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For the last couple of years, I've been telling any VR company I meet that to truly take the technology mainstream, they need to move beyond mobile to virtual reality arcades.
On Wednesday, the industry took a giant step in that direction with the launch of the very first IMAX VR location.
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Just one block from the movie theaters of The Grove shopping center in Los Angeles, IMAX VR will house 14 pods. Well, they aren't actually "pods," but large, rectangular spaces specifically devoted to various VR experiences.
Two of the VR pods at IMAX VR.
There's no entry fee. Instead, you can go into the space and pick any five-to-15-minute experience, which costs $7 to $10. In terms of equipment, IMAX VR uses the popular HTC Vive and the lesser-known Starbreeze StarVR headset. Among the experiences available are the John Wick Chronicles, Star Wars: Trials On Tatooine and Knockout League, all of which are experiences that truly pull you into another reality and take advantage of room-scale VR systems.
The reason virtual reality arcades like this are so important is that they allow the public to quickly sample the highest-end VR experiences for just a few dollars, paving the way for potential purchases of home systems like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
Without outlets like IMAX VR, and other independent arcades popping up around the country, most people get their first taste of virtual reality through mobile devices like the Samsung Gear VR — a decent but hardly immersive experience compared to the higher-end options.
And the reason IMAX is the absolute perfect company to launch this venture is because people are already accustomed to making a special trip to IMAX theaters for more premium cinematic experiences. Those are the people most likely to lead the charge in terms of becoming regular IMAX VR customers.
Although this week marks the official launch, the L.A. location has been quietly accepting customers for weeks (5,000 so far) and the company claims a 90 percent satisfaction rating from those who have visited. A brief look at the IMAX VR ticketing page reveals that a number of time slots for VR experiences are selling out, which is a good indicator for future arcades.
The plan is to open five more IMAX VR experiences this year, including locations in Shanghai and New York City. This is all amazing news, I just have one piece of advice: bring a VR mask!
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