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House of VR makes new technology a reality

House of VR allows customers to experience virtual reality alone or in groups.

Virtual reality: heard of it, never experienced it.

That’s the case for most people. So to fill the gap, there is the newly opened House of VR on Queen St. W., at Bathurst St. A handful of arcades around the city offer VR games, but this new storefront offers a wide range of games and experiences in a large space — and aimed at a slightly different demographic.

“We’re trying to be a central hub for art, tech and culture,” says Jonah Brotman, 32, who founded the business with his brother Noah, who also works as an urban planner, and his longtime girlfriend Stephanie Payne, a visual artist.

“We’re not just for gamers, we’re for everyone,” adds in Payne.

While Brotman has already launched three previous businesses, this is his first retail venture — and the first project with family. “The reality of life as a serial entrepreneur is you are often working on several projects at the same time.”

This is different. Bricks-and-mortar ventures take a lot more face time, so the trio are putting in 12-hour days (Noah juggles his day job too) and have been since before the May 6 grand opening (attended by more than 200 people). “We’ve been all-in on this,” says Brotman. “It’s been a fun process to put all your energy into one project.”

He studied journalism and international development. But an internship at a radio station in Ghana caused him to lose interest in working in the media: he wanted to get more engaged with local cultures and make things happen.

In 2006, he founded Operation Groundswell, which organizes volunteer travel excursions, with friend David Berkal. That nonprofit venture is still running and Brotman still serves on the board.

 

He was involved in the launch of StashBelt, a travel belt pitched on Dragons’ Den, which other partners now run, and the social venture SokoText, which is not currently active.

Brotman was working as a digital project manager for a software company when he checked out some VR at the Toronto Film Festival last fall. The lineups were huge and it was difficult to get access to the technology.

“Wow, there’s huge demand for this. Someone is going to do this,” thought Brotman. He realized an entrepreneurial venture in VR would do well.

He forgot about the idea until a few months later when he saw this two-storey storefront on Queen for rent. He made some calls and less than two weeks later — without investors or a business plan — he’d signed a lease.

He got the other details worked out quickly, and used his contacts in business and technology to find investors to help set up House of VR. He got the space in early 2017 and he and the partners got to work customizing the space and buying gear.

The team set up five main floor units backdropped with green screens for mixed reality adventures. Upstairs features six virtual reality units.

Groups book into these spaces by the hour, sharing time on the unit itself and watching each other engage with the games and adventures. Cozy pods on both floors — and the super cozy pillow lounge facing the front windows — offer a place for individuals to snap on a Samsung Gear VR headset and view 360-degree films (including one where you’re immersed in a Cirque du Soleil show).

They charge hourly: $20 for a headset, $55 for a virtual reality unit and $75 for a mixed reality unit. The units accommodate up to four people.

The walls are lined with art. That includes murals by Payne, but also pieces by artists that will change monthly. Right now, you can see digital works by Jay Tripper on the first floor. The bathrooms are mini art installations themselves.

House of VR will close to walk-in guests when the team rents the space out for events. All the units are modular and can be pushed to the walls or out of the space entirely, leaving plenty of space for large groups.

From Augmented Reality works on the walls (look through an app on your phone and the piece changes) to a dichroic glass second floor window (it changes colour depending on the time of day and your angle) there’s a lot to see here. Most of it is stuff you can’t see elsewhere. And technology in this field is changing so rapidly, there’s likely going to be something different on hand soon enough.

“Virtual reality is such a new technology,” says Brotman. “The future is so exciting.”

Source: The Star

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