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Exploring the Future of VR With Alvin Wang, China President of Vive

VR Zone had the opportunity to have a chat with Mr Alvin Wang Graylin, the China President of Vive. Vive is a VR headset jointly developed by Valve and HTC, which features “room scale” tracking technology to allow users to better interact and move around in their environment. We asked him about his vision for the future of VR and how it will be part of our daily life.

VR Zone had a great opportunity to interview Mr Alvin Wang Graylin at length about the future of Vive, and the world of VR at large. Image: Ian Ling

When people hear VR, the first thing in their mind is about entertainment, such as gaming. How do you want to introduce other applications of VR to people in the future?

I think right now the key is to let people try it. Right now many people associate VR with gaming because that is all they hear about it, and one of VR’s initial applications was gaming. Once people try it, they will see how it can be useful in other parts of their lives. It will become very natural. It is a matter of having people to try it. This is why we had focussed on developing and releasing the Vive Focus, a standalone product. [The Vive Focus] allows the VR experience to be more frictionless. I carried my Vive Focus in my bag for the last two months. Every time I let people try it, they would say “Wow I didn’t know VR could be this good.”

Even people in the industry are amazed by its performance. I had Tony Parisi try it. Tony has been working on VR for many years in Unity (the gaming platform). He was amazed at the product. He tried it and was shooting enemies with a VR product that is completely mobile. The mobility and the fidelity that you get without a high-end computer is what amazes most people. I will let you try the Vive Focus later.

Is it only currently available in China?

Yes. We are still trying to work out the kinks of the products. As with any new products, it will take some time. We have been receiving extremely positive feedback from our customers. We have already sold all of the initial productions.

You mentioned that you carry the Vive Focus in your backpack. What is your favourite game or application on it?

I think one thing you can use consistently is video watching because you can put in new content every time. I use it mostly to demonstrate it to people now. There are games and educational content. On initial release, we already have a broad category of materials. You can spend about 15-20hrs on a single app. From some perspectives, it could be seen to be already almost an AAA gaming device. We provided free material to preorder customers.

What would be your opinion on the future of UI interface in VR? How can it be improved?

It currently is in early stages. I would like to see greater implementation of eye-tracking, more hand gestures and voice commands. Getting other senses involved too: temperature, smell, and haptics. Many things we currently take for granted in the real world is only partially present in VR. Full body tracking must also be possible. We can currently do it with 6-point tracking. It would be great if we can do it without these [bulky] devices. I tried the trackers before and although they worked fine, I don’t think it is for the everyone. I want this [experience] to be more frictionless. Something that I can wear for the whole day. Currently, we would wear the VR and put it away after we’re done. What I want it to be is to have it worn on the face and you just forget about it being there. It will always be there when you need to access it.

Vive was developed with Valve partnership. How do you see this partnership evolve in the future?

We have a close partnership with Valve that helped put this product on the market. I think we have a great relationship with them on a daily basis for the next generation of Vive product. For standalone products (e.g. Vive Focus), it is something that we are developing without their support. On the PC gaming side they are very strong but on mobile content, they do not have much to bring into the partnership. We will continue to work with them to develop high-end VR for hardcore gamers and professionals. For the mobile market, we have other solutions.

For VR how do you see expanding beyond the customer market, into the industry

Right now it is already happening. Professionals such as designers, architects, marketing and even doctors are into VR. We get case studies and testimonial about how VR improves it. I had a message from a teacher in Shenzhen where we tried the VR headset a year ago and she has students from grade 6 to 12. They went to the VR development contest and they were able to compete with college students in this contest. That’s amazing. When we bring new technology and give them to kids, they are able to create great things with it.

What is your outlook on the VR market, especially with the vision of having 5 billion users by 2025?

There are key milestones between now and 2025 that will spur on significant growth. This year the key thing would be standalone VR, making it more accessible so everybody can get to try it. We spent a lot of time trying to explain VR to others using words but the best way would be to let them try out VR. They will understand it better just by trying it. In 2019, the trend would be the 5G. We can have the devices accessible everywhere, and with the processing in the cloud, the device can be lighter and smaller.

Next will be AR. AR is currently lagging behind VR with challenges such as narrow field of view and limited possibilities for interaction. We should bring the kind of interaction we have on VR to AR to make it more appealing and usable.

In 2025, VR will be cheaper like how smartphones are now. We probably can get VR at around $100. We can get mixed modes where AR and VR can be played on the same devices, lighter device, the battery can last a whole day of usage. It will be as accessible as your phone. There will be no need to take out your phones anymore. We can just wear it the whole day. Currently, we are using Echo or Siri. Maybe in the future, we can just think of what we want in the future. Over the next 10 years, there will be dramatic improvements in the cost and intuitiveness of VR. We are in a very lucky time to be alive.

You expect VR to be the next device to be used by 5 billion people after the toothbrush and phones (referring to Mr Wang Graylin’s earlier presentation, showing how Vive expects VR to match mobile phones and toothbrushes in widespread adoption). But we saw that the growth of VR is rather uneven in different countries such as China and India compared to the US.

I think it is a short-term issue. If we take coastal Chinese cities and compared it to the US coasts, we will find a similar number. If we take the potential in sales, China is number one. These numbers will definitely improve over the next 5 years.

Any vision on VR as a necessity in the future?

VR would become a seamless part of our life. Many apps would be useful when we use it on VR. Example: if we can have our content accessible instantly anytime anywhere without the need to open it, since we are constantly wearing VR. It will be easier if we have the information accessible. This is a horizontal technology. It can be used by people across all age groups and demographics. It will be universal like electricity. Think of whenever you need to deal with a screen or an interface or input, it can be made better in an immersive experience. 

The Vive Focus promises to deliver a top-notch VR experience without the need for additional trackers or components. Audio and visuals are delivered effectively and with good resolution in the lightweight wearable unit alone. Image: Ian Ling

We had a hands-on with the Vive Focus afterwards, courtesy of Mr Graylin. The game we had was something that I would describe as an arcade cover-style shooter. Reminds me of those times I had playing Time Crisis in arcades. The gameplay was smooth and the controls are very intuitive. You actually move your body to duck or move in order to get cover. This is my first time wearing a standalone VR and the experience is really different from the ones we usually have. The display is sharp and clear and the graphic is smooth. There is no noticeable stuttering when viewing the content. Would definitely consider getting one once it gets to Singapore. 

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