Sony's mixed-reality 'cave' is an immersive experience for groups

No VR headsets needed.


Amongst the many oddball exhibits at Sony's SXSW "Wow Factory" was the mixed-reality "cave." Unlike many other experiences at Sony's event, this one didn't require strapping on some oddball hardware or even a VR helmet. The cave was a square, four-walled room with Sony's own GTZ1 4K projectors mounted to each wall -- the idea is to make an immersive experience that brings you into other places while still letting you interact with people around you. To that end, each demo had a group of six people in it.

The first experience involved letting participants select a city or natural landmark they wanted to "visit" -- once picking a location, the screens lit up with the area all around. It felt like Google Maps street view being projected, as there wasn't any motion in the visual. The floor and ceiling remained just as they were, and the corners of the room made it feel somewhat unnatural, but it was still a neat effect. Sony also showed off how you can do comparison views where two of the walls showed the scene from 2008 and the other two showing the same view from 2016.

The other big trick for the Cave was that its walls also had proximity sensors built in so you could interact with the environment. Running your hands over the screen produced ripples like you were dipping your hands in water; another demo let you select different "beats" to contribute to an audio track being played in the room. This last one was really something that benefitted from having a whole group, as multiple people helped shape the tune. That was really where this technology seemed like it could stand out -- you're not getting the same immersive experience you get with true VR, but being able to interact with real humans was a big bonus. Sony didn't give any clues about how it envisions such technology being used, but it's easy to imagine it being an excellent -- if costly -- educational tool.

Click here to catch up on the latest news from SXSW 2017.