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Xiaomi hints at a more ‘sophisticated’ virtual reality headset

Chinese electronics giant Xiaomi is working on a more "sophisticated" virtual reality (VR) headset, its head of international told CNBC on Friday, just days after announcing its first foray into the space.

Earlier this month, Xiaomiunveiled the Mi VR Play headset, a device it said was an "entry level" product without unveiling the price.

But Hugo Barra, Xiaomi's vice president of international, revealed to CNBC that the world's second-most valuable private tech company is working on a more advanced VR device, and said China would outpace any other market for VR adoption.

"We are going to introduce much more sophisticated VR products in the Chinese market," Barra told CNBC Friday.

"But I think it's easy to say one thing, the Chinese market is at around 400 million to 500 million smartphones sold every year. Every single one of these phones, in theory, is VR –capable, so our thinking is VR could actually become mass market in China, faster than any other market in the world."

The Mi VR Play will support a wide range of 4.7- to 5.7-inch smartphones that will be secured in the headset by a two-way zipper. It is wrapped in a lightweight lycra. Xiaomi said it received 1 million registrations in just eight hours since issuing a call for beta testers on August 1. Users on the beta testing program will be able to get the Mi VR Play for 1 yuan ($0.15). The company didn't say when the headset would be publically available.


Xiaomi

Barra added that while the company has not publically revealed sales forecasts for the Mi VR Play, the device could "easily be in the multiple millions" in terms of units sold, a couple of weeks after it is launched to the market.

It's one of the first devices in China's nascent VR market. Along with the headset, Xiaomi also launched the Mi VR app that contains content from a number of partners including Conde Nast Traveler. Along with its bid for scale with hardware, Xiaomi is hoping it can be a platform for developers to create content for its headset, something analysts see as key for the VR market to take off.

If Xiaomi can scale effectively enough on the hardware side, it could also become a serious software player in China's VR market.

"Our approach … is actually to be an open platform. So what we are doing is building an open content platform. There is a large number of start-ups as well as content creators here in China, many of whom are VC (venture capital)-funded, in fact we have even invested in some of them, that are creating content, creating games, creating new experiences with VR," Barra said.

"So our thinking is, let's just build an open platform into which any content creators can deploy their content, and make it easily available to everything. We are positioning ourselves as an enabler."

The market is set to explode with Deloitte predicting that 2016 could be the first billion-dollar year for VR in terms of revenues. Xiaomi is not alone. The company faces competition from a number of players including Samsung, LG and HTC.