New virtual reality gadgets and signs of funding slowdown are among week's L.A. tech highlights

The virtual reality industry received more clarity Sunday as HTC announced the price and release date for its Vive headset and Samsung introduced a 360-degree camera.

The news from the two Asian technology companies affects dozens of Los Angeles start-ups -- and bigger entertainment firms -- that are counting on the New Age gadgets to sell their apps, games, movies and hardware.

As it stands now, virtual reality headgear from Facebook-owned Oculus VR will start arriving on doorsteps March 28 for $599. The Vive will reach consumers’ hands beginning a few days later for $799. Sony’s PlayStation VR headset is likely to be more affordable when it goes on sale later this year. Google, Apple, LG and others are working on fancier virtual reality viewers too.

Financial analysts have widely varied expectations for how many virtual reality devices will be sold this year, but they agree it will be a multibillion-dollar industry within a few years.

That estimate relies on regular consumers not just viewing content, but also creating it. And a new batch of cameras could attract a wider spectrum of people to the nascent medium.

Samsung’s Gear 360 spherical camera, which can shoot the entirety of a room rather than just a narrow field of view, puts a huge brand on a market that has been led by smaller manufacturers such as Ricoh and 360fly. It will be available as early as April for an undisclosed price.

LG also introduced a 360-degree camera on Sunday, and GoPro is working on one as well.

Those companies have huge marketing budgets and could help spark the production of both professional and user-generated content for a new generation of online platforms that hope to become the YouTubes of the space.

Virtual reality has excited traditional entertainment companies too. On Tuesday, ABC’s “Good Morning America” plans to stream to virtual reality viewers a live feed of animals “in their natural habit” in Tanzania.

That follows a virtual reality stream Sunday of the Daytona 500 auto-racing event, which kicked off a five-year agreement struck last week between broadcaster Fox Sports and Laguna Beach-based technology provider NextVR to bring more sports to VR headsets.

A big lull. It’s still early in the year but already three Los Angeles-based investors are seeing a significant slowdown in start-up investment deals. It’s no surprise given the plunge in value that many publicly traded technology companies have absorbed over the last couple of months. Data show the industry has suffered such spells before, but this one is having a pronounced effect on start-ups, which are finding funding harder to come by.

One of the investors, Anthony Saleh of QueensBridge Venture Partners, said his long-term view remains strong despite the current slide. Saleh, who manages musicians, said automation and artificial intelligence would drive increased technology spending across industries.

Through a fully invested $10-million fund, QueensBridge has small stakes in fast-growing companies such as ride-hailing app Lyft, online mattress seller Casper and virtual reality video app Vrideo. Saleh said he’s slowly starting to raise cash again for a new, much larger fund. The rapper Nas is one of the firm’s founders.

Yet another investor, TX Zhuo of Karlin Ventures, echoed similar sentiments about the 2016 slowdown in an online post last week with colleague Erin Shipley. They noted the growth in “bridge rounds,” or financing deals smaller than what a company has previously raised.

Essentially, the companies are looking to buy time to reach sales levels or other key milestones that would make them more attractive to buyers or investors seeking to write bigger checks.

Writers sought. Entertainment website Moviepilot announced it would pay entertainment and pop culture writers $1 for every 1,000 views generated by stories they post on a new portal, Creators.co.

Many websites, including Forbes’, have similar revenue-sharing programs. But their writers tend to be experts, which means their programs are more lucrative. Still, Moviepilot contends that the cash will encourage more posting.

And with the Venice-based website drawing about 20 million visitors a month, that might even add up to a movie ticket or two.

Elsewhere on the Web. Chinese conglomerate Tianjin Tianhai has agreed to buy Irvine-based technology distributor Ingram Micro for $6 billion, according to the Financial Times. Research firm Dealogic said the deal would be the largest Chinese acquisition of a U.S. tech company -- that is if U.S. regulators approve it, and given worries about U.S. tech getting in the wrongs hands in China, that’s no certainty.

-- Prominent Southern California venture capitalist Mark Suster is ready for the bubble to burst, partially because he learned a big lesson after he drank his own Kool-Aid, he tells L.A. Weekly.

-- Online media company Attn: Inc., based in West Hollywood, has raised $18.5 million from Evolution Media Partners, former Yahoo CEO Ross Levinsohn and others to continue to bring more video to its politically liberal advocacy website, according to the L.A. Business Journal.

-- Los Angeles-based Mahmee was one of the hottest companies at a demo day last week for participants in the 500 Startups mentorship program, according to Silicon Valley Business Journal. Mahmee provides personalized, online support for mothers after pregnancy.

-- Shares of car-search service TrueCar dipped below $5 last week, almost reaching an all-time closing-price low, after the company reported disappointing quarterly earnings and weaker-than-expected revenue forecasts. On Monday, shares slid 5.2% and did hit that low, closing at $4.78.

-- Santa Monica-based Hulu bought a small digital-image-processing start-up in Seattle and now employs more than 70 people in that city, according to Geek Wire.

-- The NBA and game publisher 2K are getting into e-Sports with a tournament for "NBA 2K16," according to Fortune. A $250,000 championship will be awarded during the NBA Finals in June.

-- Amazon.com-owned live-streaming website Twitch announced it will host its second annual fan conference at the San Diego Convention Center this fall after hosting the first one in San Francisco, according to Engadget.

-- Glu Mobile is still searching for a mobile game that matches the success of the “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood game.” Its latest try is a game featuring Kardashian’s younger sisters Kylie Jenner and Kendall Jenner. PerezHilton has a look at some fan reactions to the game.

In case you missed it. Dollar Shave Club filed a counterclaim against Gillette in a battle of the blades. Razor start-up Bevel is finding success in the black community. Commercial carpooling (although it's illegal) is growing in L.A., Uber and Lyft say. Movie ticket buying service Fandango bought reviews tracker Rotten Tomatoes and video app Flixster from Warner Bros. Entertainment for an undisclosed amount.

Coming up. Start-up event TechDay announced that it will return to Los Angeles for the second straight year. West Coast TechDay on Sept. 22 aims to bring together 300 companies and 10,000 attendees, including media, investors and the general public at the Reef on South Broadway. Organizers roped in 125 companies and 3,000 attendees last year.

Twitter: @peard33

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
56°