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Would you rather have a TV or a VR headset in your car?

VR the rubber meets the road

Ohh, hi there! Congratulations, you found my newsletter. Some of you may remember that I used to write Protocol's entertainment newsletter together with my colleague Nick Statt until the publication shut down. Now, I'm here, just experimenting for now. Will it become a regular thing? Perhaps weekly? Will there be scoops? Subscribe now to find out!

Would you rather have a TV or a VR headset in your car?

Munich-based immersive mobility startup Holoride announced a new product at CES this week: The Holoride Retrofit adapter makes it possible to outfit any vehicle with Holoride’s in-car VR platform, which syncs VR games and experiences with motion data.

This comes just two months after Holoride officially unveiled its first product: The startup’s Pioneers’ Pack combines a HTC Flow VR headset with a gamepad to bring VR gaming to the backseat. Priced €699 and including a year’s worth of access to Holoride’s content subscription service, the Pioneers’ Pack was at launch limited to work with select 2023 Audi models.

  • I got a demo of Holoride last fall: During a drive through Oakland, I got to play the company’s exclusive launch title Cloudbreakers: Leaving Haven from Schell Games, the makers of I Expect You To Die.

  • At least during the demo, Holoride’s synchronization technology worked remarkably well. When the car turned, the visuals in the game would turn as well. When a red light forced it to stop, the gameplay would slow down.

  • The Holoride team was using a standard rental car for this demo; unbeknownst to me, it has already snuck a Retrofit adapter into the car to power its technology.

  • The adapter, which retails for $200, allows the company to quickly expand its addressable market without having to strike deals with car makers. 

  • Eventually, the startup does want to work with brands beyond Audi, and get direct access to the data streams collected by modern cars. “We can very easily collaborate with car manufacturers and their data sets,” said Holoride CEO Nils Wollny when I talked to him last fall.

Americans spent around 90 minutes a day in their car before the pandemic. That’s about the length of a movie, and car makers have long looked for ways to make rides more entertaining — at least for passengers who don’t have to keep their eyes on the road.

In-car displays have been getting bigger and better for years. Replacing or even augmenting them with VR headsets may seem like a silly idea. However, there are some good reasons to not write off Holoride’s approach just yet.

  • One is practical: Many people suffer from motion sickness. Blocking out the outside world, and syncing what you see with what your body feels, can help to make sure that binging doesn’t lead to barfing.

  • It’s also worth pointing out that Sony announced its own car at CES this week, which the company plans to release in 2026. And guess what else Sony is making? That’s right, VR headsets.

  • The dark horse in this race may once again be Apple. The company is supposed to release its own XR headset this year, and also plans to start selling cars by 2026. Interestingly, Apple has multiple patents that describe combining cars with “immersive virtual displays,” aka VR headsets.

Cars are the new living rooms, and we’re bound to see a number of companies battling for eyeballs in this environment. The question is: Will those eyeballs be glued to TV-like screens, or AR and VR glasses? And, equally important: What will the mobility-optimized content for this types of screens look like?

What else

Roku is making its own TVs now. The company plans to introduce two lines of TVs, branded Roku Select and Roku Plus, this spring.

Vimeo is laying off 11% of its staff. This latest round of layoffs comes just six months after a 6% cut; Vimeo ended 2021 with 1200 employees.

The podcast boom may be over. The big platforms are instituting hiring freezes, slashing upfront payments and asking for bigger cuts.

Plex will launch movie and TV show rentals in Q2. The media center maker had been talking about getting into TVOD for years. Execs told Techcrunch why it's been taking so long.

HTC's new Vive Elite headset will cost $1099 when it ships in February. That's a lot of money, but still less than Meta's Quest Pro, and the rumored $3000 price tag for Apple's upcoming headset.

Roku says it now has 70 million active accounts, adding 10 million accounts in 2022 alone. Those accounts streamed 87.4 billion hours of content last year.

Google's TV footprint grows by 40 million devices. Android TV and Google TV are together accounting for 150 million monthly active devices, the company said this week. Does this mean that Google's TV efforts are twice as popular as Roku's? Not exactly, as one account holder can have multiple devices. You say tomato, I say apples and oranges.

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