Innovation That Matters

sci-fi landscape | Photo source Pixabay

Tech Explained: Cinematic Reality

Tech Explained

What is cinematic reality and what does it mean for the future of entertainment?

In 2014, an unknown startup named Magic Leap raised just over half a billion US dollars to develop a technology called “cinematic reality” or cinematic virtual reality (CVR). While Magic Leap has yet to release a consumer product, the idea of cinematic reality is catching on in a broader way. So, what is cinematic reality and what does it mean for the future of entertainment?

How Cinematic Reality Works

As with virtual reality (VR), someone experiencing a cinematic reality experience (CVR) would wear a headset be immersed in a created world. But unlike VR, cinematic reality would provide hyper-realistic, cinematic-quality detail – like stepping into a movie. There is no consensus yet on an exact definition for CVR, but it is often envisioned as a type of immersive VR experience where users explore synthetic worlds in 360 degrees, perhaps with stereoscopic views, and hear spatially-directed audio that reinforces the feeling of being in the CVR world.

Unlike traditional VR, in which the virtual world is generated using graphics and audio elements in real-time, CVR exclusively uses uses pre-rendered picture and sound elements. This means that the quality of the sound and images is much closer to that found in HD television or feature films. So, unlike traditional VR, where users can interact within the virtual world, users in a CVR environment would have stricter limits on controlling the environment. For example, users may be able to choose a viewpoint from which to observe the action, but could not interact directly with the virtual world itself.

In addition, filming a feature-length movie using CVR technology would be extremely complex and expensive, requiring a whole new approach to filmmaking. It is more likely that CVR users would, at least initially, interact with a fixed screen in front of them rather than the appearance of actors moving around the viewers’ room.

Despite Magic Leap suggesting that its product could eventually appear as a form of hologram, this is unlikely, at least for quite a while. In order for the human eye to perceive an image, light projected into space needs some object with volume, such as a screen or a gas, to catch and bounce the light back to our eyes.

Startup Lytro claimed to have a way around this, with a camera that captured images at different depths and light field technology that allowed the 3D images to be viewed and interacted with. But Lytro struggled to produce a viable system and eventually developed a 360-degree camera rig that recorded volumetric video before shutting down in 2018. This means that CVR will likely rely on glasses, googles or screens, as with VR and AR.

How Cinematic Reality Is Being Used

Although full-scale CVR is still some way off, some companies are having more success than Lytro with using 3D volumetric video to approach full-scale CVR. One of these is Jaunt, which uses a highly-portable volumetric capture platform and real-time image processing to produce very high-quality 3D immersive content.

Some well-known film directors are also getting involved in CVR projects. Justin Lin, who directed Fast & Furious 6 and Star Trek Beyond, filmed a 360-degree short VR film called Help! in 2016. Although not fully CVR, that film and others like it have advanced the techniques for filming with CVR technology. Other directors, including Doug Liman, who is best known as the director of The Bourne Identity and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, and animation director Eric Darnell (Antz) have also produced CVR projects. These filmmakers see CVR as a new storytelling vehicle which requires fundamentally different filmmaking techniques.

In fact, it may be that, rather than render television screens obsolete, CVR’s main use will be in gaming. Magic Leap claims its device will eventually be able to use the surrounding environment for gameplay — allowing robots to appear to crash through walls, for example. Although that product may never materialise, it is clear that cinema-quality, 360-degree virtual worlds are becoming more of a reality.