The question whether virtual reality will kill the movie has been increasingly debated over the last few years. Since the huge surge in popularity of virtual reality that resulted from the release of the Oculus, Samsung Gear, and Google Cardboard headsets, VR is looking more and more like a platform that could really threaten movies in years to come.
For anyone who doesn’t really know much about VR, it is a total immersion technology that allows users to go inside an alternate or virtual reality. The current technology uses special VR headsets that can vary amazingly in their complexity.
The Google Cardboard is quite simply a piece of cardboard that allows a user to place their smartphone inside. They can then experience VR just by viewing images on their smartphone screen. Other VR headsets, like the Oculus and the Gear, are far more complex, and of course, expensive.
These headsets are packed with all the latest technology that allows high-resolution 4k 3D graphics to be projected onto small screens inside the headset. They also have inbuilt headphones that allow the projection of 3D sounds that make the whole experience unbelievably realistic. These headsets allow for a much better VR experience than the Cardboard, but do require some serious computer power to do so.
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So why does VR represent a threat to regular movies?
VR has the potential to allow filmgoers to totally immerse in the world they are experiencing. VR allows viewers to rotate their head to view the action by as much as 360 degrees in some cases. Some VR scenes also allow viewers to zoom in on certain parts of the frame too. This makes for a much more interactive experience than normal movies ever could.
Why is this such a big thing? Well, studies have shown how our addiction to our smartphones is shortening our attention spans. It has also changed our behavior patterns so that now we demand more interaction with whatever we are watching/using etc.
This change plays right into the hands of VR technology as it allows some amount of control over how people experience the onscreen action. This interactivity has, for example, the potential to make horror films so much scarier.
Imagine seeing a character in front of you suddenly look horrified at something behind you, then as you turn around you see a monster jump at you. So scary would scenes like this be that it is possible that future VR horror films will actually have to come with a ‘scare rating’ to help people who with weak hearts and nerves etc. avoid the scariest ones.
Current VR technology is quite limited at the present time. The really exciting stuff will come in the future when VR will be able to generate entire film worlds with real-life actors playing the parts. This fully interactive film world will emerge from the other branch of VR technology – games. These games generated virtual worlds that are inhabited by other users and character bots. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, which owns Oculus, recently used some VR bots to show off VR. His company is already developing VR chatrooms where Facebook users will eventually be able to meet their friends.
Eventually, the technology will reach a point where it can use the kind of GCI graphics that are being used to bring actors back from the dead (as in The Fast and Furious and Gladiator) to create lifelike characters in these virtual worlds. Just think how amazing this technology could be.
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Fully Immersible VR Films
Imagine being able to freely roam around the world of your favorite film. You could go anywhere and interact with any of the characters. Take, for example, the film Halloween. You would be able to go out on the street or into people’s houses as the killer stalked the neighborhood. Like the characters in the film, you would never know what was about to happen or where the killer would strike next. The fear factor would be the same as if you were experiencing the events in real life.
This interactivity would actually mean that each viewer would gain a totally unique experience from the same film. While the characters would be the same, how the events unfold and the ending of the film could be different for everyone. This would mean that viewers would actually have so much more to talk about at the end, rather than simply asking “did you think it was good?”
Will Virtual Reality Kill The Movie?
Most people in the industry think that there is room for both types of movies. After all, they say, the movie didn’t kill the theater and TV didn’t kill the movie. It seems likely that they are right. Though VR films in the future have the potential to revolutionize the way we experience films, they will be solitary experiences. After all, you couldn’t just suddenly have a whole audience in the VR world with you as it would ruin the film.
The reason we all cram into movie theatres on a regular basis is not that we love being annoyed by people behind us eating popcorn, but because they are a place we can share our experience with others. There is nothing like sharing a moment’s laughter with a huge room of people. Of course, VR could allow us to meet in virtual movie theatres much like what Facebook is planning for their future chatrooms, but this would still not really be sharing in the same way.
How things play out we will really have to see. Movies are an art form and as such are not something that gets easily replaced by the next big thing. While the allure of ever more interactive film experiences does give VR the edge, the fact that we are social animals who desire real-life interactions is going to continue to mean that all of us will want to go see a movie from time to time.
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