September 16, 2014 / 4:14 PM / in 3 years

Montreal startup taps crowdfunding for virtual reality headset

TORONTO, Sept 16 (Reuters) - A tiny Montreal company is turning to crowdfunding in hopes of moving its virtual reality headset from a working prototype to a mass produced rival to products from Facebook, Samsung and Sony.

Vrvana Inc aims to raise C$350,000 ($318,000) via website Kickstarter to make the first 1,000 units of its Totem headset, it said ahead of the month-long campaign’s launch on Tuesday.

The 7-person team hopes game developers will snap up the C$400-and-up product early to create the ecosystem needed to ensure success.

“VR (virtual reality) is like mobile five years ago, when there were not many mobile game developers and the ones that made great games made a lot of money,” Vrvana founder Bertrand Nepveu said in an interview.

Nepveu said beyond games, the Totem could be used for medical or aviation simulations, education, or even virtual tourism.

But it will be a race against the clock to prove its concept and grab a share of the nascent virtual reality market as technology giants bring out similar products.

Facebook Inc bet on “the platforms of tomorrow” with a $2 billion deal for Oculus VR Inc - a company with no real revenue and untested technology - in March.

Oculus also used Kickstarter to raise early funds, before raising $75 million from backers led by Andreesen Horowitz in December. It had 100 employees at the time of the Facebook acquisition.

Unlike the Oculus Rift, the Totem features front-facing video cameras that allow a user to switch their view to real life or mix real and virtual worlds and lenses that can be adjusted for various sight strength, Nepveu said.

The Totem will also be able to run games developed for the bigger-budget Rift, and uses industry-standard connections to connect to computers and game consoles.

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd earlier this month launched a virtual reality headset for its new Galaxy Note 4 product it said would be available later this year. Sony Corp has a prototype headset for its PlayStation 4 games console.

Nepveu said the Totem should ship to backers by April next year. He said he anticipates acquisition offers but would like to grow as an independent Canadian company.

“We need success stories in Canada,” he said. “I want to create jobs in Montreal. The reason we would sell is if alone we could not push the product to its maximum potential.”

1 US dollar = 1.1016 Canadian dollar Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and Andrew Hay

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