If you ask HTC Vive fans what they think needs to be improved in the headset right now, the first answer is almost always to ditch the cable. Tethering yourself to a PC is not only limiting in the kind of space in which you can enjoy VR, it's also a constant reminder of the real world that negatively impacts immersion. We've seen examples of wireless adapters for the Vive being successful, but Intel has something potentially better to demo at E3 next week.
After seeing some of the questions in our forums, we sat down with Frank Soqui, Intel's General Manager of Virtual Reality and Gaming, to learn a little more about WiGig for HTC Vive and why it's worth paying attention to.
The big feature in this adaptor is the use of Wireless Gigabit (WiGig for short) for wireless transmission. For the uninitiated, WiGig is a relatively new and currently less common form of wireless communication. It's functionally similar to the Wi-Fi you use now, but according to Frank the important differences come in the implementation of this network protocol.
WiGig operates on the 60GHz band, instead of the more common 5GHz band. This ensures a more stable connection in every situation, for no other reason than 5GHz can be crowded if you live in an area with a lot of Wi-Fi routers close by. It's also very fast, promising more than a gigabyte of data per second; there's very little opportunity for the video feed from your PC to not arrive at the headset when it needs to.
What is the expected range of this adapter?
Intel is currently promising between 15 to 20 feet of range between the headset and the PC, assuming a direct line-of-sight connection.
If there's an object in between you and the PC, like a person or a couch, WiGig devices are designed to use Beamforming to establish the best possible connection with the PC instead of just broadcasting in every direction.
What about battery life?
Intel isn't currently talking about the battery capacity of the finished adapter, because multiple options are still being tested, but the expectation is at least two hours of gameplay on a single charge.
This is comparable to the expectations set with other Wi-Fi adapters for the Vive, but we'll know a lot more as the adapter gets closer to launch.
How does this compare to the TPCast wireless adapter?
While we've not yet tested this new adapter, Intel claims their adapter will be less prone to local network interference, will operate on an established spec for high data transfer, and will support multiple users natively.
While it's true the TPCast adapter needs a special multi-headset version to support more than a single user, network interference and quality claims will need to be independently tested.
Are there health concerns associated with WiGig?
Like any new wireless tech, abstract health concerns exist. As it turns out, the higher frequencies used in WiGig are actually less of a concern than standard Wi-Fi, since the 60GHz band can't actually pass through our skin.
Combine the higher frequencies with the more directional nature of WiGig, and not only is it safer, but there will also be plenty of places around you where WiGig won't even be broadcasting.
What is the long term goal for Intel here?
Put simply, Intel thinks WiGig is the future. Just like wireless keyboards and printers, native support for as many devices as possible matters. For a laptop with WiGig built in to be able to support the Vive with no extra hardware connected to the laptop is an impressive idea, and desktop PCs will be able to support WiGig with a simple card install like any other new accessory.
If WiGig becomes a popular industry standard, things like this headset adapter will be able to "just work" on anything powerful enough to drive it. That's a much cooler idea than having to deal with the big cable coming out of the back of the headset that we currently see.
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