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Vancouver trending: Vancouver emerging as a virtual reality hub

City’s robust tech base, with its talent pool and history of console video games is helping Vancouver create some of the best VR in the world, writes Amy Logan.

Virtual reality is booming and Vancouver is among the cities at the forefront.

Courtesy/Wren Handman

Virtual reality is booming and Vancouver is among the cities at the forefront.

Thousands of people attended Vancouver's first virtual reality (VR) Expo in May, immersing themselves in everything from full-motion video games to guided meditation in a virtual meadow.

From VR meet-up groups to wildly experimental start-up companies and massive VR conferences, Vancouver is at the forefront of what experts are calling the next platform shift. Also known as immersive multimedia, VR uses technology to simulate a real or imagined environment, artificially recreating sensory experiences, usually with a head-mounted display.

As the unprecedented popularity of Pokemon Go suggests, there is a growing appetite for the interrelated worlds of augmented reality, 360-degree technology and VR.

According to Mack Flavelle of Hammer and Tusk, a company that specializes in building VR experiences, some of the best VR in the world is happening right here. The company was recently acquired by Axiom Zen, an innovation studio with a talent pool of flexible and highly skilled workers.

Flavelle credits the city's "immature but robust tech ecosystem, history of console video games, and nascent talent that knows how to create things in 3-D as well as its extensive film industry" for making Vancouver such a VR hub.

He was also the organizer behind last month's So/VR Journalism symposium, which highlighted the emerging field of VR journalism. The New York Times, for instance has recently invested in 360 video, VR films and Google Cardboard.

In a recent multimedia story called The Displaced the viewer is immersed, via 360-degree video and surround sound, in the lives of children displaced by war, offering an immediate and visceral experience.

"Virtual reality creates the experience of being present within distant worlds, making it uniquely suited to projects, like this one, that speak to our senses of empathy and community," wrote Jake Silverstein in his introduction to the story.

Innovative Vancouver VR companies abound, from Archiact Interactive, a content studio that also hosts Global Jams for the best mobile VR game, to Conquer Mobile which creates mobile apps and simulations ranging from the mining industry to cutting edge medical procedures.

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