For many years, attractions and experiences have adopted 3D, VR, AR and XR (mixed reality) technologies to give audiences something new, highly interactive, and an experience that couldn’t be had at home.

The past year has seen the global pandemic hit almost every industry hard – especially that of out-of-home entertainment and experience, with theme parks, museums and attractions temporarily closing their doors.

As many venues, events and attractions are having to rethink the way they deliver their experiences – where might VR and 3D sit among it all? 

Pre-COVID – where was 3D and VR headed?

3D is by no means a new technology, but over the past two decades, its adoption had seen a huge increase – both in specialised, high-end applications such as theme parks, and also in lower-end ones too, with the use of disposable passive 3D glasses in commercial cinema.

When done well, it is done REALLY well. Take, for example, Universal Studios’ Transformers and Spiderman experiences. Custom content designed specifically for 3D, coupled with premium-grade 3D hardware and a slick experience design really paid off.

However, 3D has been seen as a fad by many and its use has gradually declined in recent years. To add, not everyone can actually see in 3D! It’s estimated that up to 20% of the world’s population falls into this category.

As many Hollywood film giants and mainstream cinemas reverted back to the traditional 2D format, other out-of-home experiences such as dark rides and themed attractions have followed suit. Gradually using 3D less and less, instead embracing alternative, and arguably more immersive, technologies that don’t require the use of cumbersome and costly glasses.

For example, ‘true’ laser projectors offer extreme contrast and black levels, mixed with exceptionally high resolution, to create a ‘3D sensation’ – an auto-stereoscopic effect.

For VR, in some parts of the world, group-based walk through experiences proved hugely popular. In Australia, pay-to play (as opposed to a fixed duration linear experience) VR parks are still very much successful.

However for many, the burden of heavy and restrictive backpacks and headsets was too much – as was the capital expenditure cost of setting up, the challenges presented by VR content production, and the limitations of group size and overall experience turnaround. So much so that many VR experiences fizzled out.

With both 3D and VR though, the novelty factor and the ability to enjoy an experience that can’t be had at home, has always been a big attraction for many.

While they both create the opportunity for shared yet socially-distanced experiences, they also present a risk of contamination, since both require a worn ‘device’. There’s also the potential for extended wait times and delays as staff spend extra time cleaning and preparing hardware for the next user.

 

Will the newly adapted ‘COVID’ world of attractions have a need for VR headsets and 3D glasses?

While UV sanitising light and other cleaning processes are going to take care of headsets and reusable glasses, the questions must be asked: will visitors feel comfortable putting something on their face that’s been in contact with another person? And how will these headsets and face-mounted devices work with compulsory face masks?

For experiences and attractions that have an existing 3D setup or installation and want to ‘switch’ to a 2D, passive experience – then it’s often as simple as turning the projector into 2D mode, or removing the filter in the case of Infitec 3D projectors. Consideration must be given to the type of projector installed though – will the contrast ratio / image work as well in 2D? Will the content still work?

Many 3D experiences use 3D content that has been created specifically for the medium. For example, a 3D production that has scenes that ‘jump out at you’ may not work so well. In other cases, the existing content may be good to go in 2D mode.

In the world of VR, we expect to see single-person arcade type experiences largely unaffected – since audience through-put is likely to stay as it was before, although additional hardware may be needed to accommodate more thorough cleaning processes.

Even before the pandemic, we had seen first-hand rejection of VR headsets by audiences due to cleanliness and safety concerns… but, as with any change, adaptation is key.

Many attractions will continue to use, and benefit from 3D and VR to deliver experiences that simply cannot be had at home, and to take audiences on a journey inside the story. 

Technology is only ever a supporting means of the experience, The story, and the content are what it will always be about.

Whether it means a slightly longer wait time to accommodate a more thorough cleaning process, an investment in additional hardware to help speed things up and provide audiences with the highest levels of safety, or development of an existing 3D experience into a 2D one – ensuring the visitor experience is the most captivating it can be should always be at the forefront of any change.