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HTC’s former CEO is making a risky bet on a new VR headset and virtual world

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HTC’s former CEO is making a risky bet on a new VR headset and virtual world

XRSpace MovaXRSpace

XRSpace, a company led by former HTC head Peter Chou, plans to launch a new virtual reality headset later this year. The headset is dubbed the Mova, and it’s supposed to ship in the third quarter of 2020 for $599. Its selling points include 5G support, a hand tracking interface, and an expansive virtual world called Manova. But it sharply bucks the trend of cheaper, more interoperable VR platforms — opting for a specialized system at a fairly high price.

The Mova is a self-contained headset that’s powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 processor. It looks similar to the Oculus Quest or the business-oriented HTC Vive Focus, although it’s slicker than either of them and gives users a choice of white or bright orange. It uses two cameras to track users’ movement around a room, and its default control system is hand tracking, a feature that’s still relatively rare in major VR headsets, although it was just officially added to the Oculus Quest this month. Beyond that, the Mova specs we got in advance of today’s official announcement are extremely vague.

 XRSpace

Manova, meanwhile, looks sort of like Second Life crossed with one of Facebook’s social VR experiments. According to XRSpace, it will contain a variety of public and private locations, including individual “home” hangout areas or viewing party spaces, neighborhood-like areas like a “city center” where people can meet up with friends, and a place called MagicLohas that will include fitness classes and other healthy activities. There are also links to third-party games and apps.

Mova and Manova are a package deal: XRSpace’s world is only available through its headset, and the headset won’t support other VR storefronts. XRSpace is also supposed to have its own accessory ecosystem, including optional hand controllers and tracking sensors, which are described as much smaller versions of HTC’s Vive Tracker.

I haven’t seen either product in action, so it’s possible XRSpace will deliver on its promises. That said, this seems like a significant risk for the company and anybody who buys the headset, even making the huge assumption that its hardware is on par with existing devices like the Quest.

VR has been converging on a model with lots of crossover between software platforms and headsets. HTC’s Vive Cosmos encourages owners to use Valve’s SteamVR in addition to the HTC Viveport store. The standalone Oculus Quest can turn into a PC-tethered headset, while SteamVR supports nearly any wired headset. VR is a small market, and the more content any given hardware can access, the more reason there is to buy it.

Mova Orange

Meanwhile, many companies have failed to launch Manova-like virtual worlds, including Second Life operator Linden Lab with Sansar and Linden Lab founder Philip Rosedale with the largely shuttered High Fidelity. Chou believes Manova can succeed where Sansar and High Fidelity failed because of its “fine-tuned” nature.

“I think the difference is they designed those things based on the PC first and then they tried to put it on VR,” he says. “They don’t have a good digital avatar and they don’t have a holistic consideration of the mass-market consumer using it.” But that’s still an iffy bet, especially for a device that costs far more than the highly capable $399 Oculus Quest.

The third-party app partnerships aren’t that exciting so far, either. It’s a short list that includes apps like Getty Images’ VR viewer alongside games like Angry Birds VR: Isle of Pigs. XRSpace has cut partnership deals with Germany’s Deutsche Telecom and Taiwan’s Chunghwa Telecom, which could help subsidize the cost for users. That said, it’s not clear how useful a 5G cellular connection will be, since VR headsets are overwhelmingly used in homes or other indoor spaces with Wi-Fi.

Depending on the specifics of its headset, one of the Mova’s biggest benefits may simply be availability. XRSpace apparently delayed the launch two months because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Chou says mass production started this month for an initial rollout in Taiwan. Launches are supposed to follow across Europe, China, and the United States. The Oculus Quest is still only sporadically available, so the Mova launch actually happens as planned, it wouldn’t be impossible for XRSpace to find a space in the market — but only with more evidence of good hardware and a software ecosystem.

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