Vancouver’s UNIVRS lounge isn’t going to win any rave reviews on Yelp for its ambiance. The lights are dim. The walls are painted flat black. And the patrons never seem to stop screaming and flailing their arms.
Of course, that is the point. They city’s first public virtual reality venue is all about bringing the pricey technology to the masses and transporting visitors to beautifully designed fully immersive environments like deep space, the ocean floor and the summit of Mount Everest.
“We want to give the feeling of kind of a mystique area were you kind of don’t know where you’re going into,” operator Alexander Chua told CTV Vancouver. “Once you really get into it, it’s a whole new dimension.”
The technology is enjoying a massive surge in popularity thanks to more affordable gear hitting store shelves, but cost continues to be the main barrier to entry.
Prices for the top-of-the-line HTC Vive headset can run into the thousands when you factor in the powerful PC needed to run it.
UNIVRS solves that problem with booths loaded with high-tech gear for $45 per hour. Newbies need not worry either. Customer experience specialists are always on hand to guide first-timers through their encounter.
“On a winter day you want to go to hot-and-sunny Hawaii? Go ahead. You're a huge Star Wars fan and you want to get transported there, go play with some lightsabers? Go ahead,” Chua said.
UNIVRS currently offers a roster of 21 games ranging from Korean War simulations to an office work simulation to Google’s Tilt Brush, which lets players turn the room into an endless 3D canvas.
High-power virtual reality units, like the ones on offer at UNIVRS, trick the brain with head-mounted displays that track the direction you are facing with gyroscopes, accelerometers and other sensors to provide the perception of a “room scale” endless environment.
Chua and his co-founder Charlie Shi are betting virtual reality outings will be popular beyond the gamer crowd once more people try it out.
The pair doesn’t appreciate UNIVRS being called an arcade, but the comparison to the establishments that popped up around the world throughout the 1970s and introduced an older generation to the likes of Pac Man and Donkey Kong isn’t far off.
Global revenues from virtual reality are projected to top US$162 billion by 2020, according to market research firm International Data Corporation.
Chua and Shi are aiming to get in on the ground floor. The two young entrepreneurs are already planning a second Vancouver location set to open in about six months.
“Me and Charlie set the vision to kind of bring virtual reality to the masses,” said Chua.