Virtual reality startup Vrvana wows onlookers at CES 2015

They may not have executed a flashy launch, or won some sort of tech startup contest, but CES 2015 in Las Vegas earlier this month was deemed a success for the members of Vrvana, a startup creating a virtual reality mounted headset.

Founder Bert Nepveu told MTLinTech that he was able to show the headset, called the Totem, to a hand-picked list of about 20 tech journalist specializing in “VR” (virtual reality).

A trip to CES went beyond press though, as the founder said he made serious connections. “We met a lot of people,” said Nepveu. “It was awesome: we met suppliers, possible partners for manufacturing and more. VR is really hot right now and a lot of big guys are trying to get in. We feel that we’re a fast track.”

Vrvana is an interesting story within a market that’s still in its infancy within Canada. Another company seems to be grabbing all the attention within VR, that being Irvine, California-based Oculus VR, with its Oculus Rift. Still, one investor in Montreal thinks the team at Vrvana is capable of building a better product than the Oculus Rift.

That could be difficult though: Oculus Rift is practically swimming in resources after Facebook acquired it for $2.3 billion earlier last year. At CES this year, Business Insider reported that the company had a “massive two-story structure,” that housed “multiple padded rooms where people could try the most recent prototype of the Rift.”

Still, it’s fair to assume that Oculus Rift is now at the mercy of where Mark Zuckerberg wants to take it, and many speculate that they could head in the direction of social exploration within Virtual Reality, where one can build their “wall” in this other reality. Their “friends” on Facebook, for example, can enter their universe through the Oculus Rift and explore all of a person’s interests and such.

With Vrvana though, the sky is still the limit for the company: whereas Oculus Rift seems tied to gaming, Vrvana can go in many directions: gaming, augmented reality, inside-out personal tracking and even fitness. Nepveu feels that one large differentiator between Vrvana’s headset and Oculus Rift’s is hand-tracking. Oculus Rift, he explained, features a camera that faces the user, but “we feel that it’s a lot more natural to have cameras that look at the outside world and track it, so we want to have a simple-to-use natural mounted display and we also want to have hand-tracking.”

Still, like any CEO who’s devoted ten years of his life to something, he praised his competitor’s work. “The quality is incredible,” Nepveu said of Oculus Rift.

Unlike Oculus Rift, Vrvana has yet to actually sell its product. However, the team is getting close to it. Their current version features a 1080-pixel head-mounted display, but the next production version will feature a 1440-pixel display with an onboard camera.

If their next version matches their current one, the experience will be incredible. We were able to “test-drive” Vrvana’s headset at their offices in downtown Montreal, and it was, simply put, like being in another world. We forgot about real life for a brief period of time.

Game content is currently driving virtual reality, and having the ability to do this necessitates several more employees than Vrvana’s nine. Currently, the team works with local studios to procure content, and it is planning to release a developer-transparent SDK. Ideally “in the future we would love to create our own content,” said Nepveu.

Thus far Vrvana has only raised $1 million in venture funding, led by Real Ventures. The company has also taken advantage of several government tax credits and grants over the past decade, and will raise a larger round of venture capital soon.

Nepveu feels that the product will likely be priced around $500, and scaling up for production will clearly require much more capital. Still, he referenced Goldman Sach’s recent forecast for Facebook, in which it was estimated the company will sell 3 million in Oculus Rifts. That shows the potential of virtual reality, he said, and matching just one percent of that is plenty of motivation for Vrvana.

“For me, first it was personal computer, then the internet, the smartphone, and now it’s VR. This is going to change every aspect of our lives,” said Nepveau. “Put yourself ten years down the road when all your senses are emulated. It’s going to be a revolution.”



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