Following the launch of two high-end desktop VR solutions, hardware firms are now investing in the next technology set to move virtual reality forward. With a number of improvements still to be made, tetherless VR systems are looking to be a key focus of upcoming headsets.
What is wireless virtual reality?
Today's leading desktop VR headsets, the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift, are both held back by a number of flaws. One of the most prevalent restrictions of today's hardware is the physical tether to a PC, which is required to accommodate the bandwidth for accurate tracking and display information.
Previously this tether has placed a hefty burden on movement with the headsets, not only creating a trip hazard with room-scale experiences but also hindering the general flow of movement. Although a number of companies have attempted to create more mobile experiences, these mostly boil down to a backpack holding a high-end PC setup.
As the name indicates, wireless virtual reality is a progression from this, removing the physical wire between the PC and the headset. Current ideas surrounding its implementation see processing handled by a high-end desktop rig, with tracking and visual being wirelessly transmitted by the headsets. This will still leave the headset dependent on a PC, but give VR experiences that extra level of immersion.
How can I get started with wireless VR?
As of right now, wireless VR isn't hugely common. Although dozens of tetherless devices are available through mobile-based VR, the same kind of freedom just isn't available for high-end experiences. With desktop VR already having a high barrier to entry in terms of PC hardware, the required performance isn't currently viable in a compact headset.
However, following some recent developments, the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive may be going wireless sooner than initially thought.
Oculus Santa Cruz: A new form
Oculus' latest development in wireless VR technology, known as Santa Cruz, is an upcoming standalone headset which offers a completely tetherless experience. Although the headset is still in its early stages, previews of working prototypes were shown at the Oculus Connect keynote back in October. This variant of the headset doesn't appear to hugely diverge from the traditional form factor, aside from a new processing unit mounted to the rear of the device.
For obvious reasons, Oculus has been a little cagey with the details. What we know for sure is the headset uses four cameras and several other sensors to get a "look" at the world around you so you can walk around completely untethered. There's a boundary system similar to the Oculus Guardian system, but it's entirely maintained by the computer on the back of the headset. No details are available about that computer, but the physical size of it dictates this experience will not be quite as high quality as the Oculus Rift itself. Expect something slightly better than the Samsung Gear VR, based on current experiences with prototypes.
HTC Vive TPCAST: The old is the new
More recently, HTC has revealed a wireless upgrade kit for the existing HTC Vive, built in collaboration with TPCAST. This $220 add-on is set to provide wireless virtual reality experiences for existing HTC Vive owners, taking advantage of the headset's modular design. The wireless adapter connects to the top strap on the headset, and a battery pack to power the adapter clips to your waist. That battery promises at least two hours of wireless gameplay before it needs to be recharged, which isn't bad by VR gaming standards.
The most impressive part of this experience is a total inability to feel a difference between wired and wireless gameplay from a visual quality stance. This headset clip offers an incredibly similar experience in every game we've tried, and makes moving around quickly much more enjoyable.
If you're interested in purchasing a wireless kit for the HTC Vive, pre-orders are now available via HTC's official Chinese site.
Sulon Q: A new headset on the scene
Although the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift currently dominate high-end VR, Sulon's upcoming standalone headset has gained its fair share of attention in recent months. Promising high quality tetherless virtual reality and augmented reality, the Sulon Q is looking to be a strong player in the consumer VR landscape.
While competing solutions are relying on an external PC, Sulon is guaranteeing a standalone headset that offers 'console-quality graphics' and takes advantage of spatial computing. Though Sulon yet to bring a headset to market, the company's debut is one to watch as we head towards a wireless future.
What does the future hold for wireless VR?
As indicated by the apparent interest from hardware manufacturers, wireless virtual reality is looking to be the next big thing for VR technologies. As a natural evolution in ease of use and general appeal, companies are looking to invest in wireless technologies to put high-quality VR to the masses.
Recent developments from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have also shown progression in the field, as outlined in a paper released by researchers at the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Their proposed system, compatible with existing VR headsets, transmits wireless signals between a PC and the headset, over high-frequency millimeter waves. With a large amount of bandwidth offered by the waves, this allows for high data transfer rates which won't affect the VR experience. If you're interested in reading into the findings and proposed systems behind MoVR, the paper is available for download through the MIT site.
While these wireless VR technologies are mostly in the early stages of development, they lay the groundwork for a hopeful future for VR. Removing the physical tether without comprising quality is a big ask, and successfully doing so adds a new layer of immersion to existing headsets.
Are you looking forward to wireless VR? What do you think of the technology? Make sure to let us know in the comments!
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