VR Companies Bet Big on Stand-Alone Headsets

Manufacturers Race to Cut Cords

HTC has partnered with Qualcomm to create a stand-alone virtual reality (VR) headset exclusively for the Chinese market. The device, called the Vive Standalone, is based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon VR835 reference design and will run apps and games from HTC’s Viveport content platform. Further details including release date, price and exact specifications haven’t yet been revealed, but are expected in the coming months.

HTC will launch its Vive Standalone in addition to its upcoming stand-alone headset with Google for the Daydream platform. The device was teased at the Google’s I/O developer conference in May 2017. Silhouetted photos show that the two devices look almost identical — this is unsurprising given that the forthcoming headset will also be based on Qualcomm’s reference design. We believe that the decision to release two versions of the same device has been driven mainly by the unavailability of Google’s services in China. HTC’s Daydream VR headset is expected later in 2017.


HTC Vive Standalone VR headset

In China, hundreds of different brands offer various VR headsets, including ones using Qualcomm’s original Snapdragon VR820 reference design, but no dominant company or content platform has emerged. This, paired with the unavailability of Google, Facebook and even Valve’s Steam Store services, has opened up a clear opportunity for HTC to establish a position in the nascent Chinese VR market.

HTC isn’t the only leading VR company to see potential in breaking into China. Rumours suggest that a special version of a stand-alone Oculus VR headset will be released exclusively to the Chinese market in partnership with local player Xiaomi. We predict it may also feature Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipset. At present, it’s unclear how Oculus would deliver its content to Chinese users, but a deal with a local company shouldn’t be ruled out.

Stand-alone VR headsets offer many advantages over dedicated VR devices like the Oculus Rift. They’re all-in-one designs that don’t need external cables, sensors or battery packs. They usually feature inside-out positional tracking, negating the need for external tracking sensors, and some even offer advanced features such as eye-tracking and hand gesture input.

However, despite these benefits, this type of headset does make some trade-offs. The visual quality of experiences is more akin to the latest smartphone VR headsets than high-end dedicated devices such as the original HTC Vive. Added weight is also an inevitable drawback, caused by the need for batteries and on-board processing.

More importantly, we believe that broader consumer demand for stand-alone headsets is still questionable. Casual users who have already made an investment in a capable smartphone are likely to continue using it with an inexpensive “drop-in” VR headset. Conversely, keen gamers will want to enjoy the best available VR experiences, which are only offered by dedicated VR headsets.

In our view, the biggest opportunity for the emerging stand-alone VR category will be in specific uses. There are already tentative steps being made in many industry segments to embrace VR. These include advertising, design, education, tourism, training and more.

Education is an excellent example underlined by the large investment Google has made in its Expeditions initiative, which allows schoolchildren to take part in virtual field trips and excursions. Such highly focused uses that offer a great deal of value through immersive VR experiences are likely to be the cornerstone for growth when it comes to stand-alone VR headsets.