At TechCrunch Shenzhen this year, VR was a hot topic.

“With VR… China will lead the world creatively,” declared James Fong, CEO of Jaunt China, a VR production company.

“Many were saying that by the end of last year, VR was frozen,” observed Tang Zhenyu, Director of Perceptual Computing Group at Intel.

“Chinese companies are approaching VR with caution,” said Phil Chen, Managing Director at Presence Capital

“There’s a huge demand VR porn in China,” said Attila Steven of Ejaculator.com, maker of male sex toys that link to a VR headset.

A roughly positive consensus, but not as bullish as the hype for VR outside the main stage in Startup Alley would suggest.

Intel's Tang Zhengyu and Jaunt China's James Fong speaking at TechCrunch Shenzhen

Intel’s Tang Zhenyu and Jaunt China’s James Fong speaking at TechCrunch Shenzhen

As the most positive, James Fong provided a historic perspective: the US has maintained a lead on movie entertainment by simply having so many more decades of experience. But “. . .VR around the world is starting from the same point. China has state of the art technology and will lead the world in creativity. It’s a case of how we inspire Chinese VR creativity,” he said at the “VR and the New Consumption” event where he appeared alongside Intel’s Tang Zhenyu.

Tang explained how 2016 had initially been hailed as the first real year for VR, but by the end of the year people were saying the sector had “frozen;” the emphasis on VR at large developer conferences such as those of Apple, Microsoft and Google showed there was plenty of interest and that “. . . [t]he first quarter of 2017 saw investment in VR double that of the previous year”.

Phil Chen of Presence Capital at TechCrunch Shenzhen

Phil Chen of Presence Capital at TechCrunch Shenzhen

“AI is in a period of explosive growth,” said Tang, “and since the launch of Alpha Go, there’s been a lot of collaboration among Chinese players. What VR needs is content, and content means loads of data. Understanding, analyzing and extracting data is going to rely on AI.”

Speaking at a separate panel at TechCrunch Shenzhen, Phil Chen echoed the enthusiasm for AI rather than VR in China: “With AI [Chinese companies] are a lot more aggressive as they see direct productivity gains.” He went on to explain that he sees VR as having the most potential in mental health. “It’s a US$ 200 billion industry. VR could be used to treat autism, pain, and phobias,” he said.

“I see VR as a terminal for storing data – in huge amounts,” said Tang, explaining that at Intel they see data as crude oil and will have a vast array of uses and appearances. “VR is the most natural way of interacting with data. There’s no need for a keyboard, mouse or clicking.”

A more explicitly concrete upcoming category of VR consumption is going to be sexual experiences, said Atilla Steven who was promoting his Hong Kong-based, crowdfunded male sex toy startup at the event. The company is pairing with an as yet unnamed company that is setting up a VR media player and content platform. There are already VR content stores, but this will be the first that provides content that synchronizes with hardware, via an app. “It’s limitless – you’ve got a lot of toys, a lot of gadgets, a lot of hardware. There’s a lot of stuff even I don’t know about,” said Steven.

The device that Ejaculator.com is developing links via Bluetooth to a VR headset that houses the user’s smartphone. VR experiences are downloaded to an app which synchronizes with the device to enhance the immersion, so to speak.

“It’s hard to understand the ultimate level of VR. We’re still at the guessing stage,” said Fong.