Xiaomi Unveils Mi VR Play Virtual-Reality Headset in China

Made of Lycra and featuring a zipper to insert a smartphone, the Mi VR Play looks like a refined, updated version of Google Cardboard.  

Xiaomi, Xiaomi Mi VR Play, virtual reality, VR headsets, THC Vive, Google Cardboard, Sony Gear VR

Xiaomi has released its first virtual-reality viewer, the Mi VR Play, and an accompanying Mi VR app, for initial distribution in its native China as beta releases to explore the technology.

The company announced the Mi VR Play beta release on Aug. 4 through a post on Facebook, describing it as "a lightweight VR headset that sends you into an alternate reality with immersive 2D, 3D and panoramic videos."

The device, which must be used with a smartphone to operate, features a zippered front flap where users can insert a compatible 4.7-inch to 5.7-inch smartphone. The device has a body made of Lycra and uses anti-slip rubber straps around a user's head to hold it in place, according to the company. Inside the VR Play, an anti-reflective, optical-grade aspheric lens is used to provide visual clarity for users. The devices are available in a range of stylish designs and colors.

Users in China who want to beta-test the new device can do so by buying one for about 15 cents, according to Xiaomi.

No additional details or pricing were released, including whether the Mi VR Play devices will reach American shores or other countries in the future.

The concept for the Xiaomi device is similar to Google Cardboard devices, which were dreamed up in 2014 by two Google employees as a simple VR viewer made up of cut-and-folded cardboard that is shaped into a boxy-looking VR device. The gadget has a slot that accepts a compatible Android smartphone so that it can take advantage of the phone's display and other features. Several other parts are featured besides the cardboard, including some Velcro, a rubber band, two small magnets and some aftermarket lenses.

In February, Google added a virtual-reality product page to its online Google Store and began offering Google Cardboard and other VR devices for sale to consumers from one easy-to-use source, according to an earlier eWEEK story.

Google has been working on various VR projects over the last several years. Also in February, reports circulated that Google is in the midst of designing a stand-alone virtual-reality headset device that would not have to be used with a smartphone, unlike its existing Google Cardboard viewer. The latest device would feature its own screen, high-powered processors and outward-facing cameras, according to an earlier eWEEK story.

A wide range of virtual-reality products are being developed and marketed as the technology continues to mature. In June, HTC moved its popular Vive virtual-reality product line into its own company-owned subsidiary as the main company continues to react to its tough financial performance in the first quarter of the year. The new subsidiary aims to support and promote the company's VR ecosystem, while isolating it from the parent company's financial woes.

A new report issued by research firm TrendForce concludes that Sony's upcoming PlayStation VR headset, which won't be released until October, is already priming the global virtual-reality marketplace, according to a recent eWEEK story. Big preorder numbers for the PlayStation VR point to the device making up some 67 percent of the expected 9 million VR devices that will be sold in 2016, the research concluded. Sales of the PlayStation VR headset are expected to "overwhelm its competitors this year, taking 67 percent of the global VR device market with about 6 million units shipped," while competitor Oculus will ship about 2.3 million units of Rift and HTC will ship only about 700,000 units of its Vive headsets, according to the report. The report also projects sales of some 50 million VR devices globally by 2020, for a compound annual growth rate of 53.5 percent.

TrendForce also estimates that total sales in the VR market globally will be more than $70 billion in 2020, with software making up about 60 percent of that total.

Sony's upcoming $399 PlayStation VR headset was announced in March for an October launch and is aimed at bringing virtual-reality game play to its popular PlayStation entertainment systems.

In March, Oculus began shipping preordered units of its $599 Oculus Rift virtual-reality headsets to customers, while the $99 Samsung Gear VR headset went on sale last fall, giving users the chance to view video games, movies and more in immersive, new ways. The Samsung Gear VR is a consumer version of virtual-reality headsets made by Oculus.

An April report by research firm Strategy Analytics estimated that the global virtual-reality headset market would bring in about $895 million in revenue in 2016, with about 77 percent of that revenue coming from premium-priced products from Oculus, HTC and Sony. Interestingly, the report concluded that the actual per-device sales totals would be dominated by lower-priced headsets from myriad vendors.

The report looked at the VR headset market and predicted that three of the latest devices, the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive and the coming Sony PlayStation VR, would bring in the bulk of the segment's revenue this year. At the same time, though, those higher-priced devices will only make up about 13 percent of the 12.8 million VR headsets that Strategy Analytics predicts will be sold in 2016, the report stated.