Tom Cruise lied and told me I’d feel like I was floating in zero gravity.
OK, Cruise didn’t really lie to me IRL, but he did in VR, after I strapped on an Oculus Rift VR headset and sat down in a Positron Voyager VR cinema chair to try out the The Mummy: Zero Gravity VR Experience at SXSW 2017.
The Positron Voyager was introduced at the Sundance Film Festival in January. Like all immersive theater chairs — you know, like those 4D movie chairs that rock back and forth to make you feel every explosion — the Voyager promises to make you feel like you’re in the movie.
The key differences between the Voyager, which resembles an egg chair from the 1960s, and existing 4D seats is that it’s designed just for VR movies and it likely won’t give you motion sickness.
At least, I didn’t feel the slightest bit sick during my “ride,” and neither did my colleague Karissa Bell.
The cinema room I sat in contained 20 Voyager seats, and as you’d expect from a “VR theater“, once you’ve got a headset on your face and over your eyes, you’re completely cut off from the outside.
And while most VR content encourages you to look in all directions, the Voyager’s semi-contained enclosure mainly guides your attention to what’s directly in front of you — more like a regular movie.
Sure, you could look behind you, but it’s not really comfortable to do so in the chairs. Turning around to look behind you also means being blasted by the Subpac haptic speakers that are built into the back cushions.
As smooth as the Voyager’s mechanical motion was, I was extremely disappointed in The Mummy: Zero Gravity VR Experience. The behind-the-scenes VR experience left me wanting more — a lot more.
After putting on the Rift headset, Cruise builds excitement and anticipation, telling you you’re gonna feel like you’re floating in zero gravity with him and The Mummy co-star Annabelle Wallis as the Hercules plane you’re in falls out of the sky.
The only problem was, I never felt like I was in a plummeting plane, nor did I feel weightless — not even the slightest. I just felt closer to the screen — like I was watching a movie in IMAX.
Even with my feet elevated off the ground from the chair’s tilt, I didn’t feel much sensation, and definitely wasn’t scared, which was a shame because the whole point of sitting in this thing was to feel something. The chair tilted and turned in such gentle and slow ways, so as not to induce motion sickness, that it failed to simulate any realistic haptic feedback.
The Voyager wasn’t entirely at fault here. After all, it was programmed specifically to tilt slowly to simulate the feeling of floating in zero gravity. It’s possible the chair could have rotated quicker and tilted at a more aggressive angle to make it feel more like the plane was plummeting, but the company wouldn’t elaborate on it.
Still, despite the weak Zero Gravity VR video I saw and the fact the company’s still not sharing any details about when the Voyager will arrive (just “soon” I’m told) at theaters, I’m optimistic about the VR chair’s potential to help make “VR theaters” more than just a niche. As immersive as some VR content is, a little motion goes a long way towards making it feel more realistic.