While VR technology is still lingering on the fringes of the mainstream consumer, China’s tech giants are wasting no time in entering the field.

Alibaba announced Thursday the launch of its in-house VR research lab, dubbed the ‘GnomeMagic’ Lab after the inventor characters from World of Warcraft, together with the details of their VR strategy. The lab is overseen by a group of lead engineers from Alibaba’s wireless and architecture divisions, the firm added.

The company’s plan for the VR lab stems from its core e-commerce business. For its first-ever project, the “Crater”, GnomeMagic Lab is going to develop a 3D virtual warehouse with a view to integrate VR into the shopping experience. Alibaba claims to have completed 3D modeling for hundreds of products and will accelerate the process with standard modeling tools.

Together with the lab, the company released Buy+ Plan, aiming to produce high-quality VR content in cooperation with Youku Tudou, Alibaba Entertainment and Alibaba Music.

Alibaba has already been building groundwork in the red-hot VR sector. Alibaba-backed Youku Tudou rolled out 360 degree panoramic videos in January this year, followed by a VR special report on this year’s NPC & CPPCC event. Notably, the company also participated in a $793 million USD C round for augmented reality company Magic Leap this February.

The year of 2016 is often referred to by industry insiders as “Year One” for virtual reality. Many domestic internet giants are flocking to the emerging industry. Alibaba’s rival Tencent announced last December an all-inclusive VR plan, including VR display headsets that support PC, game console and mobile devices. A consumer-level VR product is slated for this year, according to the company.

LeEco, or LeTV, has also taken their first steps into the market with the launch of a VR headset, LeVR Cool 1, in December 2015. Xiaomi is also spearheading forays into the sector with their own VR lab. Smaller players in the battlefield are Ants, Chines video player developer Baofeng, KAT and GDI.

It seems that virtual reality is getting real in China, influencing every field from e-commerce to cultural heritage protection and even sex tech.

Image credit: Alibaba

Emma Lee (Li Xin) was TechNode's e-commerce and new retail reporter until June 2022, when she moved to Sixth Tone to cover technology and consumption. Get in touch with her via lixin@sixthtone.com or Twitter.

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