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Japanese internet cafes' latest service is VR theater for one

Engadget Engadget 5/04/2016 Mat Smith

© Provided by Engadget

Smokey Japanese internet cafes aren't where the possible future of entertainment is typically revealed to the press, but here I am. An association of said internet cafes and entertainment complexes will roll out a virtual reality 'theater' service across Japan, starting with 31 establishments in the Kanto region. Importantly, it'll feature content that people might actually want to watch: a quick VR take on popular anime series Attack On Titan as well as a full 15-minute Ghost In The Shell360-degree CGI movie. For better or worse, Gear VR will be powering the service, and to make it seem all the more futuristic, some cafes will have egg chairs to sit in. Cool, yes. But, comfortable? Well...

The Attack On Titan comics, and resulting anime and movies, are huge in Japan. People love it, and the antagonists: big creepy looking giants with huge grins, are scary and perfect for VR. Alas, it reeks of an IP cash-in. It's only five minutes long, and it looks like it was made for smartphones -- which it was, I guess. Weird clouds of smoke suddenly obscure vision, and it all looks rather hastily put together. While your character zip-lines from building to building, you move at an almost constant velocity. We've all sat on a swing: that isn't how it works. Japanese people will have to pay 600 yen (just over five dollars), for such a brief video. Those rights must have been expensive.

It's also notable that none of the content is interactive and the focus for now is on video, although the companies involved say they are looking into offering more immersive experiences (and possibly even games) as VR continues to propagate. (Yep, Oculus Rift was mentioned.)

This was the first time I've seen disposable masks made especially for use with VR headsets. That spongey contact area between your face and the screen might be touching a lot of people, but in typical Japanese style, they've come up with a solution -- a disposable paper mask that surrounds your eyes. No more Oculus Rash.

On the other hand, Ghost In The Shell:Virtual Reality Diver is what happens when you invest money and effort into your VR content. Despite screaming for a higher-resolution hardware to do it justice, the beautiful GOTS: VRD is a self-contained mini-story that blends well with the iconic anime movie and series that followed it. Without spoiling it, it's thrilling, pretty and -- simply put -- well-made.

'Ghost In The Shell:Virtual Reality Diver' is what happens when you invest money and effort into your VR content.

Interpia, which is behind the chain of internet cafes, has connections with Samsung, which partially explains why the service is arriving on Gear VR over other more comfortable, more advanced headsets. It's also obviously cheaper hardware to set up. While the "Telepod" egg chairs make for a futuristic photo opp and offer a degree of privacy, but they're not necessarily the best option when you're craning your neck around inside a VR movie. VR Theater's spokesman said that these pods will be limited to only a few branches at launch.

VR Theater attempts cuts away the steep price of entry for a tech that's still in teething. Gear VR itself requires a specific model of smartphone (and Japan is a country of iPhone users), while HTC's Vive, Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR all have price tags approaching that of a standalone console. That's the point: if someone is already hitting up an internet cafe to play darts, read magazines, or use the internet, then they might be willing to pay 600 yen for a short video "experience" -- and there will free content available on the VR Theater headsets as well. The service is pitched at people who haven't yet experienced (or even heard of) the recent developments in virtual reality. More people means more potential customers, and more demand for better, grander VR content: this may be just the start

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