Los Angeles-based immersive entertainment company Vortex Immersion Media wants to give consumers a new way to experience virtual reality (VR) without those pesky headsets: The company has struck a deal to open a 360-degree dome multiplex that can seat up to 2,500 visitors in its main theater in Phoenix, Arizona. The Domeplex is being built in partnership with Arizona-based commercial real estate developer The Sollanna Group, and is scheduled to open in 2020.
The Domeplex will feature what Vortex executives described as “community VR” — immersive multisensory experiences that can be consumed together, without the need to put on headsets. “Our goal is to really use the power of GPU supercomputers to create spectacular things for the dome that you would never experience at home on the headset,” said Vortex president and CTO Ed Lantz in an interview with Variety.
“It’s a game changer,” added Vortex CEO Mark Laisure. He argued that consumers who wear VR headsets were still acutely aware of the hardware strapped to their face, whereas a dome projection system would allow them to be more fully immersed. “It starts to blur the line,” he said
Vortex has been organizing events in 360-degree immersive domes for over a decade, but Lantz said that he had been interested in combining dome-based video projection and VR for quite a bit longer. “I got involved in virtual reality in 1991,” he said. Back then, early headsets were still clunky, and nowhere near to become a consumer product.
But when Lantz first saw 360-degree video projections in a planetarium, he immediately realized the potential for using the technology for immersive, VR-like experiences. “I vowed that these two worlds must come together,” he said.
Vortex set up its first showcase dome in downtown Los Angeles in 2010, and has since built temporary structures for theater events, brands and music events. One of the company’s more recent experiences was Childish Gambino’s Pharos dome concert series.
The newly-announced multiplex dome structure in Arizona will be the first time that Vortex will operate a permanent dome for large audience sizes — but it won’t be the only one for long, if all goes according to plan. The company, which is currently raising its first outside round of funding, intends to open and operate a number of such domes over the coming years. Each of these venues will be connected to each other via broadband, giving Vortex the ability to stream live events to multiple domes at the same time.
Eventually, Vortex even plans to connect home-based VR systems with it dome venues, said Lantz. “The domes are a portal into the metaverse, and the metaverse is a portal into the dome,” he said.
To prepare for this expansion, Vortex brought on Laisure as its new CEO in November. And this week, the company is set to announce that it has brought on veteran media executive Peter Csathy as its new chairman of the board. “I deeply believe that it’s the right time for this,” Csathy told Variety. “This is the new kind of theme parks.”