Although Intel might have officially killed of their Alloy VR ecosystem and hardware platform, the company is not abandoning VR as a whole. Instead Intel will be working on several technologies that are aimed at supporting and improving VR. One of the main legs of this approach is the transmission of video signals wirelessly, using technologies like WiGig. It’s exactly one such demonstration of wireless VR beamed from a PC that’s recently made the news.
Cheap and Easy
Road to VR has published a first-person account of what Intel is calling “Portal Ridge”. It’s a concept that marries HTC Vive tracking hardware, with a Daydream headset, a Pixel Smarpthone and the SteamVR platform.
This FrankenVR (dibs on the name) setup is meant to be an affordable way to get a PC VR experience without having to fork out the cash for a dedicated VR headset.
You might think you’ve heard this idea before and you would not be wrong. Trinus VR has offered to beam your PC’s video signal to your mobile VR headset for years now. It’s one of the options besides using a USB tether. The only problem is that even under the best of circumstances I have never been able to get Trinus to work via WiFi with a short enough amount of latency. It’s shouldn’t be surprising either, since companies like Oculus had to tune their hardware and software for years before getting low-enough latency over a physical USB 3 connection. The total latency is not only the product of the signal latency, but also screen performance and how quickly the computer can accept inputs and produce visuals.
A Little Slow
Predictable the report from Road to VR says as much, with significant lag and image compression apparent. However, that author found that the experience was tolerable, which is more than I can say for my own efforts with something like Trinus.
Track & Trace
One of the other main issues with using a smartphone for PC-based VR is the fact that there is no external tracker. Which means you can’t have true six-degrees-of-freedom. Intel have solved this in the most straightforward way possible. They’ve basically glued a Vive tracking system to the outside of the Daydream case. So now you can full tracking by combining the phone’s internal sensors with those of the Vive hardware. Of course that tracking hardware is also pretty expensive.
Proof in the Pudding
If you add up all the parts that this demo needs to work, you’re not exactly keeping it frugal, but what matters here is that Intel is proving the concept is feasible. Potentially this could pave the way for a smartphone HMD that simply has the video receiver and tracking parts in it, but then combines with a phone to complete the picture. Given that we could consider the phone as something we’d own anyway, this could in fact lower the cost of good PC VR if done right.
The Intel reps interviewed by Road to VR specifically mentioned that future phones might have built-in inside-out camera tracking, making the current setup redundant. Even more interesting, the VR rendering workload is split between the host PC and the phone, which could potentially lower the specifications needed on the PC side.
Either way, it’s good to see Intel applying it’s creativity to new VR solutions, even if the industry wasn’t the greatest fan of Alloy, we can always use a little bit of ambition to push things forward.