At E3 2017, DisplayLink is touting their ‘XR’ wireless solution to eliminate the tether on VR headsets. Our hands-on with their reference device revealed a robust solution with impressive quality and unnoticeable latency.

DisplayLink is but one of a handful of companies now working to create the highly sought after solution to make tethered VR headsets wireless. Founded in 2003, the company has a relatively long history of creating the tech behind cable-free computer products, like wireless docks and video adapters.

For VR, the company is developing what it calls DisplayLink XR, and it’s developed a wireless VR reference device for the HTC Vive to show what it can do. In accordance with their business model, DisplayLink won’t ultimately bring this device to market themselves, they will work with device manufacturers who want to productize it as an adapter or build the tech directly into future VR headsets.

Photo by Road to VR

The DisplayLink XR solution comprises both hardware and software. Software running on the computer rendering the VR experience compresses the raw VR video feed using the company’s proprietary compression tech, which is then transmitted to the headset over a 60GHz WiGig link. The transmission is picked up by the receiver on the user’s head, and DisplayLink’s custom chip quickly decompresses the data in time to feed it to the headset’s display. Here at E3 2017 I got to try the solution for myself.

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The DisplayLink XR head-mounted receiver reference unit looks big, but it’s actually much lighter than its size implies. When I slipped the Vive on my head with the unit attached I was surprised at the light weight, especially considering that the battery is mounted right there in inside of it. With the placement on the back of the head, the unit also balanced out the front-heavy Vive (in this case used with the standard strap rather than the Deluxe Audio Strap, but they support that too) which made the headset feel more comfortable by relieving some weight from the front of my face.

In the square booth space in which I was playing, the transmitter was mounted at the very top of the wall, about 8 feet off the ground. 60GHz wireless technology (like WiGig, the type used in this reference device) is notoriously prone to occlusion since the frequency doesn’t penetrate objects very well. Mounting the transmitter up high is likely going to be essential for achieving peak performance for any 60GHz-based wireless VR solution (though it should be noted that DisplayLink XR is link-agnostic, so as long as the bandwidth is available, it could make use of any wireless tech).

Photo by Road to VR

The game I played was ROM: Extraction which has enemies coming at you from all angles and also encourages you to duck behind cover; additionally the environments are very dark, and there’s lots of high-contract particle effects—it’s an excellent stress test for the compression as most compression algorithms struggle greatly to delivery high quality imagery in these scenarios.

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With that said, I was impressed to find crisp imagery inside the headset, even when enemies exploded right in front of me filling most of my view with fast moving particles. I didn’t notice any glaring banding or blocky color artifacts as I played. I also opened the SteamVR menu to see how the compression dealt with text and menu imagery; I was happy to find that it looked as sharp as I’d expect it from a tethered Vive.

My play session with the DisplayLink XR reference device lasted for about 10 minutes (so not a long-term test by any means) and involved twisting, turning, ducking, and shooting. Through it all, I didn’t once see the image cut out or notice any stuttering. The latency felt spot-on; from latency alone, I doubt I’d be able to confidently tell the difference in a blind test between DisplayLink’s solution and a direct tether.

The only time I was able to ‘naturally’ spot some visual evidence of a wireless solution was when I faced the receiver opposite the transmitter, and then tilted my gaze up such that the received moved down (on the back of my head), causing my head to be directly between the transmitter and receiver. Even in these moments I didn’t lose the visuals; the dynamic compression kicked in and briefly reduced the quality of the video feed—resulting in what looked like a lower resolution version of the scene—and then very quickly snapped back to full quality once I moved out of that position.

Photo by Road to VR

Even when I seriously stress-tested the system by covering the antennas with my hand as best I could, I never lost the image completely, though I was able to get it to stutter a decent amount. For real usage though, it seems quite robust against quick occlusions like swinging your arms around your head, and I was very impressed with the quality throughout.

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Continued on Page 2: Today and Tomorrow’s Specs »

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  • Me

    Hey, my Vive doesn’t look like a Frankenstein wet dream enough , let’s strap a gigantic mouse on top of it. Seriously guys, I appreciate the effort but come on, do we really need to look like jerks more than we already are ? Hopefully people licensing this tech will come up with a better design.

    Tough times for VR enthousiasts with self-esteem…

    • Sch@dows

      Sure I wouldn’t be against a better design, but frankly it doesn’t matter to me what I look like in VR as long as it is confortable and efficient.

    • cirby

      When I’m wearing my Vive, I can’t really see how it looks.

      If you’re worried about your appearance while using one, I’d suggest you try not to think about how you look while flailing your hands at invisible monsters.

    • NooYawker

      What? Do you walk around outside your home with your vive? Do you worry about what you look like in the privacy of your own home?

      • Me

        Well, I have a wife, and… well if you also have one you know what I’m talking about.

        • Divorce her, get better VR gear, your life will improve. lol

        • NooYawker

          My wife knew what she was getting into when she married a geek. I mean, do you think you DON’T already look stupid wearing a Vive, holding two wands and swinging them around while you’re playing?
          Yea this wifi peripheral is the tipping point between looking normal and jerk.

          • johngrimoldy

            I was thinking the same thing: you already look like an asshat when you’re using a Vive (and I’m okay with that). Adding this peripheral is not going to be what keeps you from being easily mistaken for Jon Hamm.

          • NooYawker

            Jon Hamm was a nice touch.

        • Mei Ling

          If your wife is worried about how you look when you put on this contraption then I’m sorry to say but your wife is the problem.

          • towblerone

            THIS

        • Get Schwifty!

          Yep I certainly do ;)

    • Tyler Soward

      Glad my self-esteem went out the window a long time ago

    • badymojoy

      I’m not sure self-esteem is the term you’re looking for here. Perhaps, you mean, self-consciousness. Dictionary def. of self-conscious: “feeling undue awareness of oneself, one’s appearance, or one’s actions.”

  • Robbie DeRoo

    I cannot wait for wireless. A minimum of 4 hours battery life would have me on-board.

  • Doctor Bambi

    Understanding that it’s very early days for this tech, and maybe it’s already the case with these systems, but I would think it would make more sense to have a generic 60GHz router that’s also capable of spitting out 5Ghz and 2.5Ghz frequencies for my lesser devices. This way the router price is more easily justified as it can replace my current router.

    This would also take the pressure off of HTC and Oculus to build and charge for the entire wireless infrastructure and just simply focus on a wireless transceiver that’s capable of tapping into those 60GHz routers.

  • I’m really looking forward to all of this, but whomever builds off their reference model better plan for people swapping out batteries often.

    The idea of the battery on the player’s belt seems a bit janky and likely to tangle. I don’t like wired headphones because they often get yanked out of my ears when I move. I can’t imagine yanking out a wire on a HMD being any less uncomfortable.

    • crychlyd

      Tangle? For the people whose torsos spin 360 degrees?

    • RFC_VR

      There are great reference designs for harness/battery belt in other fields like climbing, military, sports hydration backpacks, etc. Its not hard to engineer a solution that would make the weight and bulk of the battery dynamic (i.e. moving with your body) by a form fitting design you would barely notice – similar to Molle military “webbing”.

      The military now carry a surprising amount of Tech including batteries.

      What you want to avoid is a static design where the battery is constantly felt banging against the body as you move – immersion breaking just like the tether it deigned to replace!

      Headphones on PC VR can be problematic as ideally you want a really short audio lead i.e. 0.25M-0.5M for the Vive, I had great success with upper end Sennheiser which have removable leads allowing aftermarket short leads. When the headphones are set up right, there should be no movement or anything getting pulled.

  • Lucidfeuer

    I won’t put this on my head, nor would I a fridge or a radiator, but hey if it brings better performance than other existing solution like TPCast…does it even?

  • Ghosty

    Yeah it needs to get way smaller for second Gen… Thus is great proof of concept but we need miniturization!

    • towblerone

      This is first-gen wireless tech, man. It will get there.

    • morfaine

      You can’t miniaturise the battery that’s needed to power the whole headset.

  • Tailgun

    “compresses the raw VR video feed using the company’s proprietary compression tech”

    Looks like Pied Piper is getting into VR, after all.

  • AndyP

    First Gen wireless already looking arse kicking. Good job (although always room for improvement).

  • Seems a nice product. The problem is that adding another box along the two lighthouse station is surely not great for user-friendliness. Maybe this integrated into Vive2 would be better

  • Kingsley Mok

    How long does the battery last? Is there an option to swap out the battery for continuous play? I doubt the battery will last more than 3 hours. Spare batteries on standby for swaps would be ideal when playing VR on hours end.