After years of working on the problem it seems that at least one major VR hardware developer has cracked the problem of wireless VR. HTC not only announced a significantly upgraded HMD in the form of the Vive Pro, but also a standalone wireless adapter. A device they apparently forgot to tell the marketing department about, since it’s official name is just “Vive Wireless Adapter”. Full marks for clarity, zero marks for imagination.
Not Quite First
To be sure, HTC is not the first company to offer wireless modification for tethered HMDs. Third party companies, notably TPCast, have beaten them to the punch. There’s still plenty of reasons to get excited though. Based on the various impressions of the TPCast we’ve seen the product isn’t exactly elegant, although overall the performance is OK. It’s quite possible (even likely) that the first-party solution will be the better integrated one. After all, HTC have access to everything in their HMD and can tune the actual firmware to play ball with their wireless adapter.
With A Little Help From a Friend
The solution HTC has put into their adapter is not a proprietary one. Instead it’s built on Intel’s WiGig technology. This is high-frequency WiFi that can cope with the multi-gigabit bandwidth needed to carry low-latency HD imagery, sensor data and audio.
This technology was really meant to push the next generation of regular WiFi, but late last year Intel announced they would cancel WiGig projects for everything except VR.
WiGig operates in the 60Ghz band and has a theoretical maximum throughput of 8Gbps. This means that there is now a dedicated multi-gigabit channel for VR. The more bandwidth there is, the less compression is needed. Consequently there’s less overhead and lower levels of latency. WiGig is not the only third-party technology in use by HTC either. To compress the signal over that channel they’ve implemented DisplayLink’s XR Codec. The company is already experienced at making wireless display solutions and it seems this combination provided a level of performance that HTC was happy to release publicly.
A Tricky Business
Even then, getting wireless VR to work well enough must have been a real ordeal. It took years to get the total loop fast enough to get wired VR properly functioning. Introducing a relatively unreliable link such as WiFi into the mix must surely have given multiple engineers grey hairs.
HTC have not provided a definite price or release date. We also have no idea how long the battery on this adapter will last. However, it’s slated for release during the (US) summer. That suggests a time around mid-year.
Given the advent of ultrabooks and other tiny portable computers that are VR certified, untethered VR might even rival the convenience of mobile phone VR before long. It could provide the best of both worlds.