VR, Coming to a Theatre near You

Dreamscape Partners with AMC for VR Experiences

Virtual reality (VR) has failed to live up to the initial market hype, but we remain optimistic about the opportunity. To date, the most popular devices have been smartphone-based VR headsets that are affordable and convenient, but content quality and immersion has been hindered by hardware and processing limitations. The first generation of PC-tethered systems, which feel rather experimental, are still expensive despite recent price cuts. This has put them out of reach for most consumers.

With this in mind, many start-ups have been looking to bring VR content to movie theatres, hoping that the atmosphere and equipment will help VR and professional content converge. This is certainly happening: in 2016, the world’s first VR movie theatre opened in Amsterdam (see VR Movie Revolution Goes Dutch).

This week, VR start-up Dreamscape Immersive announced a $20 million round of funding led by AMC, the world’s biggest movie theatre chain. The start-up is backed by some of the top names in Hollywood including Steven Spielberg, Warner Bros., 21st Century Fox, MGM and IMAX. The partnership with AMC will allow Dreamscape to bring full-body motion capture VR technology into movie theatres throughout the US.

Dreamscape’s technology allows up to six people to explore and interact in a VR environment simultaneously, seeing fully rendered avatars of each other. The company uses more than a dozen cameras and sensors to transport people into various digitally-created environments. It will open a flagship location in the first quarter of 2018 at the Westfield Century City mall in Los Angeles and plans to open six centres over the next 18 months. For now, the shows are relatively short — about 10 minutes or so — more analogous to a game of laser tag than watching a full movie.

As Americans opt for the convenience of on-demand movie rentals and streaming sites, AMC believes professionally-supplied VR could be an opportunity to enhance the entertainment experience, attracting customers willing to pay a higher price for a new type of showbiz venue. This does create logistical challenges for theatres, potentially requiring remodelling to accommodate many smaller groups.

Dreamscape joins other companies that are trying to take advantage of the still-untapped consumer promise of VR. Retail shopping malls, for example, are looking to reinvent themselves by offering different types of experience to better compete with e-commerce sites.

But the company won’t be without rivals. The Void, a start-up from Utah, recently announced a deal with the Walt Disney Company to offer Star Wars-themed VR experiences at Disney malls outside theme parks in California and Florida. Dreamscape is developing original content and its Hollywood pedigree gives it a good shot at making this real.