By |August 9th, 2016|Featured Stories, News, Technology|
  • A few thousand lucky beta testers will try the new device for only US$0.20.
  • The headset can be used with many brands’ phones, not just Xiaomi’s.
  • Xiaomi did not announce a projected release date for the final product.
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Xiaomi’s Mi VR virtual reality headset. (TechNode)

China is obsessed with VR, and Xiaomi is not about to be left behind.

The hardware giant revealed its first VR product on Thursday: a smartphone-enabled headset called Mi VR. True to Xiaomi style, the gadget is ridiculously cheap at RMB 1 per piece (about US$0.20), but before you go scrounging through your spare change jar, it’s unfortunately only open to some several thousand pre-registered beta testers who were savvy enough to sign up last week.

It’s an exciting (and predictable) step from the device maker, which is rapidly diversifying their product line away from the smartphones amid sluggish sales.

Smartphone VR headsets are a fairly straightforward venture, with many existing brands and knock-offs already available on the market at penny-pinching prices. Xiaomi’s Mi VR offers a handful of nifty features that could put them ahead of other products if their final retail price is enticing enough.

While we weren’t lucky enough to get our hands on one of the beta sets, Xiaomi says the Mi VR features a lycra coating for comfort, which addresses an issue that consumers have identified with cardboard and hard plastic models. It also uses a zipper to hold in the smartphone, instead of velcro or a snap latch. The company says they will also release the headset in several bold prints and colors.

So do you need a Xiaomi phone to use it? It appears not. The headset can be used with any phone between 4.7 and 5.7 inches, a Xiaomi representative confirmed to Technode. This means that the device will be compatible with a range of devices, including iPhones.

The company previously announced they would be partnering with Google’s Daydream VR platform, though Daydream-supported devices will come at a later date.

Samsung’s Gear VR, which is widely considered to be the leader in mobile VR experiences, is only compatible with Samsung phones. Xiaomi has stamped down entry barriers – primarily price, to build out their ecosystem.

It will be interesting to see whether Xiaomi releases the headsets in a bundling deal similar to Samsung.

The Korean smartphone giant sharply discounted their headsets when bought alongside a flagship phone, incentivizing buyers to join the Samsung ecosystem.

A Xiaomi representative told Technode that “The focus for now is to have [the] Mi VR app be an open VR platform allowing partners to join us, so we can create a more extensive library.”

—This story first appeared on Technode.com.