Living in 2024 means lasting ads for Apple’s new Vision Pro, a $4,000 virtual reality headset that projects interactive images onto a 3D view of your surroundings. It’s a step up from existing VR (“spatial computing,” as Apple calls it) headsets from Meta and Sony and, yes, it’s something most of us will ignore until making it much cheaper.
This only adds to the appeal of touring VR shows. Why visit an arcade or buy your own expensive headset, when you can simply sample a big-budget “mixed reality” experience?
The Denver series of “Space Explorers: The Infinite” answers that question with 45 minutes of stunning images and compelling science, but also a few technological hiccups.
The virtual reality-driven show, running through May 5 at the Hangar at Stanley Marketplace in Aurora, is an experiment aimed at transforming a singular experience into a mass gathering. It’s a nice introduction to technology for beginners, opening a window onto the International Space Station and allowing you to “explore” its geometric innards. Most of the images, especially those taken outside the station, are stunning and unique.
But having already played in front of around 300,000 people, it’s not the most dazzling, up-to-date version of VR you can find. Putting on a show like this takes time, and immersive technology – virtual reality in particular – has come on in leaps and bounds over the past three years. If you’ve used Sony’s PSVR2 headset or Meta’s Quest 3 headset, then this show (which uses last-generation Quest 2 headsets, according to one employee) may seem more earthbound than it should.
It’s not so bad when it’s a more artistic or cinematic experience, like the groundbreaking “Carne y Arena,” which took place at the Stanley in 2020. The balance between technological and artistic elements of this show seemed natural.
“Space Explorers” feels more rigid, which perhaps suits its subject matter. Visitors are admitted in groups that meander around poles flanked by huge images of astronauts and their personal stories. It’s not a NASA program, but you might think so from the neat presentation. Visitors then receive an introduction to virtual reality from a human guide before entering a strobe room that resembles a Meow Wolf exhibit. They then join a queue to receive their helmets from a conveyor belt.
All VR headsets, even the best ones, take some time to adjust properly, and these Quest 2 glasses fit perfectly right out of the box. Even with my glasses, the photo was almost always sharp. But by design, the weight of the headset can rest too much on your nose or forehead, which isn’t the most pleasant feeling when you’re trying to forget it’s there.
From there you pass through the 3D mirror. You enter a wide, open room (not that you can see it with the glasses) and observe the other visitors as celestial avatars made of stars. People you don’t know are colored blue, people in your own group are gold, and traveling employees are green. Simply raising your hand will call one if you need help.
At the start of the show, one side of my headphones cut out; an employee quickly came to repair it. However, my 11-year-old son’s headset broke completely, requiring 5 minutes of troubleshooting and a mid-room reboot that ruined the feeling of immersion. Part of this could be user error: Visitors are asked not to sit, pass through the red-lined barriers, or walk backwards, and some have done so, stepping on toes and making it seem like there were too many people in the space. It wasn’t always clear how close another person was to you, given the imprecision of their avatar placement.
Still, it was nice not to be tethered by a cord, as most home headphones are. Once inside the virtual station, you can tap floating orbs to open 3D videos and images. Real astronauts, using 360-degree cameras, talk to viewers about living and working in space, and the feeling of being in the room with them can be surprising. (The footage was first filmed for the 2021 Emmy Award-winning film “Space Explorers: The ISS Experience.”)
These are not 3D environments in the traditional video game sense. If you try to look around a corner or lean too far in any direction after triggering one of them, the experience ends abruptly. Despite the unconnected headsets, there are many points where you must remain still, even when other visitors flock around you.
Sacrificing capacity for a more singular experience seems like a bad idea if you’re trying to make money. But filling a venue can also make any traveling show feel like a world’s fair. “Space Explorers” is pretty awesome, and these types of sincerely optimistic, imaginative, science-based exhibits often seem rare.
But is it worth $50? Your tolerance and experience with VR will determine this.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
“Space Explorers: Infinity.” Virtual reality show on tour through May 5 at The Hangar at Stanley Marketplace, 2501 Dallas St. in Aurora. Presented by the Denver Center for the Performing Arts’ Off Center. 8 years and over. Tickets: $50 via theinfiniteexperience.world/en/denver
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Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from www.denverpost.com