When I heard that several Japanese companies were getting together to show off an 8K VR ride at SXSW, I was instantly excited. I've spent a lot of time writing about 4K video but haven't had much time with 8K setups, let alone one in VR. After getting to the show though, I learned it isn't really a VR experience -- it just takes place on a giant screen that fills up everything you can see. I quickly got over that slight disappointment after seeing the crazy rig powering the ride, which looks like something straight out of Disney World. As far as weird SXSW experiences go, this one takes the cake.
Japan's NHK Enterprises, NHK Media Tech, RecoChoku and Victor Entertainment worked together to build the ride, which is meant to show off the possibilities of 8K video. NHK is already broadcasting a few 8K channels, even though TVs supporting the technology likely won't arrive until 2020. The ride is powered by Wonder Vision's Sphere 5.2 Immersive Screen, which uses hydraulics to pick up two audience members and fully immerse them in the screen. Backing the entire experience is the infuriatingly catchy song Tokyo Victory from the popular Japanese rock group Southern All Stars.
As I stepped into the ride, it felt just like climbing onto something you'd find at a theme park. After securing my seatbelt, I was lifted several feet in the air. It was at that point that I realized I wasn't very secure in my seat, so I also spent much of the time holding on for dear life. The ride mostly consists of flybys of major Tokyo landmarks, but because it was projected in a brightly lit convention center, I couldn't actually see much. I have a feeling the entire experience would have been significantly more rewarding if they just blocked out external light.
The bits I could actually see looked clear, but it was definitely not the best way to show off the potential of 8K. I've seen 8K demos at CES that look as clear as staring through a window. If these Japanese companies really want to see us on the idea of 8K, they should probably invest in some curtains.
Click here to catch up on the latest news from SXSW 2017.