vr-max / visiondome :: Technical faq
- What is VR-MAX™?
VR-MAX™ is an immersive, interactive media experience using specialized curved screens and theater environments.
- You've already lost me. What do all those terms mean?
IMMERSIVE: In reference to theater technologies, Immersion describes any screen that fills the viewer's field of vision, resulting in the perception of “being there.” If it fills your peripheral vision, you can be fooled into a physiological response (vertigo, dizziness, ducking).
INTERACTIVE: Simply put, interactive experiences use technology to allow the audience to make choices that affect their experience with the media.
MEDIA EXPERIENCE: Because VR-MAX™ can include video, film, animation, computer-generated imagery and games, incorporated into a program that includes audience and host interaction and participation - both technologically and interpersonally, “media experience” is the best term to encapsulate everything VR-MAX™ can be.
- Are VR-MAX™ productions similar to IMAX® Domes or Planetariums?
Each of these presentation systems uses projectors and curved screens to create immersive experiences. The technologies, capabilities, costs and audiences, however, are different.
- These are all different brands, right?
VisionDome™, IMAX®-Dome®, (formerly OMNIMAX®) are the most prominent brand names of immersive theaters, technologies, and experiences. VR-MAX™ is a brand name owned by Sinard*, VisionDome™ is owned by Elumens, IMAX®-Dome and OMNIMAX® are owned by the IMAX® Corporation of Montreal, with offices in New York. VR-MAX™, VisionDome, Barco's Infinitec + technology, FakeSpace's CURV™ and CAVE® are the big players in the business world.
- What are the differences between these systems?
Planetariums are theaters with dome-shaped screens. Traditional planetariums use a mechanical starball to project a starfield image, and cannot show anything else. A digital planetarium uses images that are created and controlled by computers and projected by a video projector. Planetarium programming is usually limited to astronomy and celestial education.
IMAX® Domes are also domed screens, with content created on film or video and projected through film or video projectors. IMAX® Dome production uses 65mm film, which, while creating the highest-resolution image of any commercial or immersive dome in the world, is also the most expensive - by far (e.g. $500,000 just for the film stock needed for a typical a 40-minute show). Further, IMAX® Domes can't hook up to a computer (yet). IMAX® Dome content is traditionally educational or “edu-tainment” in nature, but in recent years the use of IMAX® theatres for presenting entertainment content, specifically blockbuster films, has become common.
Sinard is not affiliated with IMAX® Corporation, whose products are used only by way of contrast and comparison to explain the product category.
CAVE®, created at the University of Illinois and sold by FakeSpace, is the only system that literally surrounds the user - like the Holodeck on Star Trek. It's a four, five or six-sided room, with integrated projections on each surface. You can't get more surrounded; you also can't get more immersive without adding a masseur, incense and chocolate (but we would like to try!).
VisionDome, originally developed by Evans & Sutherland (later sold to Eluemns) became the world's first portable immersive presentation system. Like IMAX®, it uses a single, customized (and patented) lens, which means technicians do not have to align multiple projectors. Unlike IMAX®, the VisionDome projectors take computer inputs, and so can be used to present both linear and interactive content.
VisionDome was originally developed as an interactive training tool for the U.S. Military, and was later brought to the B2B market by Sinard Productions. VisionDome systems come in several different sizes, with a purchase cost ranging from the upper tens to mid-hundreds of thousands of dollars. All but the smallest VisionDome system use a metal support skeleton, assembly and disassembly of which can take up to a day; and the larger systems weigh hundreds of pounds. VisonDome systems are no longer in production, but are still available for rental from various dealers and production facilities, including Sinard. However, due to the technology's high price tag, rental prices have so far made VisionDome prohibitively expensive for most clients.
VR-MAX™ is Sinard's turn-key system of content production for the B2B market, combining new entertainment and interactive technologies with features of planetarium-style virtual reality and IMAX® Dome-style linear content. Typically, VR-MAX™ uses portable systems such as our 1.5 meter VisionStation or our 4-meter, inflatable, truncated dome and projector system. Due to the negligible rental prices, Sinard has positioned VR-MAX™ as an affordable alternative to static and non-immersive trade show and exhibit presentation methods.
- Did Sinard invent the any of this technology?
No. The Military and NASA commissioned the original VisionDome technology, and were the earliest adopters of 180º field-of-view, which provides flight training that is superior to a flat computer monitor. The medical and manufacturing industries have used immersive environments for training simulations as well as R&D. Sinard's innovation is to make this technology available for custom production and rental, at a lower price than preceding and alternative immersive presentation technology.
- Is VR-MAX™ the same as 3-D?
Well, first let's define 3-D. 3-D, as far as media goes, is a colloquial term for stereoscopy. By simultaneously presenting dual images of the same scene, taken from slightly different angles, stereoscopy mimics the process of human optical perception, allowing the user to perceive depth. Using a mechanical device (most commonly glasses or goggles), stereoscopy tricks the brain into perceiving three dimensions in a two-dimensional medium.
VR-MAX™ technology bypasses stereoscopy, yet gives the viewer an immersive visual experience. By filling the viewer's entire field of vision, VR-MAX™ removes the “frame” separating the audience from the program, giving an active, participatory experience. Additionally, VR-MAX™ does not require the audience to wear goggles or glasses.
Furthermore, since VR-MAX™ is a capability, and is intended to be used for custom media experience, stereoscopy can be used in conjunction with VR-MAX™ immersive technology to create a combined experience.
- So is “Virtual Reality” the same as “Immersive”; it surrounds you?
Not automatically. “Virtual Reality (VR) is an environment that is simulated by a computer” according to wikipedia. A computer environment, like a video game or simulation, can be interactive and be in “real time,” but it could be shown on a completely non-immersive flat movie, TV or computer screen. This is known at Sinard as “dull.”
VR-MAX™, VisionDome, and CAVEs can hook up to a computer, create a completely artificial “virtual” reality of a building, space station, flight, etc.Such computer generated worlds can be re-compiled to be shown on an immersive VR-MAX™ screen, turning them into Immersive Virtual Reality events. It is known at Sinard as “cool.”
The various flavors of IMAX® do not yet work with computers in real time; their language is the language of film or video, which is linear, with a beginning, middle and end. Therefore, even though the words are often used interchangeably, they are not VR; immersive, but not VR.
- So what is VR Photo or PhotoVR; what is Quicktime VR? Are THEY immersive?
The above definition of VR would really upset the people at the Internation VR Photography Association (http://www.ivrpa.org/iqtvra/docs/en/) — Sinard is a member — an organization whose Mission is “To promote and support the uses of QuickTime VR and related technologies worldwide through education . . . and technical support of our Members' efforts.” As photographers, they would resent the idea that the computer is central to the imagery, as they use the computer only to stitch photo images together and display them.
Definition: They use this definition (emphasis mine): “'VR' or 'Virtual Reality' encompasses a wide range of new technologies that offer the viewer an experience they participate in. Onscreen, people see a first person perspective because they have the ability to control their point of view. VR engages us with interactivity, and invites us to be active in the experience, as if we are really there.”
While photographers use computers, theirs is a world that interacts with “live capture” reality. Perhaps this sort of VR would be more appropriately named PhotoVR, or Panoramic VR. The primer on virtual reality (located at www.panoramas.dk/quicktime/index.html) refers to this style as VR Photos or VR Photography.
For our purposes at this site, their principal addition is this key concept: “first person” POV, which is true of all Virtual Reality images. This helps explain why VR is a superior descriptor to “simulation,” which can be anything, including role play or Legos.
Immersive? So here is an example of an entire industry using the term virtual reality to describe their work. Does it “surround,” is it “immersive?” No. This is an example of where VR is not immersive. (See a PhotoVR example). VR Photos look more like a periscope; a view through a magic window which you can point in any direction.
Quicktime VR: As for Quicktime VR, Apple invented the first practical way of “stitching” photos together into the first practical Photo VRs. The almost constant reference to it is a tribute to Apple's invention of and its powerful influence in the widespread adoption of Photo VR technology, even though they pretty much abandoned the technology once invented. “QuickTime VR was presented as an add-on to QuickTime in 1994 . . .” (The guide to Quicktime at Apple’s website (located at http://www.apple.com/quicktime/resources/tools/qtvr.html).