This Week in Pods

Virtual reality pods might be coming soon to a theater near you.

Photo credit: Maurizio Pesce, CC BY 2.0.

In 2010, I went to a showing of Tron: Legacy at a movie theater in San Jose specifically so I could try their D-Box motion seats that shake when the movie does.

It was exciting, but not that exciting, and the movie theater has since gone out of business.

But what if you could go to the theater and experience a cinematic universe not from a humble, earthbound, lurching chair, but from the inside of a virtual reality pod?

Imax plan for VR pods in cinemas around the world, including China and Japan, may be the boost the technology needs

Is virtual reality (VR) about to radically change from being a form of home entertainment to a luxury add-on to a movie experience in your local multiplex? A pilot project by large-format film company and cinema owner Imax to replace seats with VR pods in select locations looks set to be built around the most powerful and immersive VR headsets.

The first Imax VR centre opened at the Grove Imax in Los Angeles last week, with more to follow this year in London, China, Japan and a further two in North America. The new venues will offer consumers a mix of games and other VR experiences on the HTC Vive and StarVR headsets.

Here’s what happened:

  • Companies like HTC, Oculus, and PlayStation made high-quality VR headsets designed for the individual consumer.
  • Many consumers could not afford these headsets. The PlayStation VR, for example, costs $399.99 for just the headset and $499.99 for a “launch bundle” that includes the headset, a PlayStation camera, two PlayStation Move motion controllers, and the game PlayStation VR Worlds. (Plus—and this is important—you already need to own a PlayStation.)
  • So HTC Vive and StarVR cut a deal with Imax to set up VR centers in movie theaters. It makes perfect sense, and is way better than those old arcade and claw machine games that no one ever plays. Plus, it lets people who might be able to afford a personal VR system—or who might want to save up for one—test the gear.

How is Imax going to use virtual reality to enhance your film experience?

Initial plans are to fit a dedicated cinema within existing Imax multiplexes with between 10 and 14 pods. The idea is that movie-goers will tack on a short but sweet VR experience in a pod for a movie they’ve just watched in a separate auditorium. Seen Star Wars: Rogue One? Now explore the Death Star in VR, enjoying fabulous production values and facilities.

I actually checked Imax’s VR site, and they don’t say anything about exploring the Death Star. Here’s their Star Wars VR tie-in:



Take Your First Step into a Larger World of Star Wars. The creative minds of Lucasfilm’s ILMxLAB take you to a galaxy far, far away…Star Wars: Trials on Tatooine. Wield a lightsaber and leap into action in the most immersive Star Wars virtual reality experience ever. Repair the iconic Millennium Falcon on Tatooine, and defend the plucky droid hero R2-D2 from incoming stormtroopers in this captivating experience set after the events of Return of the Jedi.

Category: Suitable for VR Beginners
Content Advisories: Fantasy Violence
VR Advisories: Combat Situations

This isn’t the only Imax VR scenario being offered, and as I scrolled through the options I saw content advisories for “Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language” (that’s for the John Wick VR scenario, and I don’t know about you, but I thought the whole point of John Wick was that you do not want to be John Wick) and no VR scenarios that weren’t, in some way, about fear and adrenaline.

Five of the seven scenarios include violence. There’s no VR scenario that’s, like, “hey, go explore this cool forest, or maybe this rad Victorian mansion that isn’t haunted or scary but has really interesting architecture.”

Which is really disappointing. I don’t want more violence in the world—or in the virtual world. I know that’s the nature of games, even Mario or, you know, chess is about killing things, but VR stopped sounding cool the minute Imax asked me to imagine myself as a hitman or even attack a Stormtrooper. (Did we not see The Force Awakens? Are we not supposed to sympathize with Finn?)

But I’m only one consumer and I’m not even their target consumer, so… yeah, these things will happen, and people will go to the movies and get into their VR pods and start killing virtual people, and at some point we’re going to have to deal with what that really means.

As with all shared pod experiences, I really hope these things are sanitized after every use.

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