Wireless Virtual Reality is Here
It’s been an amazing few years for Virtual Reality. We’ve seen both commercial and professional breakthroughs in VR in the realms of personal entertainment, medicine, education, tourism, and much more. However, though they’ve increased in popularity and prevalence, most of the powerful virtual reality systems that are currently available have been held back by one thing: big, bulky cords. Not only do they restrict movement, they tend to break any true sense of immersion by keeping you tethered to one place. But there is hope on the horizon, because the biggest names in virtual reality are getting ready to release the next generation of hardware, no strings attached.
Let’s check out the latest and greatest devices, and the companies behind them:
Behind the coolest advancements is the actual wireless technology powering them. Always more concerned with what’s inside, Intel’s WiGig chip is helping the consumer-facing VR companies make wireless a reality.
- Better, faster wifi using a 60GHz frequency to send data at a blistering 8Gbps. There’s no interference from existing networks to worry about, and no fluctuations in connection speed, which means intense, immersive graphics with no hiccups.
- Wireless content stream and internet only, with no battery pack included.
- The chip is due to hit stores in late 2018
TPCAST is similar to the WiGig, but rather than being a baked in solution for new devices, it’s an adaptor for current high-end VR hardware. It might make things a bit clunkier, but being free of cords while immersing in new worlds is worth it.
- Currently retailing for $299 - $319
- Serves as a wireless adapter for both the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift, allowing those who already own one of those systems to use them wirelessly.
- Provides the wireless signal, but not power.
- Additional battery pack is available, however.
Google puts it best on their own site: “Simple, high quality virtual reality.” This will not blow minds with fidelity, but the simulation won’t break immersion either, and it can be afforded by far more people.
- Available in two different versions. The $49 version is powered by your smartphone and comes with a fabric headset. It’s compatible with a number of different android phones.
- The second, standalone version is being produced in partnership with Lenovo, and retailing for $399. It’s a much more powerful system, providing higher quality. The hardware is all built right into the headset, no smartphones, wires, or extra sensors required. Just grab and go.
- While the stand-alone version is more powerful, both offer immersive VR experiences for considerably less than most stand-alone VR systems.
VIVE has been the standard bearer for a while, with their previous wired headset dominating the scene for HD virtual reality. The Pro bumps up audio, visual, and motion-tracking quality, while removing the wires. It isn’t standalone, however, and requires an even more expensive PC to take full advantage of compatible software.
- As one of the top tier “professional grade” systems, the Vive Pro offers the highest quality in resolution and speed.
- Capable of fully realistic experiences, with access to much of the best software available for VR systems. Room setup and trackers assure the best-quality VR experience available.
- Uses Intel’s WiGig chip for a fast, reliable connection with no lag.
- Of course, professional quality also comes with a professional price tag at $799 for the headset only.
Facebook’s Oculus Rift is the VIVE’s main competitor for high quality VR, but without a TPCAST adaptor, it still isn’t wireless yet. Instead, they’ve introduced the Go, a lower-quality yet lower cost wireless VR set for the masses.
- Retailing at $199 for the headset and controller, it stands as a more cost-effective “middle-of-the-road model.”
- Providing a moderate quality stand-alone system, there’s no smartphone required, but it lacks the punch and fully immersive experience of higher-tier systems.
- Built by Facebook, it benefits from the considerable support framework and software catalogue.
- Serves as a bridge to it’s more powerful elder sibling, the Oculus Rift, which does not yet fully support wireless functionality or battery power.
Samsung has also entered the arena of mid-tier VR, taking advantage of its top-tier smartphones to provide most of the capabilities. The headset and controller add important head and hand-tracking features, while using the phone’s gyroscope and screen to provide the rest of the feedback.
- Retails at $129 for the headset/controller combo
- Requires a Samsung-brand smartphone to use.
- Backed by Oculus technology. It (like the Oculus Go) benefits from Oculus/facebook support
- Like the other more modestly-priced options, it offers moderately immersive experiences
Breaking the Chains
As with all technology, time and innovation continue to level and broaden the playing field for virtual reality. New adapters from 3rd parties, along with new 1st party hardware, means high-end VR systems will be smaller, lighter, and easier to use than ever before. At the same time, newer more sophisticated options that work with your existing smartphones continue to help bridge the gap to mass-market consumers, making sure VR can be had by all. Taken together, these developments paint a very encouraging picture, one where agile, uninterrupted VR experiences for learning, entertainment, and everything in-between is right around the corner.