IMAX tries to position itself as an affordable alternative to in-home VR, CEO says

Tech giants and investors have been placing huge bets on virtual reality (VR) being the next big wave in technology and entertainment. Now, entertainment giant IMAX has joined the club.

The entertainment-technology company has opened its first IMAX-VR center in Los Angeles, built with 14 futuristic pods and 18 HTC VIVE VR-headsets.

IMAX CEO Richard Gelfond explained to CNBC how his company intends to carve its niche in the booming sector.

IMAX's VR center "looks like a movie board. It tells you what the shows are, what the times are, and you can buy one ten-minute experience for 7-10 dollars," Gelfond told CNBC's Closing Bell on Friday. "It will also be a watch platform. So when we do VR experiences with movies, for example, Transformers has a companion VR piece."

With high-quality VR headsets like the HTC VIVE and the Oculus Rift costing about $800 and $600 respectively, Gelfond recognizes the VR experience is out-of-reach for many consumers— and is trying to position IMAX as an affordable alternative.

"We feel that it will take a while to reach adoption in the home. And the reason is, is because the headsets are expensive, and the computer power is expensive, and the content is expensive," the CEO said.

"If you could go to centers and get the best VR possible and spend $10 to see it instead of $1,500 to see it, and it's the best available under the IMAX brand, that's a really good proposition for consumers," he added.

The L.A. VR center has single and multi-user experiences ranging between 5 to 10 minutes, costing $7 to $10 per program.

It's the first of six pilot locations the company plans to roll out, with IMAX targeting China, the UK, New York City, and a second location in California by the end of the year

While Gelfond didn't specify plans to expand the number of VR centers past six, he believed there are more pros than cons to the virtual reality experience.

"At the end of the year we'll make a decision whether to spend a lot of money or a little money," Gelfond said. "We're not making a big bet right now. We think it is a bet where there's a lot more upside than down side. So we'll bet a little. If it works, we think eventually we could roll out hundreds or thousands of these."

Watch: IMAX and China

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