Oculus’s virtual reality cinema has not only been given a new name–say hello to Oculus Video–but it has scored its first major Hollywood studio partnership with the announcement that 20th Century Fox will make its movies available on the new platform.
Fox said it will make about a hundred films from its library–including hit titles like Best Picture Oscar winner Birdman, Alien, Die Hard, Kingsman: The Secret Service, Cast Away, and many others–available to rent or buy through Oculus Video.
Initially, users will be able to watch the films on Samsung’s Gear VR, and over time, on the full-scale Oculus Rift, which is expected to be available early in 2016.
Fox made the announcement at Oculus Connect in Hollywood, Facebook-owned Oculus’s annual developers conference.
Lionsgate will also be making films available, including Pulp Fiction and The Hunger Games.
The announcement is the latest to showcase just how serious Hollywood is taking VR and 360-degree video. Earlier this week, Disney was the lead investor on a $65 million funding round for Jaunt VR, a virtual reality technology company that’s developed an end-to-end cinematic VR content-creation platform that includes a custom camera capable of shooting high-end, professional-quality 360-degree footage, software for stitching the footage together, a distribution system, and a Los Angeles VR production studio.
Yesterday, Disney also unveiled an immersive Star Wars: The Force Awakens clip as part of the official rollout of Facebook’s 360 video offering.
Still, Fox is clearly among the leaders when it comes to merging Hollywood and VR, in part thanks to previous experiments like the short virtual reality experience it released in January linked to the Reese Witherspoon film, Wild.
In addition, Fox is also working on a new project, The Martian VR Experience, a short, immersive storytelling project tied to the release of its highly anticipated upcoming movie, The Martian.
All of its projects, including the release of the 100 full-length films for Oculus Video, were developed by the in-house Fox Innovation Lab.
“VR cinema is a new way of presenting our movies, and has the opportunity to bring in mass market consumers to virtual reality,” Mike Dunn, president of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, said in a statement. “With Oculus Video, we are leveraging the scale and flexibility of mobile, while continuing to deliver a powerful, emotional experience for consumers.”
Added Dunn, “We are just scratching the surface of how Hollywood and VR will revolutionize entertainment by exploring innovative ways to develop immersive experiences as a new storytelling medium.”
Users who watch Fox’s movies through Oculus Video will be able to choose the films’ “size,” whether it’s on a small virtual screen in front of them, or a large, theater-size screen. Giving users such choices is one of the benefits of virtual reality technology.
What’s not entirely clear is whether users will want to watch entire two-hour films on virtual reality headsets, which can be somewhat heavy, in one sitting.
Jaunt VR CEO Jens Christensen told Fast Company last week that, “I do expect people to start doing more and more in VR, [and] eventually people will be doing feature-length entertainment, [but] right now, with the state of the devices, I don’t think people will want to wear [bulky headsets] for two-hour features. They need to get a lot lighter.”
Fox is clearly betting otherwise. The company knows the success of its ventures into VR depends on users coming away happy, and not struggling with the hardware.
Whether movie fans will flock to its offerings through Oculus Video remains to be seen. For now, though, Fox is taking the lead as Hollywood gets ready to jump full-on into the increasingly exciting virtual reality waters.