Virtual reality isn't mainstream yet.
However, tech companies are working hard to enjoy the broader audience to have a seamless experience at an affordable price by acquiring a VR device.
One such company is Pimax, a tech firm specializing in virtual reality hardware products since 2015.
Today, we spoke with Pimax founder Robin Weng to find out more about the company's products and how long will it take before people stop spotting the difference whether they are in a virtual world or reality while using a VR device.
Robin Weng is the founder of Pimax, a company specializing in high-end VR hardware. Before Pimax, Robin held several key positions such as R&D Director at GTK and Chief Engineer at BYD. Robin's efforts have challenged the VR industry as a whole, as Pimax is pushing for higher specs (such as resolution and field-of-view) in VR headsets, such as with the 8KX (200 degrees FoV) and now the Crystal, which is the first VR headset to ever use glass instead of plastic lenses.
Can you share a bit about your path and how it led you to establish Pimax?
I was the first in my neighborhood to own a Gameboy, a gateway that led me to immerse myself in online gaming communities. Those early experiences in the late 90s opened my eyes to the vast potential of virtual worlds, where I found a sense of belonging and endless possibilities.
Fast forward to 2014, as a seasoned engineer who had designed smartphones for some of the world's top brands, I encountered VR for the first time through an Oculus headset.
That experience reignited the intense sense of belonging I felt in my youth.
It wasn't long before I started craving a much more immersive VR experience so lifelike that it would blur the lines between reality and virtual reality. This unyielding aspiration haunted me, refusing to fade.
One year later, I founded Pimax driven by this persistent dream with which I aimed to revolutionize the VR experience, bridging the gap between virtual and real.
Haptic feedback is arguably one of the most transformative innovations for immersive experiences. Can you give us a glimpse into Pimax's approach to integrating touch into VR?
There are two primary schools of thought regarding haptic feedback in VR:
- The first emphasizes hand tracking, exemplified by products like Apple Vision Pro, which relies on hand tracking plus eye tracking for interaction.
- The second, which includes most "conventional" VR headset vendors, values haptic feedback as an essential component.
While hand tracking is becoming more common among newer VR headsets, as seen in headsets like Quest Pro, Quest 3, and Pimax’s recent models with optional modules, the use of controllers for physical feedback remains prevalent.
The reason for this divergence stems from the target audience.
Apple's VR headset caters to a non-gaming demographic, while most VR manufacturers, including Pimax, initially targeted gamers, for whom haptic feedback is crucial to an engaging experience. For instance, gamers expect tactile sensations when interacting with virtual objects or experiencing in-game mechanics, like the recoil of a blaster or the resistance of a plane yoke.
Of course, haptics is not limited to hand-held controllers, you can also use haptic vests, gloves, and even haptic head straps to deepen the immersive experience. As VR finds more applications beyond gaming, we see immense potential in leveraging haptics in various scenarios to enhance the immersion experience.
At Pimax, recognizing the vast possibilities of haptic technology, we have chosen to focus on perfecting the controller experience, since it is the interaction device supported by virtually all existing VR applications.
Beyond gaming, sectors like healthcare and education are seeing a surge in VR applications. What role does Pimax see itself playing in these domains?
Indeed, VR's potential to revolutionize various industries is immense, promising significant enhancements in productivity. However, the adoption rate in these sectors has been slower than anticipated.
The primary reason is the lack of headsets that offer sufficiently immersive experiences at an affordable cost. Recognizing this, Pimax is committed to continuously pushing the boundaries of VR technology.
Our goal is not just to improve the performance of VR headsets but also to make high-performance VR more accessible cost-wise. We envision Pimax as a foundational player in the spatial computing era, providing a generic computing platform that empowers our partners specializing in specific domains.
We aim to enable them to develop and offer tailored VR applications to their clients.
Pimax headsets are already making an impact in diverse fields such as healthcare, education, and training, as well as various design scenarios like architecture design, interior design, and automotive design.
One of the biggest hurdles VR companies face is marketing, as it’s impossible to properly present a VR product to the consumer via video. Can you tell us some of the best techniques you have found to advertise your products?
Indeed, marketing VR products presents a unique challenge, especially for Pimax, where our key differentiator is unparalleled visual quality ‒ something that can only be fully appreciated firsthand inside a VR headset.
To address this, our primary strategy is to facilitate direct experiences with our products.
We participate in roadshows and trade shows like CES and AWE across Europe, the United States, and Asia, allowing people not only to experience our products but also to provide valuable feedback. However, we recognize the limitations of roadshows in reach, so we've partnered with various entities to establish experience centers worldwide.
In Pimax Experience Centers, anyone can book an appointment to try our latest flagship headset, the Crystal, in person.
Understanding that not everyone has access to these centers, we are innovating with a P2P experience network. This network enables existing Pimax users to share their experiences with potential buyers nearby, expanding our reach to wherever we have a Pimax community.
While focusing on direct experiences, we haven’t neglected traditional media.
We create articles and videos, including through-the-lens footage, to demonstrate our headset’s quality. Additionally, respected YouTubers and media outlets have reviewed the Crystal, offering third-party perspectives.
Still, nothing compares to experiencing the Crystal personally. Our marketing efforts are geared towards making this experience as accessible as possible.
The concept of social VR, or virtual spaces for interaction, has gained traction recently. What opportunities do you see in building virtual communities?
The rise of social VR represents a significant shift in virtual interactions, and Pimax is keenly positioned to play a pivotal role in this space. Our focus is not just on providing the highest clarity in our VR headsets but also on enhancing social interactions in virtual spaces to make them feel as natural and engaging as possible.
Our products, including the Crystal headset, are equipped with eye-tracking and optional hand-tracking modules. This technology allows us to mirror real-time eye movements, such as rolling and blinking, and hand gestures onto a user’s avatar.
In social VR platforms like VRChat, this leads to more lifelike experiences and deeper connections among players.
Our goal is to create environments where users can interact, collaborate, and share experiences in ways that were previously unimaginable. We are exploring potential partnerships and innovations to enrich these virtual spaces further, aligning with broader industry trends towards more immersive and interactive VR experiences.
Given the blending of VR, AR, and MR into what's known as XR, how do you see this evolution at Pimax happening?
The initial concept of Mixed Reality has been around in VR devices for some time, typically seen in the video see-through feature, with Quest 2 being a prime example.
Originally, this feature was designed more for user safety and convenience, to allow users to be aware of their surroundings without frequently removing the headset. However, these functions utilized low-resolution black-and-white cameras meant for SLAM positioning, so as an MR feature, they were quite basic.
Historically, MR was seen as more applicable in enterprise settings, leading only a few VR headsets targeting these scenarios to offer color video-based MR functionality. Consumer-grade VR, primarily aimed at gamers, rarely needed MR features. High-performance MR demands significant computational power, which is already a primary bottleneck in VR performance. Consequently, allocating resources to MR in consumer VR, where the demand wasn’t pressing, seemed impractical.
This dilemma is particularly prominent in standalone VR headsets, whose computational power is especially limited. This led to a vicious cycle, where low-performance MR discouraged both user and developer interest in the feature.
This all changed with the release of Apple Vision Pro.
Positioned as a general spatial computing platform, its MR functionality is a key feature, backed by the powerful M2+R1 chip combination for ample computational support. The superior experience of Vision Pro’s high-performance video perspective, along with its strong promotion of spatial computing, has reignited industry interest in MR.
This shift is likely to break the cycle of limited MR performance and use, propelling MR development forward. At Pimax, we’ve always believed in the potential of MR as the ultimate evolution in VR.
That's why we introduced high-performance MR face plates as a standard feature two years ago at Pimax Frontier 2021. We’ve completed the related R&D and have been waiting for the right market opportunity to launch.
The post-launch period of Apple Vision Pro presents an ideal window for this.
Beyond MR, we’re developing wireless PCVR modules (60G Airlink and WiFi 6E) to liberate VR gamers from cables. These innovations working together will position our headsets as comparable alternatives to Apple Vision Pro, making us a significant contender in the spatial computing market outside the Mac ecosystem.
While gaming often takes the spotlight, enterprise solutions in VR can be game-changers for industries. How is Pimax catering to the business sector?
Pimax is focusing on two key areas:
- Enhancing the performance of our headsets while reducing costs and prices
- Building a broadly compatible application development alliance
The adoption of VR in enterprise scenarios hasn't progressed as rapidly or extensively as many anticipated a few years ago. The primary reason lies in the insufficient performance of mainstream VR headsets, which fail to deliver the immersive experience users expect.
The few high-end VR headsets meeting certain performance criteria are prohibitively expensive, making them unattainable for consumers and cost-effective for most businesses. At Pimax, our goal has always been to provide high-performing headsets at a price point accessible to a wider range of consumers and businesses. We have come a long way and are getting close to this objective.
The success of VR in the industry hinges not just on hardware but also on system software, application software, and the transformation of business processes, with crucial coordination among these elements. The development of application software and business process transformation particularly requires domain expertise and a solid customer base, areas where Pimax doesn't have extensive capabilities or resources.
Hence, we are actively engaging in collaborations with companies across various industries that possess these strengths, as we aim to facilitate the wider application of VR through these partnerships.
As a general hardware provider, our focus is on perfecting the hardware and general system software, along with providing specific integration tools and environments for industry applications, enabling us and our partners to work more efficiently.
Another use for VR is "experiences" and "simulations," tours of cities or simulating a flight, for example. How long until these features become more mainstream?
Pimax Crystal is widely acclaimed as the best VR headset for flight simulation experiences, as the functionality you're referring to is already well underway to become a reality.
The majority of simulation experiences available to consumers, particularly in gaming, revolve around flight and racing simulations, which are highly compatible with VR experience. Almost all players in this genre have contemplated switching to VR from traditional displays to achieve a more authentic and immersive experience.
Many have experimented with it through various means, but the transition to VR remains limited among users. The primary reason for this is the resolution of mainstream VR headsets, which still hovers around 4K. This level of clarity, coupled with a limited field of view, falls short of the expectations of simulation enthusiasts who seek superior visual experiences.
The dominance of leading brands in the mainstream VR headset market has led many to believe that if their offerings aren't satisfactory, then VR technology as a whole isn't yet up to par. However, those who have experienced the Pimax Crystal know just how crisp VR can be and the level of immersion it can bring to simulation games.
It's a revelation for many users who claim that playing games with the Pimax Crystal is akin to discovering a completely new game, offering an experience they've never encountered before.
Moving forward, our goal is twofold:
- We aim to reach more simulation gamers and inform them about the advancements in VR, showing them that it has evolved beyond their previous perceptions and can now fully replace conventional displays, offering an unparalleled experience
- We aim to continue enhancing our headsets and making them more affordable, allowing a broader audience to access these exceptional experiences
We envision VR becoming the standard display technology for simulation games, replacing traditional flat screens and large displays. We are confident that this shift will materialize in the next few years.
What next-gen VR technologies are you most excited about, and how do you envision they will redefine the user experience?
A superior VR experience should be indistinguishable from natural human vision, which is primarily defined by two core parameters:
- PPD (pixels per degree)
- FOV (field of view)
The natural vision PPD for human eyes is around 60, with a horizontal FOV of approximately 220 degrees and a vertical FOV of about 135 degrees. Without delving into complex numbers and math, the conclusion is that to replicate this level of visual experience in VR, we would need resolutions around 20K, while mainstream VR headsets on the market today are still hovering at the 4K level.
This gives a perspective on how far we are from achieving our ultimate goal.
However, the encouraging news is that a full 20K resolution isn't necessary to start enjoying VR. From Pimax's perspective, a resolution above 8K for both eyes begins to offer a relatively enjoyable VR experience.
Our first 8K headset, released in 2017, broke Oculus's previous crowdfunding record in the VR field with a remarkable $4.32 million, at a time when the industry's mainstream resolution was still at 2K.
Over the past six years, the industry's standard has gradually risen to 4K. However, 4K resolution isn't sufficient for a satisfactory VR experience, which has been a pivotal factor in the VR industry's challenging journey recently.
Beyond the overall technological evolution, mainstream manufacturers' focus on 4K is largely driven by their business strategies, emphasizing shipment volumes and user numbers. Their role has been crucial in introducing VR to consumers at a lower price point, thus accelerating its market penetration.
Nonetheless, this has also reinforced the perception that VR isn't clear enough, posing challenges to their product promotion and sales. Pimax's commitment to 8K, in a market dominated by 4K, initially seemed unconventional.
However, the launch of Apple's Vision Pro, with its 8K resolution, has transformed the landscape. It demonstrated to users worldwide that VR headsets could and should offer such clarity, shifting the consumer demand towards experiences akin to that of Vision Pro.
The industry now finds itself divided into two distinct camps. The performance-first camp, led by manufacturers like Apple and Pimax, adheres to traditional hardware market strategies. This approach focuses on incrementally increasing shipment volumes and reducing costs while maintaining high user experience standards and profitability.
This pathway, characterized by technologically advanced consumer goods, has been Pimax's chosen route for its high-end products. Apple's entry has further solidified this approach as a mainstream, if not the predominant, development trajectory.
Looking ahead, we can anticipate two major directions in VR's evolution:
- One is the continual enhancement of PPD and FOV, aligning ever closer with human natural vision and blurring the lines between virtual and real worlds
- The other is the advent of high-performance MR, seamlessly integrating virtual and real worlds
Coupled with the rapid advancements in AGI, these developments promise to significantly transform human life and work.
We thank Robin and Pimax for this conversation. If you enjoyed it too, be sure to stay tuned for more of our interviews with industry experts!