NEW YORK — When HTC parked a truck at San Diego Comic-Con to show off its new virtual reality system, it quickly drew long lines that took curious folks the better part of an afternoon to get through.
When Jeff Gattis, head of marketing for HTC’s emerging devices business, asked a user about the experience, the response was simple: “It was worth it.”
That’s been a common reaction for anyone who has tried the Vive, the virtual reality setup built by partners HTC and Valve, according to Gattis, who shared the anecdote in an interview on Thursday.
HTC will be counting on that wow factor as it pushes an entirely new product from its core business of making smartphones. It isn’t alone. While HTC and Valve, best known for its Steam online gaming platform, have promised to launch the Vive later this year, Facebook’s Oculus and Sony are expected to launch their own virtual reality headsets in 2016. Next year is shaping up to be when the public will get its first real look at this technology.
“The industry needs a successful first year,” Gattis said. “Next year is critical.”
Gattis isn’t necessarily talking about sales, although he said an industry target of 2 to 3 million units would be a good start. More importantly, virtual reality needs to make a strong first impression with the early target market of video game enthusiasts and early adopters.
The Vive has impressed users in early trials. CNET Editor Scott Stein tried out the headset and called it “amazing.” While other virtual reality setups let you move your head to view things around you, the Vive allows you to freely walk around within a (limited) space, further adding to the illusion that you’re somewhere else.
HTC has been keen to get media companies such as HBO and Lion’s Gate involved with Vive. The company is aware that it needs to broaden the portfolio of entertainment options if virtual reality is going to go mainstream.
“It has to go beyond gaming,” Gattis said. “Entertainment will be key.”
HTC uses a mantra, “Take me some place I couldn’t normally go,” as a guiding principle for what it wants to do when it comes to entertainment. That could mean virtual reality cameras capturing sporting events or concerts, and letting users with the headset experience them as if they were there.
Samsung’s Gear VR, which pairs a headset jointly developed with Oculus and a Samsung smartphone like the Galaxy S6, already offers some virtual experiences, including a performance by Cirque de Soleil and a flyby over New York. It already subsidizes a regular flow of videos to Gear VR users.
It won’t be just up to Samsung. The industry will have promote the idea of creating virtual reality videos as a legitimate medium for consumers.
“That’s when it becomes less niche and goes mainstream,” Gattis said.
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