StarVR, IMAX, and the Future of Cinema

Colin McMahon
Sep 12, 2016
The cinema industry has been experiencing problems for years, ever since the advent of HD TV technology in the home. This past summer saw a largely disappointing blockbuster season (helped largely through the Chinese movie-going market, rather than national gross). With 3D being increasingly seen as a fad and not the next step forward, movie companies are again looking to the future. IMAX looks to have chosen Starbreeze, Acer, and the StarVR as its future.
Original StarVR headset concept design.

Original StarVR headset concept design.

Many of the virtual reality (VR) headsets today target the consumer market directly. StarVR currently has no plans for consumer release. The team (and its owners) have instead partnered with IMAX to bring a higher level of VR entertainment to IMAX locations. The StarVR is a high-end headset, capable of image resolutions not possible on the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. The headset also sports a 210 degree field of view (FOV), making it an all-encompassing image on the user’s eyes.

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While IMAX has yet to reveal its long-term intentions with StarVR, it is clear that the company wants to use the technology to excite the increasingly uninterested movie-going consumer. IMAX has revealed plans to launch six VR theaters by the end of 2016, and the first units shipped out earlier this month. This strategy is well-advised for the movie theater giant, which seems to be wanting to ride the wave of VR – rather than chase after it.

It is important to stress that, unlike 3D and even original IMAX film, VR will not strengthen the cinematic experience: it will re-invent it. Many in the VR industry consider the days of traditional cinema to be numbered (Oculus has already introduced Oculus Cinema – a free app that virtually recreates a movie theater). With this in mind, only movie theater chains offering superior VR technology will be able to compete (some in the industry feel that, to remain relevant, theaters will need to shift to more of an “arcade” format).

VR films are already in development, with the first feature-length VR film to release this Christmas. While this feature sounds more 360-degree than a true exercise of VR, shorter, more interactive projects have also already been released – with some VR “movies” reacting directly to where the viewer is looking. Oculus recently won an Emmy award for the VR short “Henry.”

InfoTrends’ Opinion

VR is an expensive technology, but one that will decrease in price as time passes. Right now is a golden opportunity for cinemas to begin the transition into future revenue growth. While movie goers may not be wowed by 3D anymore, the idea of a VR arcade is still futuristic and new. Movie theaters offer open rooms, as well as dark environments that are perfect for adapting into VR space.

The line between game and film will continue to blur in the future, as VR integrates mediums that had previously been separate. If theaters want to continue to be the go-to location for the latest cinematic experiences, they will have to embrace VR in the near future. It is encouraging to see IMAX taking such an active role, and InfoTrends will pay close attention to the other cinema companies that follow suit. VR can be the future of cinema – or it may bury theaters forever. The trick for theaters is to use headsets and other technology not available on the consumer market. StarVR could be a strong first step.

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