HTC exec sees VR race to the bottom between Meta and Bytedance

HTC exec sees VR race to the bottom between Meta and Bytedance

The Vive XR Elite is aimed at consumers, but is priced surprisingly high for this target group. HTC’s product boss explains why.

The Vive XR Elite is a promising device with modern lenses, a slim, lightweight and modular design and video passthrough in color for a more believable Mixed Reality. If it weren’t for the steep price: HTC charges around $1,100 / 1399 Euros. Who would buy the device at that price?

However, HTC’s global head of product Shen Ye believes he knows the answer. “This is for an audience that wants an upgraded experience, gamers and just people who want a good headset that is comfortable.”

Ye compares potential buyers to frustrated gaming fans waiting for a Nintendo Switch Pro. “They want something portable, but they want something better. Mobile VR is currently like that. There isn’t a decent upgrade. People who want a good experience are stuck with these products that are racing to the bottom.”

Quality comes at a price, HTC says

Ye is referring to the aggressively subsidized Meta Quest 2 and Pico 4 VR headsets, the price of which is cross-funded by the lavish advertising business of two social media giants: one from Meta, the other from TikTok parent Bytedance, which acquired the Pico VR business in summer 2021 to compete with Meta in the headset market as well.

Ye sides with Apple, which is rumored to introduce its own mixed reality headset soon.

“I think the nice thing about an Apple coming in is that they’re not a social media company,” says Ye. “The giants that are really trying to disrupt are on this race to the bottom, making cheap headsets that they’re losing money. At the end of the day, what’s the cost of your personal data? We’re not a social media company. Our business model doesn’t rely on advertising revenue, so it’s not something we’re doing. We want to build good hardware.”

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Is low-cost VR bad VR?

“Race to the bottom” brings back memories of a major VR turnaround Facebook made in 2018, when Oculus founder Brendan Iribe left the company. Apparently in protest: Iribe was reportedly not interested in a “race to the bottom,” according to a report at the time.

The bone of contention was Zuckerberg’s decision to halt development of the high-end Oculus Rift 2 headset, favoring instead the standalone Oculus Quest and a budget version of the Rift headset, the Oculus Rift S.

Both were released in 2019 and were relatively successful. The Rift line was discontinued altogether in 2020, while the second-generation Oculus Quest experienced unprecedented success, due in part, but not exclusively, to its low price.

Now, in 2023, Ye is once again extolling the virtues of expensive high-end VR. The product chief is right to suggest that Meta and Bytedance’s price dumping is distorting the market. But whether the solution is to be found in expensive premium VR can also be doubted because the technology is still in its infancy and does not offer much outside of gaming that justifies such prices. In the end, the market will decide.