LetinVR COO: Making VR entertainment mainstream is a challenge

The year 2016 is being considered by many as China’s “year of VR”. Despite VR’s wide range of applications in fields as diverse as education and healthcare, LetinVR believes that VR entertainment is bound to go viral in China.

The company is working on the VR version of the variety show Shuishidageshen, or Hidden Singer, with three or more similar shows to follow this year.

From VR travel to VR entertainment

LetinVR has always been dedicated to producing VR content, though except for the beginning. “At first, our focus was on VR travel,”Zhuang Jishun, the co-founder and COO of LetinVR told AllChinaTech. “But that model didn’t work out well, because you don’t call travel ‘travel’ unless you actually go from one place to another. And people would rather go.”

Zhuang Jishun, the co-founder and COO of LetinVR
Zhuang Jishun, the co-founder and COO of LetinVR

So LetinVR decided to make VR content about less-traveled places. They have produced VR travel experiences at the Great Wall, in Shangri-La, and at Hailongtun or “Sea Dragon Castle”, which have been introduced to overseas audiences. The team will visit Antarctica, Africa, and Norway this year to make VR travel videos aimed at Chinese audiences.

However, the clients that VR travel secured were mostly businesses. To let more potential customers experience their products, LetinVR changed its strategy and shifted its focus from VR travel to VR entertainment.

“Our major clients at present are still businesses, but with their influence and help, we expect to build a fan economy both online and offline,” Zhuang said.

LetinVR is currently cooperating with online platforms including Tencent, iQiyi, Youku, LeEco and Storm.

The company will produce four major product categories in 2016, namely, VR entertainment, VR live broadcast, VR high-end travel, and VR news.

The pursuit of the VR language: a challenge and an opportunity

To produce VR entertainment including variety shows, reality shows, movies and concerts, LetinVR will create its own content on the one hand and partner with other IP producers on the other.

Zhuang said that while VR movies in the current phase may be seen as a complement or an extension of the traditional movie industry, it is, after all, fairly different from the traditional medium, especially when it comes to lights, filming techniques, camera positions, and other things that come into play when filming a VR video, which he calls “the language of VR”.

Last year, LetinVR made China’s first VR movie “Huodaozuihou,” or Chosen in English. Though it was a success, the team found a more urgent need to explore the language of VR before tackling its second VR movie.

“We struggled while filming Chosen,” said Zhuang. “For example, we had to consider lights. For indoor shooting, lighting from inside the scene may expose cameras and wires, so we built a scene with thin wooden boards and paper and lit it from the outside… we even dug an underpass for wires!” Zhuang recalled.

The studio built with wooden boards and paper (photo credit: LetinVR)
The VR movie studio built by LetinVR

“Our challenge is that we’ve got to start everything from scratch, that is, we have to find out all the whats and hows by ourselves,” said Zhuang. “But this is also an opportunity. If I had to make a prediction, VR devices in the future will be quite similar, and what we’re doing now is stepping into the ‘content phase’ in advance.”

Prioritizing the team gene: a devotion to VR movies

For VR content, gaming is like a blue-eyed boy taking all the attention. Yet LetinVR is sticking with VR movies.

Managing a tight team of 33 engineers, programmers, film directors and post producers, Zhuang and Sun Wenbo, the founder and CEO of LetinVR, have known each other since college and started the company with a small group of friends.

Zhuang thinks that good VR movies and videos may offer a great sense of immersion and interaction not inferior to the experience that games can provide.

“VR games may prosper, and so may VR animations. But considering what we’re good at and what we’re not, i.e. our team gene, we choose not ‘virtual virtuality’ but virtual reality,” Zhuang said.

Waiting until VR devices are as ubiquitous as smartphones

LetinVR also explores VR cameras and VR unmanned planes, with its division Air360China making VR panorama photos and videos. On the other hand, the company will concentrate on the quest for VR language and adhere to its principle of creating healthy and enjoyable VR content.

Other than the online video platforms mentioned above, with whom LetinVR partners, the company is also cooperating with Huace Film & TV (one of LetinVR’s Pre-A funders) on VR IP, the Economic Daily and Southern Weekly to produce VR news, National Geographic to produce VR travel, and PPTV and Kingnet.com on VR live broadcasts. Smartphone manufacturers are also in the picture.

“Though on a worldwide scale China may lag behind a bit in VR hardware such as headsets and glasses,” said Zhuang, “in terms of VR content, luckily, we’re all at the starting line ready for a long-distance race. What we need to do is to keep on making good stuff and wait until VR devices become as ubiquitous as smartphones today, wait as the wind rises.”

Since it received USD one million in angel investment in July and was valuated at RMB 20 million (USD three million), the company’s valuation has grown nine times to RMB 210 million after it received RMB 31.5 million in Pre-A funding on Saturday. LetinVR plans to launch a round of A Series financing within the year.

The team of LetinVR at the VR movie Chosen
The team of LetinVR at the VR movie Chosen

(Top photo from LetinVR: poster for the VR movie Chosen)

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