February 22, 2021 Chakravarthy Elumalai

How soon can you watch movies in Virtual Reality?

Progression of movie tech

Movies have entertained several generations of audiences for over a century. For most of the time we have watched them on flat screens whether it is theatrical projection or Digital TV. In 2009 ‘AVATAR’ brought the 3D stereoscopic projection to global audiences and took entertainment to another dimension. But since then, we have not seen any major turning point in the movie technology….until now. 

With the advent of VR technology and a myriad of VR headsets getting released in recent times, the movie industry has an opportunity to reinvent itself. As the trend is shifting towards video-on-demand and online streaming, personal devices have gained more audiences too. It is not a distant future where watching movies on personal devices would overtake the theatre going trend. At this junction it is only natural that people would want to watch movies on a VR headset in a more immersive way. 

What do we mean when we say VR movies? 

Technically this can mean many things as listed below.

1.Watching regular movies on a VR headset

AR | VR | Interactive Media

In the most basic way you can watch movies on a planar screen in VR. The virtual screen could be anywhere from a TV size to the glorious Imax size. You could also call this a Virtual reality theatre. As for the content, any existing video can be played on this. And, if you need to produce content, it can be created with regular cameras and post processing techniques.      

2.Watching stereoscopic 3d movies on VR headset

AR | VR | Interactive Media

This is an experience of watching movies that are shot with stereoscopic 3D technology on a VR headset. Movies like AVATAR and  GRAVITY which fall into this category are shot with a two camera setup and yield a special format video. We need the right kind of player on a VR device to play them. The experience is fantastic as we get the 3d effect along with the big screen view. 

3.Watching 360 degree videos on a VR headset

AR | VR | Interactive Media

This is where the technology gets more immersive than a regular stereoscopic movie. In recent years the technology for capturing images and videos in 360 degrees has greatly progressed. The most well known example of this would be the google street view. Here the viewer is no longer restricted to see the things in front of him. He can rotate his head to any direction including up and down. Special cameras will be required to capture these videos and right players will be required to play them in VR. This is also sometimes called 3DoF VR. These can be monoscopic or stereoscopic videos depending on the camera system used. 

4.Watching 3d Real-time content on VR headset

AR | VR | Interactive Media

This is where things get crazy. All these while we have discussed content that can be either flat or slightly popping out of the screen. But when VR is used to present 3D real-time content, the audience is surrounded by the content. Not only can they look in any direction but also be able to move around in the scene as the story unfolds before them. This is a truly immersive experience. If we take this technology a bit further, you will be able to interact with the virtual world and change the flow of the story. This would be expensive to produce as the world and the characters will entirely have to be created in 3D. 


So when can we watch them?

Short answer to this is “Right now”. As mentioned above the level of immersion is progressing fast with more and more technological advancement and adoption. If you can’t wait to own your personal Imax screen inside VR, there are numerous VR headsets out on the market. Pick the one that has good pixel resolution and refresh rate. As for the content, there should be ample content for the first two types and sparse content for the latter ones. 


Fully immersive VR content is an untapped industry holding a billion dollar potential. A lot of inventions are happening that will enable us to even capture live environments for Virtual reality. I cover more on these and how to make immersive video content for VR in my upcoming blogs. Stay tuned. 

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Chakravarthy Elumalai

Engineer, artist and an entrepreneur who loves to create products that impact people in meaningful ways.

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