AT&T, one of the world’s largest telecom companies, this week announced plans to demonstrate cloud-rendered VR content streaming over a 5G network. The company says its 5G Lab, which is exploring use-cases for 5G and edge networking, will host the demonstration next month which will show SteamVR content rendered in the cloud and sent over a 5G network with low enough latency for a full 6DOF VR experience.

Next-gen ‘5G’ connectivity technology aims to deliver a leap in bandwidth and latency compared to existing mobile connections and a majority of in-home internet connections. While the increased bandwidth stands to enhance static content like 360 video streaming to VR headsets, the addition of ultra-low latency could potentially open the door to fully interactive VR content that’s streamed to a headset from the cloud instead of being locally rendered on a powerful PC.

To that end, AT&T says it has developed a proof-of-concept demonstration that renders SteamVR content in the cloud and delivers it to a VR headset quickly enough to stay within the critical latency thresholds necessary for a visually comfortable VR experience.

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The company says that the demonstration will use a “5G 39GHz mmwave radio connected to a GPU-accelerated gaming server,” and will also rely on the use of ‘edge computing’ (ensuring that the VR content is rendered and server from a datacenter as physically near to the user as possible to minimize latency).

While cloud-rendered VR content has been discussed at length for its many potential upsides (mainly: lowering the barrier to entry for high-end VR content), there’s still many pieces of the pipeline that need to come together to make it work well and reliably, as AT&T notes:

Separating the [render] server and [VR] display by a wireless network means introducing new confounding factors into the pipeline, such as encoding and decoding delays, transmission delay, packet loss and jitter.

This is especially challenging because networks and media streaming protocols weren’t optimized for real-time, interactive content. These experiences have different requirements than static, file-based media, so we can’t treat them the same way. Plus, the content capturing, rendering and display processes in 3D gaming engines were not originally designed to be hosted in the cloud.

In order to democratize access to 3D experiences, we need to merge elements of the two models and redesign the process from the ground-up. That means in addition to optimizing the performance of our network, we must work with our technology partners to reimagine and re-architect how these applications are designed and implemented.

AT&T is setting the bar somewhat low for this initial proof of concept, saying that it targets a “3K resolution” (which we expect to mean total, rather than per-eye) and a 75Hz refresh rate, which is in line with today’s mobile VR headset specs, but questions remain about the future scalability of such technology to higher resolutions and higher frame rates for future headsets.

Still, there’s been a lot of buzz about VR cloud rendering, but so far we haven’t seen any complete and compelling demonstrations of the entire pipeline in action. AT&T’s upcoming proof of concept could definitely show that VR cloud rendering over 5G is a viable pathway to high-end VR—or reinforce skeptics who say it won’t happen for a variety of reasons.

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  • Johan Pruijs

    Thats what I call great news!! personally I think the trick is: A fast phone in your pocket that is wired to your headset (keeps the headset light and small). On the phone the foveated image is rendered (without almost no latency). Next-gen phones are current-gen game consoles so… that should be possible. The periphiral is rendered in the cloud so.. encoding and decoding delays, transmission delay, packet loss and jitter should not be that harsh because you werent looking at it anyway. Anybody that has experience with psychadelics nows that when the brain gets seriously abberated, the peripheral vision is affected first so… that is in line with nature. Let me all know what you think!

    • Downvote King

      10 years ago the 1st gen iPhone was still a fairly cutting edge piece of tech. Trying to imagine 10 or 20 years into the future can be almost futile, but I do think we will go through at least a phase where cloud processing assists mobile VR, whether the tech is tethered in our pockets or embedded directly into the headset.

      Far enough down the line though, I can’t help but see devices becoming so small and powerful that they eclipse the need for this, and we each carry a small “brain” CPU with us that acts as a wireless gateway for all other devices we use, personalizing them to our own OS and program set. I’ve seen predictions of the opposite as well though, where everything moves to the cloud and all of the devices we interact with are soft terminals. Either way, there should be some amazing stuff in store for us.

  • JesuSaveSouls

    Side effects for 5g wireless frequency?

    • Thibault Molleman

      That people are thinking it’s a safety risk, just like how “OH NO, DON’T HOLD YOUR PHONE TO YOUR FACE, IT WILL MELT” from way back in the day.

      It’s just paranoid people being paranoid

      • Downvote King

        There is actually some amount of evidence that prolonged short range exposure to wireless radio signals can be harmful. It is radiation after all, sometimes even operating in the same frequency range as microwave ovens.

        • nam

          Oh no, my cheek might get slightly warm.

          • Downvote King

            Lol ok you’re right, radiation definitely has no connection to incidences of cancer. Case closed I guess. Time to go enjoy the sun with no sun screen and build a house beside a high voltage transformer.

          • Ian Shook

            You’re very uninformed about the subject. You’d need a 10k fold increase in intensity of your cell phone in order for it to be of any risk.

          • Downvote King

            I’m informed enough to know there are a number of studies that show a statistically significant increase in risk to develop cancer with cell phone use, among other close range exposure to actively transmitting radioactive wireless communication signals we generally refer to as “radio”. In theory, only ionizing radiation should cause damage to DNA, so the mechanism may be different, but it is far from settled scientific fact in full view of the studied evidence. I tend towards believing that at least moderate exposure to wireless signals, even at close range, is likely entirely safe, but I certainly don’t disdain those who question it on balance.

        • WyrdestGeek

          Considering the number of cell phones in use, if there were any meaningful risk, I’d’ve expected it to have made itself obvious by now.

          Like: even *if* there is a danger from a cell phone by your face, they’re definitely safer than smoking cigarettes.

          • Downvote King

            I certainly hope our standard for safety is not cigarettes. There are studies that show statistically significant increases in cancer risk with exposure to wireless communication radiation. Indeed, cancer rates have been steadily increasing along with wireless saturation. Correlation of course does not demonstrate causation, or we could be certain that the decline of open sea piracy has lead directly to global warming as the pastafarians presuppose, but it is interesting that this increase has come in the face of declining tobacco use. Again, these aren’t necessarily my feelings, but I can certainly don’t think it’s a silly thing to take mind of.

      • Suge

        There are definitely paranoid people being paranoid. But on the other side there are definitely ignorant people being ignorant.

        How about landing somewhere in the middle..

      • JesuSaveSouls

        They use to think smoking was harmless and cocaine was originally a additive in coke soda.

      • Mikael Korpinen

        of course 5g is exactly the same as 4g? Go ahead put in to your head for 1-5 hours a day and prove it. How about move next to a high-tension line tower to prove your point even further. I’m sure you won’t get anything, because that would be crazy right?

    • Suge

      People don’t want to hear it. Companies and governments don’t want to tell it. But there are definitely side effects and health *risks* involved.

      Just like everyone used to claim that living near high-tension line towers does not affect your health, we now know they definitely do. Here in the Netherlands it’s not allowed to build any houses next to them anymore. It just takes 10 years+ for science and standards to catch up.

      With the ever increasing presence and intensity of wireless technologies, science and standards will catch up eventually. And intill they do, think for yourself.

      For example, I use wireless things when I need, like my cellphone. But my vr sets I use wired. It’s just averting risk. Just like I’ll happily drive 10km/hour above speed limit, but not 50.

      • Caven

        If you’re using a Vive, Rift CV1, or Samsung Odyssey+, not only are you holding wireless radios in your hands, your “wired” headset also has a radio broadcasting right in front of your eyeballs.

        • Mikael Korpinen

          I think you missed the point. How I see it is that there is harmless everyday weak signals and then there is strong signals that are proven to affect health. I don’t know about those wireless head sets and what is their position, because the amount of data you have to broadcast is not just broadcasting cheap quality audio or 10-100 mb internet connection. This is something I would like to know more before I microwave my brains out so I can have cable free solution. Better to play safe and wait.

          • Caven

            You’re confusing bandwidth with signal strength. The 60GHz transmitters used by TPCast and the Vive wireless adapter are several orders of magnitude weaker than the 400,000 watt S-Band transmitter that DSS-14 uses to communicate with deep space probes, yet 60GHz is capable of carrying far more data than 2.4GHz can. The main benefit to a powerful transmitter is to increase range, much the same way that yelling allows a person to be heard at a much greater distance than whispering.

            But more power has its limits. Power cannot be used to improve the penetration characteristics of a signal. For instance, a typical microwave oven operates about about 1000 watts, yet thin sheet metal is capable of completely containing the radiation generated. The metal doesn’t even have to be completely solid, as the perforated screen in the door proves. In comparison, 60GHz can be stopped by a similar thickness of human skin. Because of that, the only way the signal can reach your brain is to literally cut a hole in your head so that your brain is directly exposed to the transmitter. And even then, the signal would penetrate less than 2mm into the surface of your brain. Studies have also gone on to show that even when exposed to a 60GHz signal, the signal was incapable of causing even single strand breaks in DNA. Meanwhile, 2.4GHz can penetrate far enough to reach the center of the brain. Since 60GHz has such terrible penetration characteristics, there’s little reason to use a high-powered transmitter, because the signal will still get blocked by just about anything that blocks line-of-sight to the receiver.

            Being more worried about 60GHz than 2.4GHz is like treating a thumbtack as being a more dangerous stabbing implement than a harpoon. By the way, at least in the case of the TPCast, the 60GHz transmitter is NOT worn on the head. But that didn’t stop people from worrying about getting brain cancer from the head-mounted receiver.

    • Mikael Korpinen

      Yes please I would like to know, if there is damage to brain for putting in a radio station in to my head

  • Bob

    I think at this point it’s not a matter of if but when. This sort of approach to rendering with 100% stability and reliability without the use of a localized computer will be solved that’s for certain.

  • AnnoyedAnonymous

    This is good news; however VR requires ideally minimal latency. Whilst this operates at a baseband of 39ghz it provides a wider bandwidth for more data without the physical restrictions imposed by the use of 60Ghz. But using 5G to the web may just introduce too much latency for VR.
    So is there a manufacturer out there that can supply an onsite 5G network??

  • brandon9271

    I can even stand the latency from in-home steaming of non-VR games. I’m extremely sceptical about cloud-based steaming.

    • Baldrickk

      In-home streaming of games over gigabit wired connection? Fine – noticeable, but fine.

      Switching to 5Ghz Wireless – you have to adjust your timings for making and landing jumps etc properly. Twitch skills go out the window.

      Cloud gaming over the internet? haha, no.

      • brandon9271

        Yeah, I guess it’d be great for certain genres: MMO, RTS, non action RPGs.. basically anything that doesn’t require twitch reflexes. Even IF you could have a 0 ping you still have the time it takes to compress/decompress the video. I don’t want low latency, I wan’t NO latency. lol
        I mean, seriously, we have cheap, powerful processors now. Why do we need to do the rendering remotely?? This feels like a bunch of engineers solving a problem that doesn’t exist.

  • This is Qualcomm’s baby. Their inside-out tracking, mobile based headset specification, which will be first seen in HTC’s Cosmo, will eventually become the cheap 6DOF standard for all VR. Every Chinese company with a vague interest in electronics will make one. This network will be their brains.

    Qualcomm makes the Snapdragon processor, aka the guts in most of your cellphones, just in case you weren’t familiar with the company. They’ve been pushing their own VR initiative for years now, over several iterations. HTC has been the first to sell each spec Qualcomm has put out, such as the HTC Focus. But the spec can be used by any company. HTC has just been closest hardware partner willing to take the risk. Once HTC is successful in selling one, EVERYBODY will be jump on the bandwagon.

    This test is just another domino in Qualcomm’s future as a dominate force in VR.

    • Downvote King

      I believe Oculus Quest uses Qualcomm tech as well. My hope is this leads to 6DOF Gear VR products sooner than later.

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  • Seems interesting… I can’t wait for someone to report a hands-on review!