There are many things you could call the holy-grail of virtual reality (VR) technology. A bigger field-of-view (FoV), AAA rated content, 4k/8k+ screens for stunning visuals, or how about inside-out tracking. While all of these are important, what’s likely to interest consumers the most is wireless tech, untethering high-end head-mounted displays (HMDs) from their PC’s. This is becoming a reality with companies such as TPCast already releasing devices – first in China then worldwide – onto the market. It’s not just startups trying to push the boundaries either, Intel and HTC Vive have collaborated on one of their own.
While mobile VR headsets don’t have a wire issue, they do have one of power and quality, unable to produce the same graphical experience’s their PC counterparts can provide. The issue headsets such as HTC Vive and Oculus Rift have is the problem of transmitting the massive amount of data needed to produce a smooth, non-jarring experience wirelessly. It all comes down to latency and HTC Vive and Intel – using the latter’s WiGig technology – along with DisplayLink, have come up with a device that certainly achieves that goal.
Intel took WiGig to the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2017 this week, showcasing the wireless device behind closed doors. In a fairly confined space the company had a HTC Vive setup, running I-Illusions’ Space Pirate Trainer, a choice of title that certainly works in its favour. The videogame is good – offering one of the earliest shooting experiences on the headset – keeping things simple with a 180-degree arc of attack, that does mean however that the need to move isn’t as great as say Raw Data.
If you’ve played Space Pirate Trainer you’ll know that it’s still a fast, frantic title with robotic droids whizzing about and darting all over the place. All of which is handled beautifully. Intel’s WiGig device may only be a prototype but the performance certainly didn’t feel like it. The videogame ran just like it does using a cable, you really would be hard pressed to notice any latency. Gunfire felt quick and snappy, with no real lag to speak of. It was a joy to play with completely unrestricted movement – not that the cable was ever too intrusive but it certainly helps not being there.
So the actual wireless aspect was very good, designed to work in normal roomscale sized areas. The only issue really at this stage was the weight and location. Intel has the device attached to the top strap of the headset and because the unit is quite a bulky item, when moving from side to side it would also move somewhat. Not so much that it felt unsecured, just enough that you would notice this lump wobbling about on the top of your head. That really is a minor grievance – it was a prototype after all – as its main purpose, providing wireless freedom for VR headsets, worked perfectly well.
DisplayLink also had a stand at the event with a unit almost identical to the one Intel had. There was one big difference though and that was placement, as its wireless unit was located on the very back of the head strap. This gave the fit a far more solid and robust feel to it when playing some of the demos – DisplayLink had several titles on hand including an archery and boxing title. Why Intel decided to choose a different position wasn’t made clear when asked – although the protruding cables could’ve been one reason – but it certainly meant the demonstration wasn’t as good as DisplayLink’s in terms of comfort.
It’s too early to tell when Intel and HTC Vive’s new wireless device will come to market, with DisplayLink previously stating its reference technology should be available to enterprise later this year. But with more companies developing decent low latency devices, hopefully consumers will see more wireless choices sooner rather than later.