Home Technology Chinese video streaming giant iQiyi launches $300 virtual reality headset

Chinese video streaming giant iQiyi launches $300 virtual reality headset

Yu Gong (center), Founder and CEO of China-based iQiyi (IQ), rings the Opening Bell at Nasdaq MarketSite in Times Square with employees and investors in celebration of its initial public offering (IPO) on March 29, 2018 in New York City.

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Chinese video entertainment company iQiyi is taking the novel approach of a media platform getting into the hardware business.

On Thursday, the Beijing-based firm released a new virtual reality headset, called Qiyu 2S. It’s a more affordable version of its 4K VR integrated headset that the company launched last year.

CNBC tested out the device, and the immediate takeaway was how light the Qiyu 2S felt. The device is still heavier than a baseball cap, but at 280 grams, or 9.9 ounces, iQiyi’s VR headset doesn’t have any of the heft that other devices do. During the limited test, the peripheral also didn’t induce any feelings of sickness or discomfort. The headset is made by iQiyi subsidiary Qiyu and uses chips from Qualcomm.

With 4K resolution, a wifi connection with no wires required and an advertised starting price of 1,999 yuan ($294), the company has a competitive, mid-market VR headset. Last year’s model, the VR II, retails for at least $100 more.

The Qiyu 2S is made by iQiyi’s subsidiary Qiyu and uses chips from Qualcomm.

Evelyn Cheng | CNBC

Since its launch in 2010, iQiyi has evolved from a video streaming platform to a major production house in China for variety shows, drama series and more. The company said it had more than 87 million subscribing members at the end of 2018. At its annual conference in Beijing this week, iQiyi emphasized its plans to incorporate more technology — virtual and augmented reality, and artificial intelligence — to improve the experience for its users.

Controlling the hardware and content may allow iQiyi to engage with users in a unique way. Putting out its own VR headset is a first for a major company focused on producing and distributing entertainment.

Custom VR content for iQiyi’s new headset includes front-row views at pop music concerts. Users can also use the device to watch movies and shows from iQiyi’s app in a virtual cinema, complete with a high-resolution projection screen and theater seats. The headset also supports Steam and some other platforms for gaming, a market in which iQiyi is working to expand.

Apps for other VR content are also available through the headset, according to iQiyi. Programming is controlled by a handheld remote.

So far, distribution is through major Chinese e-commerce channels: Alibaba’s Tmall, JD.com and iQiyi’s online store. Pre-sales began Thursday. A pro version of the VR device is set for release in October.

CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal contributed to this report.