I first wrote about XRSpace back in September 2019, when there was little to report about the then-secretive project. Today, the VR hardware and software company finally pulled the wraps off what they had been working on in secret!
At a special event in Taipei, Taiwan, HTC cofounder and former CEO Peter Chou today revealed the first products from the new startup XRSPACE. It’s serving up both its own 5G-enabled standalone VR headset as well as a new social VR platform which appears to compete with Facebook Horizon.
Chou sees XRSpace serving the upcoming era of widespread 5G; much like smartphones first arrived on the back of the 2.5G network in the early 2000s, the former HTC CEO sees the company’s headset, Mova, and its social VR platform, Manova, taking human interaction “to a new level” and offering more connectivity on a person-to-person level. And XRSpace planning to bring it to the mass market.
Mova is a wireless VR headset like the Oculus Quest, which uses optical hand tracking instead of physical hand controllers. Engadget reports:
The Mova will ship with a single controller for gaming purposes, but it’s designed to be used with hand tracking as the primary control method. This, in theory, would lower the learning barrier for most people, and they would probably use the headset more often because of its less fiddly nature. But the company wants hand gestures to be a core interaction in its virtual world, Manova. And this is where things get different from VR headsets that we’ve seen already.
Once you’re inside one of the Manova spaces…you can toggle most common social gestures with natural movements: you can shake hands with other avatars, give high fives, do fist bumps or toast with a glass. You can even grab and throw objects, meaning you can shoot hoops or throw darts with your buddies who are actually miles away in real life. There’s also a gesture for teleportation: tap in the air with your index finger to toggle an arrow, then point at your desired spot and tap again to teleport.
The two-minute promotional video focuses on the social VR platform, called XRSPace Manova.
This video mentions something called MagicLOHAS, which describes itself on its separate website as:
Employing matured XR technology, computer vision, 5G, 3D real-time interactive, and visualization of full-body avatar, MagicLOHAS achieves a healthy life that is not limited by time and place. We offer a variety of applications from meditation, body training, brain training, and more, to bring new lifestyles of health and sustainability to the mass market through virtual reality.
Here are some first pictures of the Manova social VR platform and avatars (source). I’ll tell you one thing, the Manotva avatars sure look one hell of a lot better than what Facebook Horizon is planning to offer:
C|net reporter Shara Tibken (who was one of the few reporters to get to try out an early version of Mova and Manova, and whose teaser story first caught my attention back in September), writes about the features of this new social VR platform:
Manova is a combination of private and public spaces, and during my demo, I see both. When I put on the headset, I’m in the private sphere, a minimalist home. I can sit on the couch in my living room and watch a movie by myself or invite friends to join me. The next moment, I follow my XRSpace guide to zap myself to a T-Mobile-branded sports arena to watch a basketball game from the center court line. The game is real, with real players, and I have the best seat.
The private spaces include not only your home but also classrooms and meeting rooms for those water cooler conversations or hour-long meetings that used to take place in person in real offices. The public Manova realm has a central city center hub to play games or watch big entertainment events.
For the initial launch, XRSpace has signed on six education companies that do things like teach English; game developers like Futuretown and Rovio’s Angry Birds; live-streaming companies like Insta360’s travel video; GQ and Vogue with fashion content; YC House for virtual Taiwanese real-estate tours; Bank SinoPac for corporate training; and the Taiwanese record label Wind Music.
The wireless Mova headset is expected to ship sometime in the third quarter of 2020, at a price of US$599. Apparently, only Mova headset users will be able to access the Manova social VR platform, which sounds a bit like a jazzed-up version of Oculus Home for Oculus Quest and Rift users. And it’s an intriguing approach: bundling the social VR platform with the VR headset (which, of course, is exactly what Facebook wants to do with its Oculus line of headsets and Facebook Horizon).
Mova and Manova are a package deal: XRSpace’s world is only available through its headset, and the headset won’t support other VR storefronts. XRSpace is also supposed to have its own accessory ecosystem, including optional hand controllers and tracking sensors, which are described as much smaller versions of HTC’s Vive Tracker.
I haven’t seen either product in action, so it’s possible XRSpace will deliver on its promises. That said, this seems like a significant risk for the company and anybody who buys the headset, even making the huge assumption that its hardware is on par with existing devices like the Quest.
Meanwhile, many companies have failed to launch Manova-like virtual worlds, including Second Life operator Linden Lab with Sansar and Linden Lab founder Philip Rosedale with the largely shuttered High Fidelity. Chou believes Manova can succeed where Sansar and High Fidelity failed because of its “fine-tuned” nature.
“I think the difference is they designed those things based on the PC first and then they tried to put it on VR,” he says. “They don’t have a good digital avatar and they don’t have a holistic consideration of the mass-market consumer using it.” But that’s still an iffy bet, especially for a device that costs far more than the highly capable $399 Oculus Quest.
And I have to say that Chou (XRSpace CEO and former HTC head Peter Chou) is wrong; both Sansar and High Fidelity were designed from the beginning to support the first generation of consumer VR headsets (notably the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift). The problem happened when both Linden Lab and High Fidelity bet the farm that there would be massive consumer uptake of virtual reality by now, which so far has failed to happen. This is what led to the essential shuttering of High Fidelity and the sale of Sansar by Linden Lab to Wookey (a company which specializes in buying up distressed companies and trying to turn them around).
I wonder if Peter Chou has ever actually sat down and talked with Ebbe Altberg or Philip Rosedale…judging by his quote above, and his lack of knowledge about Sansar and High Fidelity, probably not. Both Ebbe and Philip would be the first to tell him that “fine tuning” a platform is absolutely no guarantee of its popularity and success, based on their own bitter experience.
Exclusively bundling a full-blown, high-end social VR platform with a particular, as-yet-untested brand of VR headset is a huge gamble, though. If a battle for marketshare erupts between XRSpace and Facebook, Facebook is by far the stronger opponent here. (For example, while XRSpace has the rights to offer the Angry Birds game, Facebook already owns the phenomenally successful and popular juggernaut of Beat Saber! You can bet that Beat Saber will not be appearing in Manova anytime soon.)
If you want more information in CRSpace, Mova, Manova, and MagicLOHAS, you can visit the XRSpace website or the MagicLOHAS website, or follow XRSpace on social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.
Thank you to Andrew William for the heads up!