A More ‘Sophisticated’ Virtual Reality Headset is Hinted at by Xiaomi

Just days after announcing its first foray into the space, Chinese electronics giant Xiaomi’s head of international said that it is working on a more “sophisticated” virtual reality (VR) headset.

The Mi VR Play headset, a device that was an “entry level” product without unveiling the price, according to the company, was unveiled by Xiaomi earlier this month.

China would outpace any other market for VR adoption and the world’s second-most valuable private tech company is working on a more advanced VR device, Hugo Barra, Xiaomi’s vice president of international, revealed to CNBC.

“We are going to introduce much more sophisticated VR products in the Chinese market,” Barra said.

“But I think it’s easy to say one thing, the Chinese market is at around 400 million to 500 million smartphones sold every year. Every single one of these phones, in theory, is VR –capable, so our thinking is VR could actually become mass market in China, faster than any other market in the world,” he said.

A wide range of 4.7- to 5.7-inch smartphones that will be secured in the headset by a two-way zipper would be supported by the Mi VR Play. It is wrapped in a lightweight lycra. Since issuing a call for beta testers on August 1, it received 1 million registrations in just eight hours, Xiaomi said.

The Mi VR Play for 1 yuan ($0.15) will be available to the users on the beta testing program. When the headset would be publically available was not made clear by the company.

The device could “easily be in the multiple millions” in terms of units sold, a couple of weeks after it is launched to the market, even though the company has not publically revealed sales forecasts for the Mi VR Play, Barra added.

In China’s nascent VR market, it’s one of the first devices. Content from a number of partners including Conde Nast Traveler is contained in the Mi VR app that was launched by Xiaomi. Xiaomi is hoping it can be a platform for developers to create content for its headset along with its bid for scale with hardware.

It could also become a serious software player in China’s VR market if Xiaomi can scale effectively enough on the hardware side.

“Our approach … is actually to be an open platform. So what we are doing is building an open content platform. There is a large number of start-ups as well as content creators here in China, many of whom are VC (venture capital)-funded, in fact we have even invested in some of them, that are creating content, creating games, creating new experiences with VR,” Barra said.

“So our thinking is, let’s just build an open platform into which any content creators can deploy their content, and make it easily available to everything. We are positioning ourselves as an enabler,” Barra added.

With Deloitte predicting that 2016 could be the first billion-dollar year for VR in terms of revenues, the market is set to explode. And Xiaomi is not alone. A number of players including Samsung, LG and HTC are the competition for the company.

(Adapted from CNBC)


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