearing head-mounted displays, moviegoers view the show entirely in the virtual world.
Virtual reality theme park rides are an obvious application of the technology, and are actually not a new one. Parks like Disneyland, Universal Studios, and Six Flags have been leveraging flight simulator technology for years to create motion simulator rooms such as Star Tours. Although these attractions far predate the viability of immersive head-mounted displays, they use high-definition movie screens, booming sounds, and motorized seats to simulate adventures into space and beyond.
Today, modern virtual reality is finding an even stronger foothold in the theme park industry. Nine dedicated virtual reality roller coasters are in production at this time of this writing, with undoubtedly many more on the drawing board and the Six Flags Virtual Reality Roller Coaster already experiencing great success. Many of these rides take the innovative step of combining a real-world coaster with a head-mounted display. Riders might be transported to the back of a dragon or other fantastical environments, in a far more convincing and immersive fashion than could be achieved by even the best animatronics.
The industry leader in the space is VR Coaster. The firm partners with existing theme park establishments like Six Flags to add VR to their rides. Using Samsung Gear VR mobile-based headsets, riders can enjoy their favorite theme park rides on an entirely new level. Meanwhile, former Dreamworks executives have planted their flag in China. With a similar model to VR Coaster, Spaces is backed by $30 million in capital. The firm plans to both upgrade existing theme park rides and roller coasters in China with VR capabilities, and build new VR centers.
It is an ingenious move by both companies. By leveraging a physical ride structure, VR-enhanced coasters can provide a genuine sense of speed, complete with G-force and rushing wind. That’s one aspect of the theme park ride experience that VR cannot provide on its own. At least not yet.
It is a bit of a public secret that the adult industry is responsible for the success of a great many entertainment technologies. Porn is credited with the rise of VHS tapes, DVDs, and even high-definition TV.
Today, it seems that the adult industry will also speed adoption of virtual reality. Adult entertainment has thrown its weight behind VR, with the VR pornography market forecast to exceed $1 billion by 2025.
Adult industry giants are already releasing 360 degree videos, and sex toy manufacturers have gotten to work on remote-operated devices. These allow couples separated by geography to don head-mounted displays and have some technology-aided fun.
Of course, one of the most interesting things to happen in the adult industry with regards with these technologies has already been on the market for some time. The Glance app, available for the Google Glass augmented reality headset, allows two headsets to stream their views to each other. In other words, partners can literally see through each other’s eyes engaged in a variety of activities. The marketing for the app is subtle but effective, and definitely leads to a fun moment of realization once it sinks in.
TV is another industry that is historically quick to leverage new technologies. From HD to 3D, manufacturers continually strive give consumers another reason to keep sets flowing off the shelves.
Augmented reality is the natural next step for the industry. SeeSpace, a startup firm in operation for several years, is home to the InAir AR technology for TV which is a new type of television experience called 'Augmented Television' (Augmented TV). Utilizing a set-top box and the existing 3D capabilities of many televisions, InAir surfaces related web content for sports games, TV shows, and other programming. Content appears to float in front of and to the side of the set, available for easy access but not obstructing the view.
In the virtual reality space, the potential is huge, but the content is still upcoming. Aside from short films like the Google Spotlight Stories, short-form TV-style entertainment has yet to take hold. The possibilities are fascinating to think about, though. Imagine the new possibilities in storytelling to be gained by unchaining the viewer’s perspective, and allowing them to explore every nook and cranny. Viewers could see the knife behind a character’s back, or a side character could offer a reaction that only appears if the viewer looks directly at them.