Alvin Wang Graylin is the China President of Vive at HTC, and I had a chance to talk with him at CES this year about what’s happening in China. He provided me with a lot of cultural context, which includes support from the highest levels of Chinese Government to invest in companies working on emerging technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence. There were a flood of Chinese companies at CES showing VR headsets, peripherals, and 360 cameras. On average, the VR hardware from China tends to be no where near the quality of the major VR players of the HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Sony PSVR, or Samsung GearVR, but there were some standout Chinese companies who are leading innovation in specific area. For example, some highlights from CES include TPCast’s wireless VR, Noitom’s hand-tracked gloves, and Insta360 with some of the cheapest 360 cameras with the best specs available right now.
After CES, I was convinced that if you want to understand what’s going to be happening in the overall VR ecosystem, then it’s worth looking to see what’s happening in China. The VR market in China is growing, and there is a lot more optimism for technological adoption and enthusiasm for having VR arcade experiences. Education in China is also very important with the one-child/two-child policy, and Graylin says that if VR can be proven to have a lot of educational impacts then the government will act to get VR headsets in every classroom. Once VR is in the classrooms, then it’ll help convince more parents to buy one for the home if they believe it’ll help their education.
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In an extensive round-up VR growth in China from Yoni Dayan, he mentions a moonshot project called Donghu VR Town, which is a proposed “city built in the south of the country, designed with virtual reality intertwined in every aspects from services, healthcare, education, to entertainment.” Here’s an untranslated promotional video that shows off what a VR-utopian city might look like:
It’s debatable as to whether Donghu VR Town would be a successful experiment if built, but it reflects a desire to innovate. Graylin said China doesn’t want to just be the manufacturing arm of the world, but that it wants to become a leader in virtual reality as well as in artificial intelligence, as can be seen in this Atlantic article detailing how Chinese universities and companies are starting to surpass American ones in researching and implementing AI.
China is a complicated topic and ecosystem, but after having a direct experience of the TPCast wireless VR, Noitom VR gloves, and the great-looking and high-res stereoscopy from a Insta360 camera at CES, then I think that it’s time to really look to China as a leader in innovation. If China really does go all-in on VR and AI and continues to investing large sums of money, then that type of institutional support is going to leap-frog China as one of the leading innovators in the world. I’ve already have started to see this at CES this year and at the International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence where there was a very healthy representation from China, and the thing to watch over the next couple of years is any big educational infrastucture investments by the Chinese government as well as the evolving digital out-of-home entertainment hardware ecosystem.