Charles Pearce had no idea what was around the corner.
In December of 2019, Pearce and his team rolled out the three-wall video solution they dubbed The Immersive Gym – a multi-purpose AV room that provides a variety of content for activities ranging from cycling to running to yoga.
And then came the lockdowns.
Pearce, like so many other CEDIA members we’ve documented in these pages, understood that the pandemic was merely a trigger that sped up tech trends, and not necessarily the root of the move toward in-home solutions. “Regardless of COVID, there was this massive shift towards digital content and activity outside of gyms,” Pearce notes. “I mean, 4% of the world’s population are members of gyms and that leaves a huge percentage that isn't – and that group finds other ways to exercise. I think what it's done is fast-forwarded something that was going to happen. It was happening in any case.”
The gym – which can work with a variety of content, including scenes and dynamic video wraparounds created by both third-party providers and Immersive Gym itself – was a concept that Pearce had been kicking around for over a decade. “As recently as f ive years ago, we probably couldn't have done this because the quality of the content that you could put through a system wasn’t there. The fact that you can have ultra-short-throw projectors that didn't cost shadows on walls was another massive consideration. Back in 2009, when I was first thinking, “Wouldn't it be great, actually, to have an immersive AV experience that could flip from activity to activity and even become an entertainment space in the evening?” – the quality we’re now able to deliver just wasn’t there.”
Although the present three-wall setup is “agnostic” – a variety of platforms work with the rig – the content that Immersive Gym is producing will push the experience even further. Theo Rigden, who’s head of product with the firm, says, “If I'm cycling, or I'm running on a trail, I want to be able to look not only down the trail, which is what most content providers do. That means if I run past a beautiful waterfall off to my left, I want to follow it round and see it all the way to the side. Or if I'm running against a competitor and we're neck and neck, I want to look to my right and see them.
“To create that dynamic, wraparound feeling, we have a large back wall (we call it the main display), seven meters wide, three meters high. Then you have two further walls to your left and right, which are about four by four by three meters. And that provides the full 180-degree field of vision to users – if you’re sitting in the middle of the display (not at the rear edge), you’re at that limit of 200-degree human peripheral vision. Add to that the kind of reactive equipment we have, it's an incredibly connected experience.”
To make the quality of the experience truly convincing, the latest in camera and data-gathering technology is key. “We're using the latest kind of 6k film cameras, and now bumping up even higher to 12 K, Rigden explains. “And as we're recording, we're also taking incredibly detailed data from that course we’re shooting. What that means is when the user is cycling through that space, for instance, when they go up a hill, they can feel the resistance down to the little ebbs and flows in the road.” The connected equipment reacts to the user, and the feedback loop means that if you pedal faster, the image around you speeds up accordingly.
As for audio, the current system is a 13-speaker array delivering 7.1 audio – but the company’s working on a better solution. “We’re working with a company at the moment who delivers extremely sophisticated surround sound systems.” The illusion of a bird chirping – louder as you pass, then fading away behind you as you jog, pedal, or row – is not far off.
Immersive Gym is a CEDIA Propel affinity partner (find more info about what that means at the link below).