The Emaginator takes cinema-goers on flights of fantasy: Susan Watts reports on effects that draw viewers into the action

THE EARTH moved. Or at least, for three volunteers invited in from the streets to try out the latest cinema technology in London yesterday, the seat did.

With sound, vision and movements of the viewers' seat co-ordinated, this first step towards interactive cinema is like sitting in the middle of a film instead of watching it. The Emaginator, housed in the basement of the Trocadero shopping and entertainments centre in London, is billed as all the fun of a rollercoaster, but without the risk. It is a cross between going to the cinema - you queue and pay - and a virtual reality game - you end up in an alien world where people attack you.

Emaginator uses the latest technology in everything - which is why, its developers say, 'a few minor technical hitches' have delayed the opening. A full launch is planned for September.

The auditorium looks like an ordinary cinema, except that the audience sits in six four-seater 'pods' raised on platforms by hydraulic jacks. Digital commands controlling the film images, the wrap-around sound and pod movements are synchronised from a single store of coded data packed on to a compact disc.

The pods use advanced flight simulator technology and have six degrees of freedom instead of the usual three on equivalent games systems. The designers claim this helps to make the ride more realistic and prevents nausea.

The jacks, pulsing in time with the film, create pitch, roll and yaw, and what the designers call 'heave, sway and surge'. The pods have seatbelts and hand grips.

The film generates a 3D effect by using 70mm film run at 60 frames a second to create images with startling depth. The films are expensive to make, and there are only about 14 titles so far. The Trocadero will run four of these - Space Race (from the Star Wars special effects team), Cosmic Pinball (pods as pinball), Devil's Mine Ride (trip to the centre of the Earth from a disused mine) and Desert Fuel (race to the death against 'crazed road warriors' in the Mojave Desert).

Nick Gilby, project manager for the Emaginator, said that from the safety point of view, technology can always cause problems, 'but compared with other thrill experiences riders face only a fraction of the hazard. The pods can stop wherever they are if there is a problem . . . and then you realise you are only a foot off the ground.'

A five-minute ride costs pounds 3 and Mr Gilby said he expects participants of all ages after the response to the world's first dollars 2.5m (pounds 1.6m) Emaginator set up in Los Angeles.

Keely Beck, 17, Nicola Nichols, 17, and Sharon Jones, 16, were visiting London from West Wales yesterday and agreed to test a space fantasy ride which included slipping into a black hole and being chased by space joyriders. The test pilots were barely coherent when they stepped down. 'Brilliant . . . God, that was amazing . . .'

BT is to launch a nation-wide 'Caller Display' system in November which will show the telephone number of the person ringing - allowing customers to decide whether to pick up a call.

Customers will be also offered a 'Call Return' service, so they can trace the number of the last person to call. More than 450,000 customers have tested both services in 18-month trials in Scotland and Bristol.

The cost will be announced later in the year, but is expected to be between pounds 4 and pounds 7 a quarter. BT said the services would be a big step in the fight against hoax and malicious callers.

(Photograph omitted)

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