When Nic Wehmeyer, an associate creative director from Brooklyn, visited Los Angeles recently, he was determined to check out the future of entertainment. But rather than tour one of the big movie studios, he headed to a nondescript building with blacked-out windows across the street from trendy L.A. mall the Grove. There, in Imax Corp.’s first pilot virtual reality center in the U.S., he and his buddies had their senses engaged in ways no conventional film can match. “The multiplayer game was by far the most enjoyable,” says Wehmeyer. “The immersive, shared experience was a lot of fun and something I would totally do again.”
Imax, best known for its high-tech movie screens, hopes others will feel the same at its new VR parlors. For $1 a minute, a group of friends can experience flight as eagles above a deserted Paris or dive into a world of criminals as assassin John Wick from the movie franchise of the same name. Ticketing is similar to most theaters: You can book time slots in advance online or purchase them at the center.
Imax says the initial reception to VR content—often around 10 minutes—at the Imax VR center in L.A. has been so enthusiastic that it’s increasing the number of locations, to 11 from 6, for the rollout. On May 26 the company will open its second VR parlor in the U.S. at a multiplex in Manhattan. A total of five U.S. centers are planned, as well as locations in Tokyo; Shanghai; Toronto; Manchester, England; the Middle East; and France. “The idea of the pilot phase was to pick a variety of locations, with different characteristics so we could ascertain what kind of areas this worked in and didn’t,” says Imax Chief Executive Officer Richard Gelfond. “It’s really a learning phase.”
Technology and entertainment companies are racing for a slice of the virtual-reality business that analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. estimate could generate $80 billion in revenue by 2025. With U.S….