Are you getting what you pay for with wireless VR accessories?
A big theme at CES this year is wireless VR. Most companies aren't anywhere near shipping a product that users will actually want or can afford, but it's clear the next big step in desktop-class VR is ditching the wires and wandering about untethered. The only company really ready to deliver on this promise is TPCast and given their close relationship with HTC in developing this wireless kit, that's not surprising.
For an extra $249, on top of the money you've already spent on an HTC Vive and a PC upgrade to power it, you can go wireless with your Vive. The big questions here are obvious, and all really boil down to whether this upgrade is actually worth it. After spending some time with the TPCast Wireless Kit for Vive, here's what you need to know.
There's still technically a wire
Adding TPCast to your Vive means there are a few more steps involved in getting ready to jump into VR. The top piece of the kit mounts onto the strap, replacing your current 3-in-1 cable with a little lump that rests right on the top of your head. There are two cables that come out of the back of this piece and run down to a battery pack.
Remember, TPCast isn't just replacing the video signal, it's also now responsible for powering the displays in the headset and reliably transmitting data from the sensors on the headset to the PC. That's a tremendous amount of data and power to be handled without connecting to your PC or a wall, which means the battery is fairly significant.
This 6000mAh battery back clips onto your belt, with enough slack in the cable connecting to the headset that you can move around and still feel fairly untethered. You'll feel that extra weight as you play, especially if you're not actually wearing a belt. The battery is too heavy to simply hang, so the first step before you put the headset on will be finding the best way to secure the battery to your body. After you have that set, you can slide the headset on and enjoy VR like normal.
If there's a performance difference, you're not going to notice
Your HTC Vive contains two high-resolution displays that must offer a consistent identical video transmission at all times. If one display is out of sync, or if there's a delay between you moving your head and the image on the display moving to match you, it's bad times. Driving those displays with HDMI guarantees a certain level of performance, and transmitting that video wirelessly introduces several potential points of failure that can end in an unpleasant VR experience. No matter how great a wireless solution is for VR, this is going to be true. Wireless interference is infinitely more likely than HDMI cable damage or corruption.
That having been said, as long as everything works the way it's supposed to, you'll likely never notice a quality difference between wired and wireless with TPCast. The videos of people jumping around with TPCast on their Vives is very real, and very cool. It's much easier to make more exaggerated moves with your body, which means there's dodging enemy attacks or reaching around the tree you just drew is going to feel a lot more natural. When coupled with some of the accessories coming to Vive through the new Tracker system, it can very easily feel like you're really doing whatever you set out to experience in VR.
There's no harm in waiting
While TPCast is the first option to be publicly available to Vive owners, it couldn't be clearer that other options will be following behind. HTC has already discussed a WiGig partnership that may result in another option for users, and third party solutions that aren't specifically HTC partners are showing off prototypes right now.
The bottom line is you're going to have options, and rushing out to buy a TPCast when it becomes available isn't a necessity unless you are really and truly sick of all those wires. This is a great solution, especially for a first effort, but it comes with unique sets of limitations like 2 hours of battery life on a single charge from a large bag that you still have to clip to your body.
If this is the big thing you've been waiting for to really complete you Vive experience, TPCast is absolutely worth exploring. If you're ok waiting, this particular accessory is going to continue improving at a rapid pace over the next few years. You may find yourself much happier with a more streamlined option at a later date.