To learn more about VR and its real world applications, we recently took a trip to the world’s first Virtual Reality Cinema which is located in Amsterdam; perhaps a surprising fact unless you’re familiar with their burgeoning digital media scene.
The cinema itself is located near the central station and is run by &samhoud, a media company in the Netherlands.
The experience costs 12.50 euro for a 30 minute experience, which is pretty reasonable for the technology and novelty. Before we entered we were given the option of buying a drink, providing we chose one that would work with the headset. For example, due to the size and shape of the gear, glasses of wine were impossible to drink from and therefore forbidden. Perhaps unusually for something called a cinema the room itself was completely bright, with full views to the outside world.
After we had sat down and got comfortable the usher explained the functionality of the technology, encouraged us to have fun, and warned us that the experience might not be completely HD. The headsets used were the Samsung Gear VR coupled with the Samsung Galaxy Edge S7 phone and Oculus mobile application; equipment that is more aimed at the mainstream consumer market. Rather than being a feature as you might expect at a cinema, the ‘films’ were made up of 4-5 shorts clips in one genre – fun, scary, or documentary. For this experience we chose Fun, which was made up of animations, music videos, and animal clips.
Viewers at the cinema were individually helped to make it their own experience; focusing the camera, optimising sound, choosing a film. We were also encouraged to use the full capability of the swing chairs to move, explore, and play with the technology.
The music videos which opened the experience were a little disorienting. Being dropped into the middle of a U2 performance, with various singers and instrumentalists everywhere you turn, is a lot to get used to. The singers appeared and disappeared at random, and would make full eye contact with the viewer.
The technology itself, as we were fairly warned, was not 100%. The headset required a great deal of fiddling and focusing in order to get the best experience, but it was never completely as you’d want. However, despite the limitations of the technology, the VR excelled in one area – CGI and animation. At Tilt we were already well aware of this strength and are working to upskill our strong in-house animation skills so that they can be used in VR environments. Animation was ideal because unlike the filmed footage it could be completely optimised for the technology – every angle, every shot, every sound was completely created for the ultimate experience without the influencing factors that naturally come with live action footage. It was also possible to look around and be fully immersed in the experience, going on an adventure within that world.
The animations were diverse enough to display the skill and possibilities of the technology. A short of a ball rolling down a track and causing mayhem worked to encourage the viewer to completely explore the area available to them, and was the best expression of the kineticism and movement possible with 360 technology.
Some aspects of the technology were limiting – it was very difficult to wear glasses with the headset, block out sound, or achieve a completely clear picture. The experience was also generally very tiring to use for long periods of time. The headphones weren’t completely immersive and failed to block out environmental sounds, meaning that the scary option was perhaps not the best idea, as the screaming of other viewers prevented the VR cinema from being a truly immersive experience.
With the current technological limitations and future possibilities of VR tech, it is perhaps ideal that the Virtual Reality Cinema offers short clips rather than immersive, full feature films. A two hour experience would potentially be exhausting, although this will change when the higher spec headsets become more commercially viable for mainstream (Oculus Rift & HTC Vive) – true feature VR experience is where the technology is heading.
Virtual Reality is exciting, dynamic, and representative of the future we are heading towards. It’s easy to get bogged down with expectations while forgetting how amazing the potential of this technology is, but the advancements that need to happen are likely to occur in leaps and bounds. The world’s first VR cinema was well worth the trip, and will soon be heading to other major European cities including London.
2016 has been fairly described as the year of Virtual Reality, and will see the opening of Bjork’s VR exhibition in London, which we are excited to also be covering.
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