Ayden Ye Hanzhong, co-founder of VeeR, a producer and distributor of virtual-reality films, at the exhibition of Cannes XR film competition entries at Longfu Temple in Beijing. Photo: Simon Song
- Virtual reality has not yet been fully embraced by consumers or the gaming and entertainment industries, but Ayden Ye believes that will come – and soon
- As his production company VeeR shows Cannes Film Festival VR competition entries in Beijing, he says 5G and cheaper cameras and headsets will take VR mainstream
Ayden Ye Hanzhong is a firm believer in virtual reality (VR). The head of VeeR, a VR content producer and distributor in China, has confidence in the technology’s potential despite the sluggish pace of its adoption by the gaming and entertainment industries worldwide.
According to Nielsen’s SuperData subsidiary, sales of the top five VR headsets – including Facebook’s Oculus and the Sony PlayStation VR – totalled 913,000 in the final quarter of 2019, a meagre number when compared to, say, the 10.8 million Nintendo Switch video game consoles sold in the same period.
Ye says VR is still in a transitional period before it catches on with the masses.
“The key to attracting an audience is having quality content,” he says.
A poster promoting one of the 12 Cannes XR virtual-reality film competition entries being shown at VeeR’s exhibition in Beijing.
International film festivals have recognised VR’s storytelling power with the launch of competitions for virtual-reality films. The Venice Film Festival, for instance, launched its virtual-reality section in 2017, while last year the Cannes Film Festival came up with Cannes XR, a 6-day programme dedicated to immersive entertainment.
In June this year Cannes teamed up with New York’s Tribeca Film Festival, funding platform Kaleidoscope, The Museum of Other Realities, and VeeR to host a three-day online event, Cannes XR Virtual, to promote immersive entertainment. (The French film festival was cancelled in May because of the coronavirus pandemic).
Visitors watch VR films at VeeR’s exhibition of Cannes XR competition entries at Longfu Temple, Beijing. Photo: Simon Song
A dozen VR films in contention for the top prize at Cannes XR, The VeeR Future Award, are being shown at a temporary venue with swivel chairs and VR headsets in Longfu Temple, Beijing.
They span genres including adventure, documentaries, and animation. After Beijing, this Cannes XR programme will tour to three other cities in China – Xian, Chengdu and Shanghai.
Set up in 2016 in Beijing, VeeR’s studio is among the best in China, Ye says. The company hosted the first global conference of VR content producers last year.
Ye, who has a master‘s degree in computer science and electronic engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, first saw the potential of VR when he worked for Sierra Ventures in Silicon Valley.
“As a venture capitalist, I got involved in assessing many VR companies. Since it can provide an immersive experience, I believe the potential of VR is huge,” he says.
“Video is the most popular format currently. In future, video will get more immersive and video platforms such as Youku and YouTube will [join the VR bandwagon].”
A visitor watches a film at the exhibition of Cannes XR competition entries in Beijing. VeeR has registered more than 10 million VR fans globally, who watch its films on their own headsets. Photo: Simon Song
Ye, who met VeeR’s two co-founders, Chen Jingshu and Richard Chen, when all three were studying computer science at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, says content that offers experiences people cannot get in real life has the most appeal.
“They can land on the moon [like the Apollo 11 crew in 1969] or reach the summit of Mount Everest without being physically there. They can also view a live performance [without physically being in a concert]. We want to use VR to turn physical experiences into digital ones which people can enjoy from the comfort of their own home.”
In 2018, VeeR’s founders made Forbes’ list of 30 outstanding people from the consumer technology sector under the age of 30.
We want to use VR to turn physical experiences into digital ones which people can enjoy from the comfort of their own homeAyden Ye Hanzhong, VeeR
Having raised US$17.5 million in capital to date, VeeR, which employs around 100 people, plans to break even by the end of this year. It has a pay-per-view business model under which viewers buy downloads of selected films in its library to watch on their VR headsets. (Most of its films can be viewed free of charge.) Ye says VeeR has registered more than 10 million users globally.
“We will launch a subscription-based model in future and [organise more activities like the Cannes XR competition] to boost our offline box office receipts,” he says.
With the emergence of fifth-generation (5G) mobile telephony networks, cheaper headsets and higher-resolution VR imaging, Ye expects to see the wide adoption of VR within five years.
A poster promoting one of the 12 Cannes XR competition entries on show at VeeR’s exhibition in Beijing.
“Most VR [films] we see now are of 4K to 6K resolution. The existing technology allows images of up to 16K resolution. But there are very few 16K VR films at the moment, as their production cost is high,” he says.
However, he adds: “The cost of producing high-quality content is decreasing fast. In the past, a VR camera for making films cost over US$100,000. Now a camera for making 12K-resolution VR films costs around US$10,000.”
Ye says more than 100 content creators around the world are producing high-quality VR films, and traditional filmmakers have jumped on the VR bandwagon.
“Apple is working on VR headsets. Now a headset is around 2,000 to 3,000 yuan (US$300 to US$450). The price will drop to below 1,000 yuan in future and [they will] become popular like tablets or mobiles,” he says.