Given the massive investment in VR, it was only a matter of time before someone figured out how to get rid of one of its biggest limitations — the tethering cord. Whether you’re using an HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, or one of their lesser-known competitors, they all rely on a cable to relay high-resolution video, and sometimes other information, in real time. Startup TPCAST is changing that, with a $220 wireless accessory that will work with the HTC Vive when it ships early next year
One of the biggest problems with using existing high-performance wireless solutions with VR headsets is that the user is typically in constant motion. That means a head or hand sometimes blocks the receiver. The performance needed to stream the two HD video streams needed for VR typically means high-frequency signals, which are particularly susceptible to losing line of sight.
In other applications, intermittent delays are acceptable. But in VR, every frame needs to be delivered in a few milliseconds; typically a total system lag time of 11 milliseconds is the goal. One way the TPCAST device tries to minimize this problem is by including the small receiver clip in the top headband of the Vive headset, so that it’s minimally affected by the user turning around.
We don’t have a lot of information on the technology behind TPCAST, and it is hard to get a real sense of how well it works just from a demo video. But it certainly seems like the user — a Vive executive — is having a good experience:
You can pre-order the wireless adapter on Vive’s Chinese website for 1,499 RMB (about $220), plus shipping. For now, while $220 seems expensive, it’s tough to know if that price is reasonable as the solution is the only game in town. But there are other efforts in progress, including by QuarkVR, so we’re likely to have more than one option by the end of 2017, which should help stabilize pricing and features. Over the next few years, once the technology evolves and stabilizes, we expect to see wireless capability built-in to base headsets — at least for any premium versions.
The company expects to ship its first units in Q1 2017, with priority given to those who provide an HTC Vive serial number.