HTC: the Asian giant working to make VR ubiquitous

Alvin Wang Graylin, president of HTC China and of VRVCA (a $12 billion VR investment fund), explains why supporting indie developers is key to a thriving virtual reality industry.

HTC, now one of the world’s leading electronics manufacturers, is 19 years old, the equivalent of a millennial. Peter Wou, who now heads the Future Development Lab, and Cher Wang, the current chairwoman of HTC, launched the company in 1997 as a notebook computer manufacturer.

A year later, HTC pioneered the first touch and wireless handheld device. Fast forward ten years later, when the company introduced the first Android smartphone. By 2011, HTC’s US smartphone market share leapfrogged Samsung and it became the leading vendor, with a 24 percent market share.

In 2015, HTC officially joined the VR race. It announced a partnership with videogame developer Valve (operator of the Steam network) to co-develop the HTC Vive, a VR headset with advanced features. The headset, priced at US$799, shipped in April 2016 to a competitive marketplace.

Recognizing that in addition to hardware, the VR market needs a robust content sector, HTC announced an alliance with Venture Capital firms worldwide and unveiled the Virtual Reality Venture Capital Alliance (VRVCA), led by Alvin Wang Graylin, the CEO of HTC China.

With more than US$12 billion available in deployable capital, VRVCA’s aim is to “foster long-term growth in the VR industry through identifying, sharing and investing in the world’s most innovative & impactful VR technology and content companies.”

We spoke to Alvin Wang Graylin, president of HTC China VR and of the VRVCA.

Q: What is your analysis of the VR-AR consumer market prospects going into 2017, specifically would you say that there are enough VR-compatible PCs in-market[1] and enough compelling content to entice consumers to buy the HTC Vive?

Alvin Wang Graylin: Yes, there are already tens of millions of VR ready PC now and going forward a large portion of PCs in 2017 will be VR-ready. As high-end GPUs have come down to $149 and soon $99, the cost of VR ready PCs in 2017 will be similar to basic PCs today.

In China, consumers can buy under $600 VR-Ready PCs today and that price will only keep dropping in the coming year. It’s NOT a hurdle of mass adoption, as most consumers have been waiting for a reason to upgrade for years. VR-ready laptops are coming out soon for a price under $1000 which is pretty reasonable considering the value they provide…and many are even in slim form factors like the ultra-books of last year.

Q: Two and a half years after the acceleration of the VR market brought on by the acquisition of Oculus by Facebook there is only a very limited amount of gaming and narrative VR content. What is HTC’s position on fostering content creation and how is Steam going to support indie VR producers?

AWG: The VR market really only hit consumers this year, in April when we started shipping globally. So it’s only been 4-5 months. The unique content on the Steam and Viveport stores have grown to almost 600 titles and will exceed 1000 by the end of this year. By the end of 2017, the number will grow to tens of thousands of titles.

Both Steam and Vive are working hard to support the global developer community and have already over 10,000 development teams around the world working on Vive content. Vive have also created the Vive X accelerator and the VRVCA to help support indie developers.

Q: There are billions of dollars invested in VR hardware and software by VCs and corporations. How did the VRVCA consortium come about, what was the spark for its creation and what is going to be your role? Who are the “driver” funds?

AWG: At this early stage in the ecosystem’s development, it’s key the content developers and accessories makers have enough financial support to survive and prosper, so we created the VRVCA investment fund to ensure the most innovative and creative teams have the funding they need to bring great content and technologies to market. My team in China is driving the organization and we are excited by the potential for the VRVCA to impact the growth of the industry as a whole.

Q: The last decade has seen the rise of a Chinese-centric web. XiaomiBaofeng and other Chinese players are entering the VR hardware market, but also the content side (the VRC-Baofeng deal). Do you see a China-specific VR market?

AWG: China is and will continue to be one of the biggest markets for tech products and content consumption globally. But going forward we see Chinese content becoming more and more global. Vive is fostering growth in the Chinese content community and have supported thousands of local developers and accessories makers.

Viveport is their channel to generate revenues in China and the rest of the world. We are impressed by the quality and quantity of content coming out of the market. Soon we will see a number of major AAA quality VR content and blockbusters coming from the China market. China is already the largest gaming market in the world and soon will be the biggest movie box office market in the world. It will also be the biggest VR market in the world in terms of hardware and content sales in the near future.

[1] Most VR headsets require high-end desktop computers in order to run.

Frédéric Guarino
Frédéric Guarino has been at the crossroads of media, content and technology for almost 20 years : agent, entrepreneur/startup guy in the mobile content space in Europe and in New York, co-head of a New York-based tech lab for a French advertising group, associate producer, Frédéric has worn many hats. He is also an amateur historian of the cultural economy, most notably the positive friction between technical progress and its impact on visual storytelling.
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