China has officially opened its first ever virtual reality cinema in Beijing, to give cinemagoers the experience of being able to experience film in multiple dimension.
The VR cinema was built by Chinese electronics company Gome and is only the second of its kind in the world. What makes it different from a regular picture house is the fact that the audience can see, hear, smell and even feel in 360 degrees.
Instead of just passively consuming the media, audience members can interact with the film and even choose to play any character in the story by stepping into the character's virtual "shoes".
Cinemagoers sit in swivel chairs that enable them to move about freely and turn around as part of the experience, and when it comes to encountering challenges, the viewer must physically move one hand in front of the other to get the character on screen to climb up a mountain, for instance.
The end result is part-video game, part movie, and bears more similarities to an interactive role-playing game, rather than a film-watching experience, according to Vocativ.
The first ever virtual reality cinema opened in Amsterdam in March 2016. Because the global movie industry today is not designed to step beyond three dimensions, the cinema has had to create its own VR film experiences, which include a scary horror film, a nature documentary about polar bears and a "swim with dolphins" adventure for children.
Reviews of the VR cinema in Amsterdam online are mostly positive, but the experience comes off more as a one-off novelty experience rather than a pilgrimage serious film buffs will want to make on a regular basis. There are also concerns that the image resolution is not quite where it needs to be yet.
Huge demand for virtual reality in China
Nevertheless, Gome envisions setting up another 100 VR cinemas across China in 2018, and with good reason – the country's demand and interest in virtual reality products and contents has soared.
PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that over 85 million virtual reality headsets will be in use in China by 2021 and revenue from VR content will hit $3.6bn (£2.8bn), with 54% of the revenue to come from video, while 46% comes from gaming.
"No one will get rich from hardware alone. The end game for these firms will be attempting to become the standard platform for VR and start to charge royalties or commission from content sales," PwC China's entertainment and media partner Jane Kong told the South China Morning Post.
"The entire VR market is new, with increasing VR device penetration and continual investment in the industry, its potential is very promising, even if profitability is an issue at present."