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Xiaomi announces its first VR headset — but you can’t buy it yet

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Xiaomi is broadening its already expansive range of products by venturing into virtual reality for the first time.

The company today announced the Mi VR Play, an “entry-level” virtual reality headset that it hopes can open this new exciting medium to new audiences because not everyone has thousands of dollars needed to set up an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. Democratizing technology is the thesis behind most of Xiaomi’s competitively priced products, including the $550/$750 notebook announced last week that will rival Apple’s Macbook in China.

This new device recalls Google’s super-cheap and super-simple Cardboard VR headset. It is fairly basic in nature; you pop a smartphone into the lycra-built body then open Xiaomi’s Mi VR app, which contains VR content from selected partners that include Conde Nast Traveler and YouKu, “China’s YouTube.” Xiaomi pledged to invest $1 billion in video content, including VR, last year, so that library is sure to get bigger over time.

Here’s how Xiaomi describes the headset:

Mi VR Play has significantly improved upon the design typically used in similar VR products — it is wrapped in lightweight, durable Lycra for long-lasting comfort. In the future, Mi VR Play will also be available in a selection of bold prints and colours for even more stylish options. The unique two-way zipper helps to ensure compatibility, providing a secure grip on a wide range of 4.7- to 5.7-inch smartphones. At the same time, the dual openings on the front allow for slight positioning adjustments and ventilation.

Sounds good so far?

Here’s the catch — you can’t go and buy one, even if you’re in China.

Xiaomi is making it available to a limited number of beta test users, who signed up on August 1 when Xiaomi put out a call for volunteers. One million users signed up in just eight hours, the company said, but Xiaomi has selected just a fraction of those — likely “tens of thousands,” a representative told TechCrunch.

For those lucky ones accepted into the test program, the Mi VR Play will cost just RMB 1 ($0.15).

Xiaomi told us that it has plans to make the headset more widely available in the future, but there’s no schedule for that right now. Along those lines, it isn’t clear how much the headset will cost once it is on sale to all. We suspect it won’t be RMB 1, sadly.

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