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A First Look at VRotica, a $220 Virtual Reality Headset Just for Watching Porn (EXCLUSIVE)

Variety logo Variety 6/27/2017 Janko Roettgers
© Provided by Variety

Cambridge, U.K.-based virtual reality (VR)  startup Hologram just beat tech giants like Google and HTC to the punch by releasing a standalone VR headset that works without a computer or a phone. Then again, Hologram is arguably playing in a league of its own: Its VRotica headset only plays porn, and nothing else.

Hologram started selling the VRotica headset for $220 online Tuesday, promising consumers access to triple-X-rated 3D VR content from Badoink, a studio that already operates a network of VR porn sites and has produced some 300 plus such videos to date.

The headset ships with six videos preloaded, and gives consumers the ability to buy additional content on a per-title basis. In the near future, Hologram aims to also sell content from other studios as well as user-generated uploads to VRotica users, with plans to have more than 1000 videos available before the end of the year. And eventually, the company plans to include live streaming as well as simple adult-themed games as well.

Virtual reality and pornography is not a new combination. Producers of adult content have been trying to capitalize on the new medium ever since Facebook-owned Oculus kicked off the new virtual reality boom in 2013. Most major VR headset manufacturers have tolerated adult content on their devices, but closed off their content and app stores to porn studios.

This has forced consumers to do what’s often called side-loading to get access to this type of content: They have to download it to their PCs, or mobile devices, and then find ways to transfer and play the videos. Hologram co-founder Deniz Opal told Variety that his company was looking to simplify this process with the release of the VRotica headset. “VRotica allows us to streamline the delivery of immersive adult entertainment, without any of the many distractions found on other systems,” he said.

The user interface of the VRotica VR porn headset. Courtesy of Hologram

This focus on adult video content, as well as the comparably low price, also means that VRotica is essentially selling stripped-down hardware that’s missing many of the features now common on other VR headsets. There is no external controller or touchpad to interact with the content. Instead, VRotica can be a controller via a series of simple buttons on both sides of the headset. And with its focus on VR video, the headset doesn’t offer any type of positional tracking.

The headset, which Variety was able to review exclusively ahead of its official launch, features what can best be described as adequate video playback quality. VRotica’s display comes with a resolution of 1920 by 1080 pixel, and a field-of view of 83 degrees. As a comparison, the latest Gear VR, when combined with a Samsung Galaxy S8, features a field-of-view of 101 degrees and a display resolution of 2960 by 1440 pixels.

In layman’s terms, this means that the image quality of Samsung’s Gear VR headset notably better than that of VRotica’s headset. Then again, the content playable on the VRotica device also doesn’t require a whole lot of bells and whistles.

Without getting into too many juicy details, most VR porn videos follow the same basic formula: One actor (typically but not always male) is filmed from the chest down, sitting or lying and initially not doing much else. Then another actor (typically but not always female) appears and initiates the undressing, and whatever else follows after. It’s what the industry calls point-of-view, or POV, and it is meant to give viewers the ability to imagine themselves as part of the action.

Most of that action predictably happens more or less in the center of one’s field-of-view, and can be viewed without ever really moving one’s head. In other words: There’s really no reason to ever look over your shoulder or marvel at the scenery. That also explains why most adult VR videos at this point are recorded as 180-degree videos. Ironically, YouTube just realized that the same is true for many non-adult VR videos, which is why the Google-owned video platform introduced 180VR as a 180-degree video format.

Speaking of which: It’s often said that the porn industry is leading the charge in adopting new technologies. That’s sort of true for the VRotica headset as well, albeit with some caveats. Both Google and Facebook have announced that they are working on standalone headsets that won’t require computer or phones, and Google’s hardware partners HTC and Lenovo are set to release standalone Daydream devices later this year.

Specs-wise, these devices surely will beat VRotica’s hardware on many fronts, which also means that it wasn’t that hard to get something much more basic out of the door. However, more advanced standalone devices will also likely cost at least three times as much — which is a lot of money for people who primarily want to watch adult content.

Time will tell if that’s really a big market, but Hologram is betting that focusing on just one slice of content is the right path forward for other content genres as well — and the company has some experience producing VR content for a variety of genres, ranging from horror games to apps for medical treatments. “Adult is the first niche we are looking at, but plan to use the same model for other niche markets,” said Opal.

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