Virtual reality headsets were originally designed to immerse gamers into worlds of fantasy, but because the headset blocks their view of hand controllers, technologists are turning their gaze toward films.

The idea of putting audience members literally into the scenes of films is an attractive idea, if potentially gimmicky. The technology draws on the concepts established by theatre companies like Punchdrunk that create an immersive world for an audience to explore while the narrative unfolds around them.

At this year's Sundance Film Festival, for example, VR technology was brought to bear on the film Wild, starring Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern, resulting in a three-minute, three-dimensional event called Wild: The Experience.

Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation, which leads the world in designing and launching large incentive prizes to drive radical breakthroughs, thinks 2015 may well be the year when VR technology matures and becomes a widely available consumer product:

"A number of technologies [are] coming together: infinite computing, very cheap high-resolution cameras, machine-learning capabilities, low-latency/high-bandwidth networks. All of these things are coming together to reinvent the virtual world experience."


 

The British firm Alchemy VR is currently working on a series of immersive natural history films with veteran broadcaster David Attenborough made by "arranging a number of cameras in a sphere and stitching the resulting videos together to create an all-encompassing film."

Makers of virtual reality are already bringing their technology to mobile devices through apps like VRSE and DIY hardware like Google Cardboard.

The idea of infinite virtual realities contained within every smartphone is not only futuristic and exciting, but also extremely useful to filmmakers who want to shoot at exotic places, but lack the travel budget to always be on location.