AUSTIN, Texas — What if you could feel the weightlessness of drifting in space, without leaving the ground?
To try it out, I strapped on a virtual-reality (VR) headset and headphones today (March 13) here at the South by Southwest Interactive conference. The demonstration gives people a small taste of weightlessness by putting them in a chair filled with hydraulics while a VR headset transports them into the spaceship from the movie "Interstellar," just as it enters a wormhole that induces zero gravity.
What is it like to dangle on a rock face in Yosemite National Park? Or to leap from cliffs in the Moab desert?
The North Face wants customers to find out.
The outdoors brand on Monday will debut a virtual-reality experience at its Chicago brand store, at 875 N. Michigan Ave., that transports customers to iconic terrains via a headset that gives a 3-D, 360-degree visual and audio simulation of actually being there.
Alameda, Calif.-based North Face, which partnered with Palo Alto, Calif.-based virtual-reality tech startup Jaunt on the project, had crews film on location with professional climbers Cedar Wright and Sam Elias, who take the virtual adventurers with them as they prep, climb, fall and roam.
Read a story on the promise of virtual reality on this or another website, and you will inevitably come across a reader comment dismissing the head-mounted tech as another gimmick, just like the failed push to make 3D a destination experience for gaming, film, and television. Epic Games boss Tim Sweeney thinks comparing the two is apples to oranges.
"Well 3D televisions were this concept that could never really work properly," Sweeney says. "You have a screen in a physical location in the world and there is only one point where that is going to look right for the viewer. If you are further away from that point, then your eyes are converging on the wrong location and that’s completely wrong and if you’re off center from the point it’s going to look completely wrong. So everything about the 3D movies is wrong unless you are standing in one magical position and that’s kind of an abomination that the content industry and the movie industry especially never recognized how wrong that was and when it had marketing on all these products with a deeply flawed experience, you’re going to have very high expectations of reality. The moment you go beyond just a 2D image on a screen your brain circuits kick in that this is supposed to be reality and if it is not perfect it is incredibly jarring."