HTC is taking on Facebook with a new VR headset and its own metaverse

The Flow VR headset and Viveport Verse are attempts to beat back Facebook in the consumer VR market. But the company faces an uphill battle.

Promotional teaser image for HTC Flow

HTC has been teasing its new Flow headset as a device for meditation and immersive media consumption.

Photo: HTC

HTC is set to unveil a new consumer headset at an online event Thursday: For weeks, the company has been teasing an unveiling using a "Go with the Flow" tag line, with numerous lifestyle images suggesting but not showing a device made for meditation, media consumption and similar activities. Protocol has since learned that Flow is in fact a new lightweight consumer VR headset that has been developed under the code name "Hue."

The Vive Flow is just one of HTC's attempts to regain ground in the consumer VR market. The company is also quietly working on a new metaverse-like service called Viveport Verse. The service is designed to provide real-time interaction across VR and non-VR devices, giving people the ability to attend events, gather in online spaces and create their own content.

HTC declined to comment.

A headset for media consumption

In many ways, the Vive Flow is one of the VR industry's worst-kept secrets: HTC has been teasing the device with a number of lifestyle images that feature a tube-shaped case with a leather carrying strap, suggesting portability and a small form factor. The company also registered a trademark for a Vive Flow "head mounted display" in August, and recent FCC filings spotted by RoadtoVR confirm that the company is indeed getting ready to release a new Vive headset.

Now, there's even more evidence: Documents published by the Bluetooth SIG consortium late last month spell out plans to launch a new "VR AIO [all-in-one] product," meaning a standalone headset that doesn't need a connection to a PC to run VR experiences. The device is code-named Hue — suggesting that the company is going for a sunglasses-like design similar to the Project Proton prototype it showed off in early 2020.

A source with knowledge of HTC's plans told Protocol that the new headset is being primarily positioned as a media consumption device with access to some casual gaming, and that it will ship without handheld controllers. It will also be powered by a chipset less powerful than that in the Oculus Quest 2, according to that source. However, the headset is supposed to feature 6 degrees of freedom tracking, making it more immersive than Facebook's discontinued Oculus Go device.

A metaverse for consumers

The Vive Flow can be seen as HTC's attempt to catch up to Facebook in consumer VR. The social networking giant has seen significant success with its Quest standalone, with estimates suggesting millions of units sold since the introduction of the Quest 2 last year. HTC's consumer business has largely been focused on PC VR, a smaller segment of the market with less future growth potential. Unable to match the pricing of the Quest, HTC has positioned its own standalone headsets as enterprise devices.

As part of that enterprise push, HTC also developed its own VR meeting and productivity service called Vive Sync. Now, the company is exploring taking similar ideas to the consumer space. Protocol has learned that HTC developers have quietly been building a new service called Viveport Verse, which is being billed as a metaverse with avatars and cross-device functionality.

Viveport Verse will allow people to "explore the world beyond physical space," "meet people around the world" and "explore a variety of events, from virtual tourism and exhibitions to sports events and festivals," the company states on a publicly available staging site.

The service is designed to be accessible via VR headsets as well as mobile devices and desktop computers, and will feature some sort of NFT tie-in. It will also allow people to create their own content, as well as upload 3D objects from services like Sketchfab. Verse is "an open space for users to generate rooms and 3D objects - create your own spaces with friends or an entire world," according to the staging site.

A screengrab of the Viveport Verse Protocol has learned that HTC developers have quietly been building a new service called Viveport Verse, which is being billed as a metaverse with avatars and cross-device functionality.Image: HTC

That sounds like an ambitious undertaking, and perhaps a chance to compete with Facebook's own long-delayed Horizon Worlds project. However, HTC isn't actually building its own virtual world from scratch. Instead, the company has been relying on Mozilla's Hubs product to kickstart its efforts, and is effectively rebranding a customized version of the browser maker's VR product.

HTC has also been experimenting with adding a persistent social layer to Hubs with the help of Mastodon, an open-source social network. It's unclear how exactly the two products are going to be tied together. There's also no word on when Verse will be made available to consumers, but the project is clearly in early stages, and it's unlikely that the company will make mention of it during this week's hardware unveiling. There's always a chance that HTC may abandon the project altogether.

The Flow is no Quest, and HTC is no Facebook

With or without Verse, HTC's fate in the consumer VR space very much depends on whether the company will be able to sell people on the vision behind its new Flow headset. Designed as a device for media consumption, it could fill an interesting niche in the market: people looking to primarily watch Netflix and explore a few lightweight VR apps with their headset.

However, without controllers, the device will likely offer few if any action-heavy VR games. And while HTC is teasing meditation as one application, people may not be able to use the headset for more processing-intensive workouts, which has been a major focus of Facebook's attempts to popularize VR beyond hardcore gaming.

HTC's attempts to piggyback on existing immersive and social products for Viveport Verse further shows that the company has to make do with limited resources, which will make any attempt to regain market share from Facebook an uphill battle.

Correction: This story was updated Oct. 11 to correct the name of Project Proton.

Fintech

Debt-fueled crypto mining’s boom — and now, its bust

Leverage helped mining operations expand as they borrowed against their hardware or the crypto it generated.

Dropping crypto prices have upended the economics of mining.

Photo: Lars Hagberg/AFP via Getty Images

As bitcoin boomed, crypto mining seemed almost like printing money. But in reality, miners have always had to juggle the cost of hardware, electricity and operations against the tokens their work yielded. Often miners held onto their crypto, betting it would appreciate, or borrowed against it to buy more mining rigs. Now all those bills are coming due: The industry has accumulated as much as $4 billion in debt, according to some estimates.

The crypto boom encouraged excess. “The approach was get rich quick, build it big, build it fast, use leverage. Do it now,” said Andrew Webber, founder and CEO at crypto mining service provider Digital Power Optimization.

Keep Reading Show less
Tomio Geron

Tomio Geron ( @tomiogeron) is a San Francisco-based reporter covering fintech. He was previously a reporter and editor at The Wall Street Journal, covering venture capital and startups. Before that, he worked as a staff writer at Forbes, covering social media and venture capital, and also edited the Midas List of top tech investors. He has also worked at newspapers covering crime, courts, health and other topics. He can be reached at tgeron@protocol.com or tgeron@protonmail.com.

Every day, millions of us press the “order” button on our favorite coffee store's mobile application: Our chosen brew will be on the counter when we arrive. It’s a personalized, seamless experience that we have all come to expect. What we don’t know is what’s happening behind the scenes. The mobile application is sourcing data from a database that stores information about each customer and what their favorite coffee drinks are. It is also leveraging event-streaming data in real time to ensure the ingredients for your personal coffee are in supply at your local store.

Applications like this power our daily lives, and if they can’t access massive amounts of data stored in a database as well as stream data “in motion” instantaneously, you — and millions of customers — won’t have these in-the-moment experiences.

Keep Reading Show less
Jennifer Goforth Gregory
Jennifer Goforth Gregory has worked in the B2B technology industry for over 20 years. As a freelance writer she writes for top technology brands, including IBM, HPE, Adobe, AT&T, Verizon, Epson, Oracle, Intel and Square. She specializes in a wide range of technology, such as AI, IoT, cloud, cybersecurity, and CX. Jennifer also wrote a bestselling book The Freelance Content Marketing Writer to help other writers launch a high earning freelance business.
Policy

How lax social media policies help fuel a prescription drug boom

Prescription drug ads are all over TikTok, Facebook and Instagram. As the potential harms become clear, why haven’t the companies updated their advertising policies?

Even as providers like Cerebral draw federal attention, Meta’s and TikTok’s advertising policies still allow telehealth providers to turbocharge their marketing efforts.

Illustration: Overearth/iStock/Getty Images Plus

In the United States, prescription drug advertisements are as commonplace as drive-thru lanes and Pete Davidson relationship updates. We’re told every day — often multiple times a day — to ask our doctor if some new medication is right for us. Saturday Night Live has for decades parodied the breathless parade of side effect warnings tacked onto drug commercials. Here in New York, even our subway swipes are subsidized by advertisements that deliver the good news: We can last longer in bed and keep our hair, if only we turn to the latest VC-backed telehealth service.

The U.S. is almost alone in embracing direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertisements. Nations as disparate as Saudi Arabia, France and China all find common ground in banning such ads. In fact, of all developed nations, only New Zealand joins the U.S. in giving pharmaceutical companies a direct line to consumers.

Keep Reading Show less
Hirsh Chitkara

Hirsh Chitkara ( @HirshChitkara) is a reporter at Protocol focused on the intersection of politics, technology and society. Before joining Protocol, he helped write a daily newsletter at Insider that covered all things Big Tech. He's based in New York and can be reached at hchitkara@protocol.com.

Entertainment

Niantic’s future hinges on mapping the metaverse

The maker of Pokémon Go is hoping the metaverse will deliver its next big break.

Niantic's new standalone messaging and social app, Campfire, is a way to get players organizing and meeting up in the real world. It launches today for select Pokémon Go players.

Image: Niantic

Pokémon Go sent Niantic to the moon. But now the San Francisco-based augmented reality developer has returned to earth, and it’s been trying to chart its way back to the stars ever since. The company yesterday announced layoffs of about 8% of its workforce (about 85 to 90 people) and canceled four projects, Bloomberg reported, signaling another disappointment for the studio that still generates about $1 billion in revenue per year from Pokémon Go.

Finding its next big hit has been Niantic’s priority for years, and the company has been coming up short. For much of the past year or so, Niantic has turned its attention to the metaverse, with hopes that its location-based mobile games, AR tech and company philosophy around fostering physical connection and outdoor exploration can help it build what it now calls the “real world metaverse.”

Keep Reading Show less
Nick Statt

Nick Statt is Protocol's video game reporter. Prior to joining Protocol, he was news editor at The Verge covering the gaming industry, mobile apps and antitrust out of San Francisco, in addition to managing coverage of Silicon Valley tech giants and startups. He now resides in Rochester, New York, home of the garbage plate and, completely coincidentally, the World Video Game Hall of Fame. He can be reached at nstatt@protocol.com.

Climate

Supreme Court takes a sledgehammer to greenhouse gas regulations

The court ruled 6-3 that the EPA cannot use the Clean Air Act to regulate power plant greenhouse gas emissions. That leaves a patchwork of policies from states, utilities and, increasingly, tech companies to pick up the slack.

The Supreme Court struck a major blow to the federal government's ability to regulate greenhouse gases.

Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Striking down the right to abortion may be the Supreme Court's highest-profile decision this term. But on Thursday, the court handed down an equally massive verdict on the federal government's ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In the case of West Virginia v. EPA, the court decided that the agency has no ability to regulate greenhouse gas pollution under the Clean Air Act. Weakening the federal government's powers leaves a patchwork of states, utilities and, increasingly, tech companies to pick up the slack in reducing carbon pollution.

Keep Reading Show less
Brian Kahn

Brian ( @blkahn) is Protocol's climate editor. Previously, he was the managing editor and founding senior writer at Earther, Gizmodo's climate site, where he covered everything from the weather to Big Oil's influence on politics. He also reported for Climate Central and the Wall Street Journal. In the even more distant past, he led sleigh rides to visit a herd of 7,000 elk and boat tours on the deepest lake in the U.S.

Latest Stories
Bulletins