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South Coast VR Studio Thriving As Movie Theaters, Concert Venues Closed By Coronavirus

People play a Virtual Reality game at a Santa Barbara studio

Ella Onishuk and Ethan Chao are having quite the adventure.  The two Santa Barbara residents are part of a four person team floating down a river on a remote river raft while battling a giant alien.  Well, the battle at least looks real to them, as they wear some strange looking goggles, backpacks, and squeeze game controllers.  They are at a unique Santa Barbara studio.

Mark Carlson is Manager of SURREAL Virtual Reality Studio.  It’s a place that features video games which feel like they are on steroids, and you are plopped down right in the middle of them.

The VR Studio has a location in a Goleta bowling alley, which is closed due to the coronavirus health orders limiting indoor activities.  The downtown Santa Barbara location in an old auto repair shop is able to stay open because people can play outdoors, on its patio.

With coronavirus health safety orders closing movie theaters, and concert venues, the VR Studio at State and Haley streets in downtown Santa Barbara is one of the few theater type options available in the region.

Onishuk and Chao have just finished playing one of the approximately 20 VR game options available at the studio.  They say it almost felt lifelike.   Another first timer, Hannah Laughlin, admits she didn’t know what to expect, but says it was great.

Carlson says you can get home versions of VR technology, but what they offer is high end equipment, and games which will impress even experienced gamers.

He says while what the studio offers is fun, the technology has a number of more serious educational and research applications.  Some experts say this technology could be getting a big boost because of the coronavirus prompted surge in online activity, with things like Zoom.  Carlson believes we may see soon see it used in places from research labs to classrooms.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral. 
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