Promise of metaverse boosts VR, AR prospects

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ByteDance is not the first technology giant that has acquired a VR startup. In 2014, social media titan Facebook purchased VR gaming company Oculus for about $2 billion. Other companies have also made inroads into the VR market-Apple Inc bought VR startup NextVR last year in what was reported to be a $100 million deal.

VR technology blurs the line between the digital and physical worlds, generating a sense of being present in a virtual environment. According to a report from global consulting firm Mordor Intelligence, the global VR market was valued at $17.25 billion in 2020, and the figure is expected to reach $184.66 billion by 2026.

Consumers are making wide use of VR applications based on different purposes, such as the automobile, gaming and media and entertainment industries, the consultancy said. The latest technologies across the consumer electronics segment are boosting the growth of VR in multiple applications across the marketplace, it added.

Statistics from Beijing-based market research firm CCID Consulting showed that the market size of China's VR industry reached 41.35 billion yuan in 2020 and is expected to reach 105.16 billion yuan in 2023.

The country will foster emerging consumption models such as 5G plus VR/AR and immersive gaming and promote the integration of 5G technology into life services, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said in January. VR and AR devices will benefit massively from 5G's high bandwidth and speed of transmission.

The ministry will also speed up the integration of VR with 5G, ultrahigh definition video and artificial intelligence, strengthen international exchanges and cooperation in the VR field and jointly explore new areas to bolster technological advancement.

"VR is a technology that has the potential to fundamentally transform people's lives, and 2021 will be the year people look back on as the year it really started to take off," said Alvin Graylin Wang, president of HTC China.

As a global innovator in smart mobile devices and VR technology, HTC Corp is accelerating steps to build a VR ecosystem, which includes VR headsets, software and content, as it aims to improve business and consumer VR.

Since the launch of its first VR product in 2016, industry insiders say, HTC has provided a hardware lineup to help enterprise users and consumers see the potential of XR, or extended reality, as the next-generation computing platform.

Extended reality is a term referring to all real-and-virtual combined environments and human-machine interactions generated by computer technology and wearable devices. It includes AR, VR and mixed reality or MR.

HTC has recently launched a pair of virtual reality glasses, the Vive Flow, which the company says allows users to enter a range of immersive experiences, such as connecting wirelessly to 5G-compatible Android smartphones and streaming content like TV shows and films from their favorite platforms.

In May, the company unveiled two new VR headsets. The company says the Vive Pro 2 is designed to push the boundaries of PC VR in gaming, creating and experiences, while the Vive Focus 3 is designed to set a new mark in business VR as a purpose-built all-in-one device.

In addition, HTC Vive, a virtual reality brand of HTC Corp, and Migu Co Ltd, a subsidiary of China Mobile that provides digital content and services, announced in September they will jointly build a 5G-powered, high-quality XR content ecology that will be a world leader.

"As the market enthusiastically embraces the new wave of metaverse, consumers' demand for mobile VR devices and unique experience related to VR will continue to rise," said Lin Junwu, president of HTC Vive content and platform. Lin added they will explore more diversified VR content, virtual entertainment experience and virtual social networking.

HTC has launched Viveport, a VR subscription service platform and an app store featuring a wide range of VR content and experiences, covering sports, education, arts, social networking, games and videos. It supports a wide range of VR headsets including PC, stand-alone and mobile devices.

He Lizhong, an analyst from Capital Securities, said VR/AR is considered to be the core application scenario of 5G in the future and one of the most important end-use products after smartphones.

Superfast 5G mobile network technology also represents an opportunity to accelerate the adoption of AR and VR by shoppers and marketers.

"We expect that the implementation of 5G and AR/VR in stores will transform not only customer engagement but also the entire product management cycle of brands," said Sylvain Fabre, senior research director at market consultancy Gartner.

Still, some important industry-wide challenges remain, experts said.

More efforts should be made to improve VR-related hardware devices and strengthen content production so as to cut the costs of research and development as well as build a complete VR ecosystem, industry insiders said.

Claire Zhao, an analyst at IDC, said some internet-based companies have made forays into the VR/AR sector, which has broad application prospects in the fields of gaming, online social networking and fitness.

"The development of superfast 5G will have positive impacts on the VR and AR sectors, especially in education, healthcare, entertainment and telecommuting. We still feel optimistic about the future of VR and AR. The compound annual growth rate of China's VR and AR market over the next five years is expected to be 67.5 percent, but it will take some time to be widely accepted by the public," she said.

Zhao said that at present, most VR hardware manufacturers are startups with insufficient capital, and therefore they have run into difficulties in content creation. But she said that the costs along the entire industry chain are expected to be reduced as more VR devices are shipped in the future.

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