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Will IMAX Shift change the cycling landscape?

What is IMAX, anyway?

In the beginning, IMAX meant enormous, nine-story-tall movie screens in a few big-city science museums, where you’d watch whoppingly impressive 45-minute nature documentaries. Then IMAX sprouted up in regular cineplexes—still bigger than normal movie screens, but nothing like the gasp-inducing expanses of the original.

And now, IMAX is an cycling class.

It’s called IMAX Shift, and the first one just opened up in Brooklyn. It’s a room full of 50 Schwinn stationary bikes with a big screen curving around the front of the room. (The video above shows the idea.)

The name of the place may contain the word IMAX, but don’t be fooled. This screen is only 40 by 24 feet. That’s much bigger than the little TVs sometimes built into exercise bikes, but it ain’t real Imax.

The room is equipped with a 7.1-channel surround-sound system that includes two huge subwoofers built right into the floor. You should have no problem making out the bass line during a class.

The instructor, on a bike at the front left side of the room, wears an amplified headset to give you instructions and encouragement. On the big screen, as you pedal, you watch various “scenes” that last a few minutes each. (Each instructor creates a “playlist” of these scenes; they’re interspersed with scenes of blackness, to give your senses a break.)

A lot of this video is IMAX-style nature footage: Flyovers of white Alaskan landscapes, lush green mountains, or sparkling blue lakes. That stuff’s right on. It really does take you away from the boredom of cycling yourself into a sweat.

Some of the scenes are computer-generated — and these are actually driven by the cumulative RPM of the class participants. Pedal harder, move faster through the fake landscape.

And some of the scenes are just, well, cheesy screensavers, like the “visualizations” in Windows Media Player. Those, it’s safe to say, aren’t quite as successful in taking you away.

Now, a real IMAX theater employs dual projectors, whose overlapping pixels produces images of amazing clarity. The IMAX Shift studio, though, uses only a single projector, and, incredible though it may seem, the resolution of the image isn’t great. Some of the videos are marred by the “screen-door effect,” where you see the actual grid of pixels before you.

I was a little shocked — stunning visuals are IMAX’s bread and butter! — but Bryan Marcovici, CEO, told me that most worker-outers don’t notice it or care about it. When you’re working out, he says, you’re probably not so fussy about the resolution of the screen before you.

I got to try biking in the IMAX Shift theater in the off-hours, but I didn’t actually take a full class. Early reviews are positive about the workout and the instructors, but disdainful of the price ($34 a class) and the lameness of the visuals.

I think the idea of a exercise class in front of a huge movie screen is a very cool idea. It wouldn’t even have to be a cycling class. Being surrounded by gorgeous, soaring, exhilarating video would be very cool even during yoga, weight lifting, Pilates, or Zumba.

Heck, I’m not even convinced the “scenes” approach of IMAX Shift is the way to go. What about actual, linear IMAX movies? The 45-minute nature documentaries are just about the right length for a workout, right? But they could even show full-length Hollywood blockbusters in IMAX — two-hour movies/two-hour classes, with breaks between bursts of workout. People who prefer exercising while their minds are engaged would love it.

You could even hook up a thing where the video freezes if the group isn’t generating enough cumulative horsepower. How’s that for motivation?

But that’s all someday. IMAX Shift just opened, and its immediate focus should be fixing what it’s got, starting with the quality and selection of the videos on that screen. The IMAX workout idea is excellent; now let’s shift into better execution.


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