Blockbuster virtual reality: Are moviegoers about to become the main characters?

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Blockbuster virtual reality: Are moviegoers about to become the main characters?

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Blockbuster virtual reality: Are moviegoers about to become the main characters?

Subheading text
Virtual reality promises to turn movies into a new level of interactive experience, but is the technology ready for it?
    • Author:
    • Author name
      Quantumrun Foresight
    • April 19, 2023

    Virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR) has the potential to completely change the way we experience entertainment. These technologies are already being utilized to provide a more immersive gaming experience, with players using headsets to interact with virtual environments in new and exciting ways. However, despite its potential, the film industry has been relatively slow in adopting VR/AR.

    Blockbuster virtual reality context

    Virtual reality was once thought to be the future of the entertainment industry. After the success of 3D in theaters, VR was seen as the next big thing that would bring blockbuster movies to a new level of immersion. In 2016, the launch of VR gaming equipment like HTC Vive and Facebook's acquisition of Oculus Rift sparked a renewed interest in the technology.

    However, some experts agree that the technology is still not advanced enough for mass production. One of the main challenges is the small market for VR movies (as of 2022). With only a limited number of consumers owning VR headsets, there is not enough demand to justify the high cost of VR content production, which can reach up to $1 million USD per minute (2022). This high cost is due to the demanding technical requirements of VR content creation, which includes the need for specialized cameras, motion-capture systems, and post-production work.

    Despite these challenges, there have been some small steps toward VR movies. For example, a 20-28 minute segment of The Martian was released, where users can become the main character, played by Matt Damon, through a VR headset. This project is a promising start, but much more work needs to be done to make VR a viable option for the movie industry. 

    Disruptive impact

    Despite VR technology's challenges in the movie industry, investors still believe in its potential. The idea of interactive movies that put the viewer right at the center of the action is exciting; with the right developments, VR could make this a reality. However, several hurdles need to be overcome before VR movies can become truly immersive.

    One of the biggest challenges is Internet bandwidth. To provide a smooth experience, VR headset connections need at least 600mbps (megabits per second) for a 4K-resolution video. With billions of potential viewers logging in simultaneously, this level of bandwidth is a significant challenge for Internet service providers (ISPs). Internet technology would need to improve significantly in the coming years to support longer VR films. Currently, the technology can only produce microworlds (full rendering of objects near the viewer only) instead of a fully-realized Metaverse like in "Ready Player One."

    Another issue with VR technology is the potential for users to experience unpleasant side effects, such as motion sickness and headaches. These symptoms can occur when the virtual environment does not accurately match the user's physical movements, leading to discomfort and disorientation. To mitigate this, developers are continuously testing and experimenting with different settings, such as the field of view, motion-to-photon latency, and the user's perceived movement speed. The goal is to create a VR environment that feels natural and seamless.

    Implications of blockbuster virtual reality

    Wider implications of blockbuster VR may include:

    • Increased demand for faster Internet speeds, particularly satellite ISPs that can reduce latency and improve connectivity.
    • VR content that allows viewers to “choose their own adventure,” which is hypercustomized and can personalize stories.
    • A future Hollywood that will not have big movie stars as their main draw but an experience that focuses on viewers as primary characters.
    • Increased social isolation as more people prefer to experience movies on their own.
    • The emergence of a new virtual economy, leading to the creation of new jobs and businesses.
    • Governments using VR films to create more immersive propaganda and disinformation.
    • Changes in demographic behavior and spending patterns as people shift their attention to VR experiences.
    • Advancements in VR technology leading to new forms of entertainment, communication, and education.
    • Reduction in carbon footprint as virtual travel and cinema become more accessible without leaving the house.
    • Changes in copyright laws to protect VR content creators and distribution companies.

    Questions to consider

    • Would you be interested in watching a VR movie?
    • How else do you think VR can change the way we watch films?

    Insight references

    The following popular and institutional links were referenced for this insight: