Lexington Park Leader

Virtual reality, an empty movie theater, and peace: how the Rift could change how we watch movies

Virtual reality, an empty movie theater, and peace: how the Rift could change how we watch movies

I’ve been trying all sorts of interesting things with my Oculus Rift dev kit, but  most of them have been the expected virtual reality type stuff. I’m in space! I’m underwater! I’m flying around a neat-looking environment! These are the experiences we all want in virtual reality, and they’re still being perfected, but there are few surprises here.

That is, until I started walking around a virtual movie theater.

A small screen giving me a huge screen

There is a new demo that allows you to play 3D movies inside a simply rendered movie theater. You can sit anywhere you’d like, look around the theater, and watch the film on the screen. It’s a very strange way to watch a movie; I’m at home, in my office, but I feel like I have a movie theater to myself. It’s also strange to see the room in 3D, and then also see the image on the virtual theater screen in 3D. I was in my office, with my son running around upstairs, but I felt as thought I was alone in my personal movie theater.

Still, I was ignoring my nice computer monitors in favor of a virtual reality display that showed a virtual display inside a fake room in my real room. Why would anyone want to do this?

Well, for now at least, you don’t. The Rift screen is low resolution, so the image quality is of course going to be better on your HDTV or your computer’s monitor. But that will likely change with the retail edition of the hardware. The strange thing is that, while I’m just wearing a small, light headset, it looks like I’m staring at a giant theater screen. The movie looked much, much larger than the monitor I have in my office. So there’s something crazy about putting on a headset and feeling like you’re suddenly staring at a screen that feels at least as big as what you’d find at your local multiplex.

I felt alone, and calm. I could look around, get up and change seats, or move to the very front row and look up at the giant screen. Like watching a movie in a portable isolation chamber that’s set up to simulate an empty theater. The whole thing was very surreal.

There's also the fact that no light was spilling from the headset, nor from my headphones. My wife could be in the room with me, or she could be watching something else on the television, and I'd still feel like I'm in a huge room by myself, watching my own movie on a giant screen. Hell, you could lock me in a closet at that point and it wouldn't feel claustrophobic. This is the sort of thing that could help people pass the time on ultra-long flights without making them feel boxed in. I felt alone, surrounded by space, but to everyone else I was just sitting in a very small space.

Context is everything when it comes to entertainment, and when I watch a movie in my home it feels a certain way. Having such a well-designed illusion giving me the feeling of being in a theater, the movie felt like an event. It held my attention in a way a movie wouldn’t if I had been sitting in my chair, checking my e-mail or writing at the same time. I felt focused, closed off, and pleasantly alone.

Once the Rift is released with a higher resolution screen, I could see watching entire movies in this way, especially when I need a break or want to get away from things. People are learning how to do interesting things with the Rift hardware, and sometimes the unexpected experiments are the most successful. If you have a Rift dev kit, you should definitely check it out.