Sam Wang, co-founder of Sky Limit Entertainment Group (SLE), left, wears a virtual reality (VR) headset and uses an electronic rifle while participating in a demonstration at the SoReal virtual reality park in Beijing, China, on Friday, March 3, 2017. Photographer: Gilles Sabrie/Bloomberg
At the recent Global ARVR China Summit in Shanghai, there were dozens of companies specializing in augmented, virtual and mixed reality (AR, VR and MR, now often to as XR), many of them pushing the medium forward. Compared with announcements by tech titans such as Microsoft, Google and Qualcomm Technologies, the innovations by local Chinese companies were not only impressive, some were truly groundbreaking when compared to current international industrial developments.
The 'Niche' In China
The XR industry in China has often been in the spotlight due to Chinese manufacturers' track record in hardware specialization. For many years they have been producing VR headsets, 360 cameras, and reputably - gaming machines and peripherals; as a result, they were amongst the earliest to set up VR arcades in first tier cities such as Beijing and Shanghai.
Chinese tech companies have already carved out their own niche in the VR space, creating their own eco-systems, demand, content, platforms and more - to cater to their domestic market. One such company is Superb Medical Skills. The company has developed China's first VR "live" surgery application, supported by more than 3,700 practitioners from all over the country to deliver clinical training to both doctors and trainees through VR headsets.
Also in the vein of training and education, Ugion Technology has developed a proprietary multi-person holographic interactive system, called "Holomax", which enables 3D holographic assets to be used for learning by both students and working professionals. Another company, Shadow Creator, has developed unique hardware solutions which interface with applications like Microsoft’s ‘Hololens’. Their visual reality headset - "Air" - can also be used with a tablet to allow users to watch 3D movies and read digital books. While these companies -- and many more -- have shown interesting developments in their local XR industries, there are a few others that have gone even further.
People try out virtual reality (VR) goggles at a stand for US carmaker Ford during the first day of the 17th Shanghai International Automobile Industry Exhibition in Shanghai on April 19, 2017. (JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
In the U.S. and other parts of the world, "live" VR is usually synonymous with NextVR - the Series B funded company from California whose specialization is broadcasting live events in VR -- but not in China. Better known to the industry and the market there, 7D Vision Tech delivers 360-degree productions of various events in VR with their own proprietary hardware. Partnering with various television stations, this Beijing-based VR company currently serves millions domestically -- raking in annual revenues of approximately US$2.9 million.
Catering To The Home Market
Aside from mobile VR, there are a number of brands synonymous with room-scale VR in China. Better established than the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, Shanghai-based company DPVR has made a name for itself in this space with its E3 headset. The company has also developed its own laser orientation sensors named "Polaris" which use dozens of laser technology patents to track the VR headsets and the two motion controllers while in use. While in use, I found the gameplay with the E3 surprisingly smooth and responsive, much like the HTC Vive. Similarly, tethered to a PC with a high-end graphics card, their "Polaris" sensors feel even more robust than the Oculus. On the backend, DPVR have not only established their own content platform, but are also building a range of VR headsets for mobile phones.
Most surprisingly, they’re not the only players in China. Founded in 2016, Hypereal - having completed a Series B funding round of US$10m - has developed their own room-scale VR headset called the "Pano", complete with positional tracking sensors and controllers. Impressively, it also works flawlessly with SteamVR, giving users access to a vast library of international VR titles.
In spite of all these jaw-dropping, amazing tech developments in both hardware and software for AR and VR, what most impressed me was the realization that many of these companies are not just very well invested, but they also serve a very healthy domestic market in the millions.
Several of these companies, whom I met and spoke with, were also in no hurry to start bringing their products or platforms outside of China at the moment, with most of their user interfaces currently only in the Chinese language. But if they do, you’ll be sure that companies like 7D Vision Tech, DPVR and Hypereal could possibly revolutionize the industry throughout Asia, and perhaps even compete on the international stage.