Peter Chou, the former co-founder and CEO of HTC, is gunning to destroy the Oculus Quest. Chou’s just unveiled the XRSpace Mova, a $599 standalone VR headset launching later this year that could stomp all over Facebook’s VR headset. Not just in terms of newer and more powerful specs like a Qualcomm Snapdragon 845 chip and 5G, but with a slew of social experiences like sharing beers at a virtual bar, watching soccer matches together with other people in a virtual theater, and playing at virtual carnivals… stuff you can’t do in real life anymore because of COVID-19.
More realistic virtual presence — Anyone with a good VR headset (Quest, Rift, or Vive) will tell you VR is not necessarily about graphical fidelity. Presence — the feeling of physically being somewhere else or hanging with someone — is the real magic to VR and what makes it so transformative. At a time when we literally can’t socialize because of quarantine and when the pandemic is changing the ways we think about human engagement and leisure, the Mova wants to rekindle these interactions in VR.
Using inside-out tracking, the XRSpace wants to create “the social reality of the future — a world where people can interact both physically and virtually in a way that is contextual, familiar, immersive, interactive and personal” that’s more immersive than existing VR headsets like the Quest. XRSpace envisions a “MANOVA world” with more lifelike avatars that more realistically resemble you (think PlayStation Home or Second Life avatars, but in VR) and in addition to body and hand tracking… provides leg tracking (partially at least).
The Oasis IRL — In Ready Player One, people enter a social VR world called the Oasis. XRSpace claims the Mova headset will let users enter rooms and spaces (both public and private) for a multitude of purposes. From casually hanging out, to learning in virtual classrooms, to working out, these “MagicLOHAS” spaces are an attempt to replace real ones.
“One can simply hangout with friends in relaxing landscapes, or exercise - walking, biking, dancing, doing yoga, patented Magic Tai-Chi sessions in immersive environments of naturally meditative ambiences. Together with a diverse team of sports, yoga, dancing, music, meditation, health and therapy experts, XRSPACE MANOVA provides fun and interactive contents designed to enhance everyday wellness.”
There’s also a “City Center” hub, a forum for “watching a sport event, a trip around the world, learning from the best online academies, or playing casual games with others.” It sounds a lot like VRChat, Rec Room, or Bigscreen, but way more fleshed out. XRSpace shared a glimpse of what these social experiences will look like in the video. I’ll be damned impressed if these MagicLOHAS spaces can really simulate the sense of presence that I miss so dearly.
Just look at these:
Lighter and more powerful — Less important, but still very important are the Mova’s specs. XRSpace is boasting some powerful hardware. In addition to being “20% lighter than most standalone VR devices” the headset is also powered by the Snapdragon 845 chip, 6GB of RAM, and has built-in 5G, LTE, and Wi-Fi.
There’s a controller in the box, but it’s just a single one, which is a far cry from the Quest’s two hand controllers. Most input will be done with hand tracking; XRSpace says users will be able to do “handshakes, high-fives, and claps” in VR.
Climbing the Quest mountain — XRSpace has some interesting ideas with the Mova. The headset itself certainly seems competitive with the Quest on paper even if it does look dorkier with the two honking cameras mounted on the front. Like every VR, XR, or AR headset, the hard part isn’t the hardware, but the software.
Chou helped build HTC into a mobile powerhouse by aligning with Android from the start. Android owes its success to the HTC G1/Dream. When HTC’s mobile prowess started to fade, Chou helped pivot HTC to focus on VR with the Vive. Then he left and HTC’s remaining mobile department was sold off to Google’s Pixel team while the Vive was spun off. Chou’s third act to take on the Quest is ambitious. He’s going up against Facebook — a company with virtually unlimited resources to spend on making sure Oculus is the dominant VR headset and platform.
I’m intrigued by all social push the Mova going after. However, I’m skeptical on whether it can deliver in non-gimmicky ways that will 1) get people to pay $600 for a headset and 2) get them to keep spending time in the VR worlds. XRSpace and its developer partners will have to knock the VR experiences out of the park if they hope to scale. That's the one benefit of Oculus: Facebook is tapping into the billions of users in hopes they will at least try the platform. XRSpace has to start from scratch. Not to mention, Oculus has been building out its VR platform for years and is quickly adding more PC VR functionality to beef up the Quest's blind spots. For Facebook, VR and mixed reality isn't just a singular platform; Mark Zuckerberg is betting it's the future of computing.
COVID-19 — horrible as it is — created a perfect scenario for VR (specifically Oculus) to thrive. But how do you even try to take on Facebook? We’re talking about a David and Goliath situation here. I’m not saying XRSpace and the Mova can’t carve out a niche. It’s just going to be an astronomical hurdle.