Cutting-edge virtual reality can be a borderline magical experience. Once you pop on the headset and grab yourself a pair of handheld controllers, and it’s like you’ve been teleported to another planet. But one of the biggest downsides (other than the cost, and complicated setup) has been the nuisance of chaining yourself to a PC with a wire. Good news: The end is in sight.
Today at CES, HTC announced a new version of its virtual reality headset, the Vive Pro, with a higher resolution screen and the ability to function in a larger 10-foot-by-10-foot play space, but the more exciting piece of kit is probably HTC’s new Wireless Adapter. A small antenna that can attach to the new Vive Pro or the original Vive, the Wireless Adapter uses Intel’s WiGig (for Wireless Gigabit) connection to establish a connection as fast as 8 Gigabits using a 60GHz band. That ridiculously high frequency means that this wireless connection is short range (about 30 feet) and can’t penetrate walls. This makes it bad as a Wi-Fi replacement, but perfect for the niche application of wireless VR, allowing you to spin around in endless circles without the risk of tripping over a wire.
HTC’s main competitor, Facebook-owned Oculus, is also working on solving the problem, though from a different angle. A new breed of Oculus, currently known as Project Santa Cruz, aims to take everything you need for VR and pack it all into the headset, eliminating the need for wires by putting the computer directly on your head. If it’s successful, it’ll be a much simpler all-in-one solution compared to Vive’s wireless headset that still needs an incredibly powerful PC to do its heavy lifting. But Getting enough horsepower to do cutting-edge VR into a headset like Oculus wants is a tall order, and HTC’s approach should make first-rate wireless VR possible much, much sooner, using most of the same gear that’s already out there.
HTC’s Wireless Adapter is due out this spring, though the price hasn’t been announced, and neither have details like its expected battery life. There will no doubt be kinks that need to be worked out. But whichever model of wireless VR triumphs, it seems like tethers will soon be a thing of the past.