A new report by Bloomberg suggests HTC is getting serious about exploring its options with its VR division, considering a “strategic investor, selling or spinning off its Vive virtual reality headset business.”
This has been rumored for a long time as the Android phone maker struggles for profits while its Vive headset seems to be leading the emerging market for VR headsets. According to the report, there may be no changes to the strategy going forward as no decisions have been made, but HTC has retained an adviser to explore the possibilities. HTC declined to comment, citing a policy of not commenting “on rumor or speculation.”
One obvious potential buyer or partner for the business would be HTC’s software and research partner Valve. It would be extremely unlikely given Valve’s risk-free approach to the VR market that seeks to freely license its technology to a number of partners, but it is still worth pondering as a long-term strategic move for Valve.
Valve’s chief revenue driver is its industry leading Steam store, which takes roughly a 30 percent cut of the sales of the PC games sold through it. With VR’s arrival, Steam remains compatible with all the major PC-based headset platforms available including the Oculus Rift, so there is little risk to the company short-term.
The most immersive VR headsets, however, won’t stay PC-based forever as they move toward standalone solutions with integrated batteries, processors and tracking technology while getting comfortable enough for people to wear all day long. Facebook already indicated it is working on multiple standalone systems to hit both high and low ends. Since Facebook makes both the hardware and software when it comes to Rift, the social media giant can take a loss on hardware in order to establish the Oculus software platform as the dominant way to buy VR content.
This would be a slow-rolling evolution over a number of years so there is time for Valve to change course if it needs to, but if (or when?) VR software sales outgrow PC software sales, Facebook might be able to ultimately eclipse Valve’s business.
As for HTC, the company is developing standalones of its own but so far they seem to occupy a different category from the PC-based Vive. We’ll bring you updates on HTC as details emerge.