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Netflix is testing a virtual reality 'rental store'

Sure, streaming video offering endless entertainment on demand right into your living room is all right, but it's not a patch on the time-tested tradition of going down to the video rental store, is it?

OK, that's a lie. Physical movie rentals died out as a result of being an objectively worse consumer experience than instant access. Curiously, despite ushering in the modern streaming era, Netflix seems nostalgic for the days of browsing your local Blockbuster - so it's recreated the experience in virtual reality.

As part of Netflix's latest hack day, its designers have created a VR showroom that users can stroll around thanks to HTC Vive's room-scale VR. Called 'The Netflix Zone' - with a font that nods to a certain classic TV show - the hack was put together by just three developers; Joey Cato, Marco Caldeira, and Adnan Abbas.

In the zone, the familiar Netflix movie categories are reimagined as different shelf racks, including ones for personal recommendations. Titles such as Orange is the New Black and House of Cards sit on shelves in the form of VHS cassettes. In a nice bit of attention to detail, if they're picked up and rotated with the Vive's controllers, the familiar tape spools are built into the back of each object.

Pick one up for a closer look and the 'shop' environment changes, now themed to the title in question. Netflix's demo shows Daredevil season two, with the walls reflecting the show's New York City setting - using the same effect for every title in the voluminous catalogue would likely be a tremendous endeavour, but would certainly be impressive. And to actually watch a title? You throw the 'tape' into the giant video window that descends from the ceiling, of course.

This isn't the first time Netflix has dabbled in VR, either. Last September, a virtual living room for Oculus Rift was revealed. That app maxed out at 720p resolution video; there's no information on what kind of picture quality The Netflix Zone can deliver. Sadly, nor is there any indication that the company intends to actually release it into the wilds, though early virtual reality adopters would likely jump on it if given the chance.

Other creations that resulted from Netflix's latest hack day included 'QuietCast', which syncs video playback on a big screen with audio played through headphones from a tablet - an ideal solution for parents not wanting to wake children while watching at night - and 'Family Catch-up Viewing', which allows multiple users on a shared account to see where family members have gotten to in a series, preventing watching ahead. 

Although Netflix says "while we think these hacks are very cool and fun, they may never become part of the Netflix product, internal infrastructure, or otherwise be used beyond Hack Day", there's definite potential in some of them. We imagine 'Tetris', which allows users to reposition and customise the rows of suggested movies, would be especially popular, if nothing else.

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