Why China Is Key to the Future of Virtual Reality
Shenzhen, China, was last week the venue of the first CE China trade show, which was produced by IFA, the German company that also produces the giant IFA CE trade show in Berlin each September. Shenzhen, which is populated by over 10 million people and is only about an hour’s drive from Hong Kong is best known as the place where Foxconn and other factories build consumer products, including the Apple iPhone and iPad, and is often called the “Silicon Valley” of China.
The IFA China CE Show provided an opportunity to see how the Chinese were going to apply their manufacturing magic to the as yet expensive virtual reality headsets, and to see if they will be able to bring prices down and get new VR headsets out that had broader appeal to mass consumer audiences any time soon.
Current State of Chinese Headsets
Most of the Chinese headsets on display were made of solid plastic and have mostly basic optics, costing anywhere from $23.95 to $129.95 depending on the quality. Many of them are already available on Amazon, you can pay and have them shipped to you directly from Shenzhen.
Although that is nice and it actually allows people to use a better Google Cardboard concept as training wheels for VR, the objective should be for Chinese manufacturers to help get the prices down on the more expensive headsets like the ones from Facebook’s Oculus and HTC’s Vive. The Chinese manufacturers are notorious for copying what they think will be big-selling products and creating similar models at cheaper prices when possible.
The Oculus currently costs $599 and requires an expensive high-end PC to boot. The HTC Vive costs $899, also needing a PC with an expensive, top of the line graphics card to handle the rendering of the VR content.
Oculus and Vive Clones
As expected, the Chinese manufacturers are already working hard to create similar headsets to the popular ones at cheaper prices. At least three VR headsets quite similar to the ones from Oculus and HTC could be on the market by holiday season and cost at least $200 to $300 cheaper. At the moment, however, they too need an expensive PC to operate. It is as yet unclear whether they will be able to run the existing Oculus- or HTC-compatible content when they ship.
The Future of Chinese VR Headsets
The Chinese are not content with just cloning today’s high-end VR headsets, they want to innovate in this space and they aim to create VR goggles that look more like a set of actual glasses. One such product on display at the IFA China CE show came from a company called Dlodlo, pronounced “dodo.”
The CEO of Dlodlo announced to a packed press conference that even though his company’s Dlodlo Glass V1 VR glasses are still a prototype, it would launch by the holiday season. It was clear from seeing these glasses at Dlodlo’s booth at the IFA CE China show that, indeed, they were actually very early prototypes — mostly a shell design without much of the needed electronics. The company, however, insisted that it is far along with its design and gave the assurance that they would be ready for the market soon. Given their current state, it however looks very unlikely that Dlodlo will get this to market this year or even next year.
Indeed, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told developers recently that a VR headset that looks more like regular glasses is at least 10 years from development. For it to become realizable, there needs to be many breakthroughs in moldable batteries and chip design before such a product comes to fruition.