IMAX Moving Into Virtual Reality Via Strategic Partnerships

imax-logoBy James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

In a definite sign of the times, the maker of the largest screen format in our industry has decided to start going small. Making the announcement at Google I/O, IMAX has partnered with the Alphabet company to create their own brand of Virtual Reality with a cinema-grade VR Camera.

“Today’s partnership with Google takes us into the next frontier of immersive experiences – virtual reality – and we look forward to working with them to provide our filmmaker partners and other content creators with a level of [Virtual Reality] capture quality not yet seen in this space. VR marks an exciting area of opportunity for IMAX and we believe this agreement, which enables us to participate in image capture and content creation, is an important first step in our broader [Virtual Reality] strategy.” – IMAX Corp. CEO, Richard L. Gelfond

Jump VR Rig

Based on the Google Jump VR platform (also known as Odyssey), the new IMAX virtual reality camera is designed “to enable today’s leading filmmakers and content creators to deliver the highest-quality 3D 360-degree content experiences to audiences worldwide.”

But rather than using GoPro cameras, IMAX engineers will join forces with Google to design a brand new, cinema-grade virtual reality camera from the ground up, building on the IMAX cinema camera platform, but in a Jump VR virtual reality package.

“IMAX is known everywhere for their incredible immersive cinematography and sound, and we’re delighted to have them contribute their decades of experience in cameras and content to the Jump platform.” – Clay Bavor, VP, Virtual Reality at Google.

Starbreeze’s StarVR

To sweeten the pot, IMAX has given Google complete access to their entire IMAX documentary catalog with which to convert and deploy as virtual reality content, as well as bringing along a partnership with Swedish-based virtual reality content creator and hardware designer, Starbreeze AB.

Starbreeze AB will bring along their expertise with their StarVR headset, that provides a 210 degree full peripheral field of view, as well as their own existing library of virtual reality content which includes games and films. IMAX will also create premium content for StarVR users once the IMAX/Google VR Cinema camera is brought online.

“Just as IMAX provides the best cinematic experience, Starbreeze is a pioneer in the burgeoning VR market and its headsets will deliver a wider, ‘IMAX-like’ field of view to allow consumers to see, feel, move and play in new worlds in a powerfully immersive and realistic way,” said IMAX CEO Gelfond.

IMAX will also create special new VR Experiences at select IMAX Multiplex locations near shopping centers and tourist destinations, starting with six locations this year. In addition, there is one specific location that has already been selected to begin testing new VR initiative.

I get why IMAX is doing this… They want to be where the cutting edge is. That’s right in IMAX’s wheel house. But as someone who simply hasn’t drunk the virtual reality kool aid yet, I can’t help but wonder if IMAX is missing a huge opportunity here. If anyone can bring the concept of the holodeck to the world, it’s IMAX.

If you take the IMAX concept, and wrap the audience in a projection cube that completely immerses them (kinda like Microsoft’s rumored Illumiroom does), then we would have something truly cutting edge.

But as far as headset VR goes, it strikes me as a major departure for IMAX since this is far from the core mission of IMAX to go bigger with everything. After all, IMAX stands for Image Maximization. But the argument could be made that image maximization doesn’t necessarily mean bigger. However, I hope this isn’t just another headset experience, and that IMAX improves on the quality. I already expect a deep rich sound.

This just seems like more of the same with virtual reality, in spite of the fact that StarVR looks like a serious high-performance headset. But that doesn’t change the reality that IMAX is trying to grab a piece of the pie, rather than baking their own.

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Doddlenews is the news division of the Digital Production Buzz, a leading online resource for filmmakers, covering news, reviews and tutorials for the video and film industry, along with movie and TV news, and podcasting.

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