Are D-Box Simulators the Future Movie Experience?

23 Dec

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Approximately 70 movie theatres worldwide have D-BOX Simulators, customized seats which attendees can park their rear end to. Some may have more than 40 available chairs and for those people willing to pay the added premium, they will move with the flow of the film; in theory, they will experience the movie on a whole new level. The motion sometimes work and at other times will not. There’s no proper road map for the engineers to follow when they program the chairs’ gears and gyroscopes to respond to the movie.

The technology debuted when The Fast & Furious released on April 3, 2009. Not many theatres offered this thrill ride and patrons had to be living near major metropolitan centres that had a movie multiplex who bought into this format early. In Victoria, British Columbia, Cineplex Entertainment retrofitted their SilverCity Victoria location over the summer and I waited for the right film (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) to come out before taking on this experience. To lurch and sway to the motion of the Millennium Falcon made the experience fun! I lifted my feet off the ground so I could allow the chair to fully control my center of gravity than my body.

As for feeling the explosions, the sensation is no different from holding a force feedback joystick while playing a video game. Explosions tend to cause knock back. Earthquakes feel like you’re surfing on water (depending on the dynamic since there are three ways seismic activity can go). Firing a gun is something you feel with your hand, not body. With refinement of when the chair should move, I reckon there is a future for this enhanced movie theatre experience, especially when coupled with 3D.

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Until there are more movies that makes use of this technology, D-BOX programmers should carefully consider when to shake things around. In comparison, Star Tours does a great job of recreating the feel of being in an asteroid belt and hurdling towards a Death Star.

Gundam the Ride is perfection in space. I loved how the attraction disguised the simulator to resemble an escape pod. The sensation of artificial gravity kicking in right away was part of the illusion. And then to feel the pod move to pretend gravity wells was crazy exhilarating! I rode it six times (versus the two at Disneyland) when I went to Fuji-Q Highland park for a whole day. Sadly the ride was shut down in 2007 and its replacement with Gundam Crisis, a scavenger hunt scenario, never recreated the same magic. The memories I took away made a lasting impact in how I felt these motion simulators must work! I also experienced Back to the Future, the Ride, but all things considered, a group experience versus an individual one is worlds apart.

Sadly in a movie theatre, the floor can not be modified to tilt 60 degrees, only the chairs. Because of spacing, they can only adjust by approximately 15 degrees before the snacks in your lap start falling down. It’s not much but it is enough to feel like you’re being launched into space or about to fly off a ramp. Curiously, I recall a having dream where the state-of-the-art movie theatre would place seats on motion platforms, mounted on multi-reinforced girders that would move the platforms in response to the static screen. Could this vision be the future for immersive entertainment in theatres built inside a dome?

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Not every film is worth getting the D-BOX experience but I can see the potential for where it can go if air ducts gets mounted into the chairs. To feel a rush of air from a gunshot or whizz of objects flying past the ear can do more than feeling how the action should take place. I do love how the chair moves with the camera as it pans, and to imagine that can work in a dolly zoom (it’s a technique used in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo) can make for a great effect.

The force feedback must be used sparingly. I have never been a fan of this technology in games because the sensation of feeling things rock with the hand is counter intuitive. If it’s used to emulate the feel of handling a motor wheel, joystick in a plane or the handling of a laser gun, then it makes sense. Those are effects that certain parts of the body feels. With D-BOX, it’s in when you are in a point of view shot to make the vertigo feel real. There is a future, and I can’t wait to experience the next ride.

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