Australian startup Immersive Robotics are poised to deliver what they claim is a truly universal wireless solution for PC VR headsets that delivers tether-free virtual reality with minimal compromises in quality and extremely low latency.

I’ve always found it fascinating to observe how the advent a new technology can accelerate the development of another. The push for rapid advances in smartphone specifications for example accelerated the development of mobile, high resolution displays and low-cost IMU components without which today’s first generation consumer VR headsets could simply not have existed. Likewise, now that consumer VR is finally here, the demand for a solution to those ever more anachronistic, presence-sapping cables is driving innovation and rapid advancement in wireless video systems.

We’ve seen an explosion of stories centering around companies looking to take the (until now) slowly evolving sphere of wireless video broadcasting and give it a good shot in the arm. Most recently we’ve seen HTC partner with TPCast to deliver a wireless add-on solution for their SteamVR powered Vive VR system. But prior to that we’d already heard how Valve was investing a “significant amount” in wireless video streaming for VR by way of Nitero, a specialist in the field with Quark VR and Serious Simulations on the scene still earlier than that. However, when it comes to pushing the boundaries of cutting edge technology, you can never have too many people racing to the finish line.

imr-mach-ii-proImmersive Robotics (IMR) are an Australian startup who have developed a wireless VR streaming and inline compression system designed from the very start to be used with PC VR headsets, offering a claimed sub 2-3ms latency, with minimal compromises to image quality and works over existing WiFi standards you’re very likely to have in your home right now. IMR call their system the Mach-2K and from what they’ve we’ve seen so far, it shows some considerable promise. In truth, IMR’s project is far from new as the founders have been developing their technology since 2015, with working proof of concept running first on an early OSVR headset before securing a government grant to fund further development.

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Dr Daniel Fitzgerald
Dr Daniel Fitzgerald

IMR was co-founded by Tim Lucas and Dr Daniel Fitzgerald. Lucas has a background in unmanned vehicle design having worked on multiple “prominent” UAV designs but has also worked with VR and LiDAR powered Photogrammetry, having built what he describes as “the first Virtual Reality simulation of a 3D scanned environment from an aircraft”. Lucas’ co-founder Fitzgerald hails from aerospace avionics engineering with a PhD focusing on the then emerging unmanned drone industry. Fitzgerald has built auto-piloting software for said drones, an occupation which let him practice his talent for algorithm software development.

Tim Lucas
Tim Lucas

With the virtual reality industry now growing rapidly, the duo have set about designing a system built around proprietary software algorithms that delivers imagery to VR headsets wirelessly. “Basically from an early point in modern VR history, my business partner Dr Daniel Fitzgerald and I decided to tackle the problem of making a HMD wireless,” Fitzgerald tells us, “Our original area of expertise was in designing high-end drones and we initially envisioned it as an interface for that area.” The team quickly realised that with the advent of consumer level cost, room-scale VR, there were some significant opportunities to capitalise. “Soon after looking into it, we realized that logically pretty soon everyone using tethered HMD’s would probably just want to get rid of the wires anyway and that the potential in this growing market was significant,” Lucas tells us, “We designed a video compression algorithm from the ground up that could compress data down to acceptable rates for current wireless technology but at the same time eliminating the flaws of current compression technology that make it unsuitable for VR such as high added latency.”

“What we ended up with was a compression and decompression algorithm running on individual boards, which is able to plug into HTC Vive compress it’s data down by around 95% with less than 1ms additional latency. Most of all there is no visible degradation to what the user normally sees with the cables.”

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product-shot-02
The Mach-2K Receiver and Belt

That system is called the Mach-2K and comprises a battery powered receiving box, small enough to be worn on a belt by the player. The unit is then attached to the USB, audio and HDMI, and a transmission device attached to the PC which beams native resolution 2160 x 1200 images @90Hz to the target VR headset, currently an HTC Vive. IMR have developed hand-crafted algorithms capable of achieving up to 95% compression on those images while adding under 2-3ms of motion-to-photon latency, all delivered over a vanilla WiFi system.

As if that weren’t enough, the two devices, each working in tandem to compress and then decompress imagery at source and destination respectively, were originally conceived to handle 4k per-eye resolutions up to 120Hz, ready for the next generation of high-spec VR devices. “At the moment we have actually scaled it back for HTC Vive support,” says Lucas, “it will support 4K per eye which we believe to be a near future requirement,” so there’s room here for IMR’s technology to evolve alongside advances in VR headsets.

pcb-in-enclosure2
Inside the Mach-2K receiver

Mach-2K Specs:

  • Current resolution fully supported 2160 x 1200
  • Current frame-rate fully supported 90Hz
  • Planned resolution in the near future 4K per eye
  • Planned frame-rate in the near future 120Hz
  • Main CPU: FPGA
  • I/O: HDMI, USB 2.0, 12volts out.
  • Eye tracking input
  • Supply Power: 5 Volts DC
  • Current Frequencies: 802.11ac Wi-Fi 5Ghz
  • Future Supported Frequencies: Up to 60Ghz WiGig
  • On-board software: B.A.I.T “Biologically Augmented Image Transmission” Algorithm
  • OEM and SDK options available, allowing third parties to create application specific modules for the algorithm.
  • User select-able compression schemes

Lucas continues “What we ended up with was a compression and decompression algorithm running on individual boards, which is able to plug into HTC Vive compress its data down by around 95% with less than 1ms additional latency.”

SEE ALSO
Hands-on: Vive Wireless Adapter Debuts With Robust Connection but Latency Too

Skeptical? So was I. So I asked IMR for some example images which demonstrated the before and after image quality of the Mach-2k system. The images below represent the IMR’s development progress as they’ve tuned and iterated upon that compression algorithm. Each image grid compares fidelity against an original, raw image after passing through the company’s older V2 algorithm and their current V3 iteration. Click on each to load the full size image.

_00gradient-summary_01scene-summary-1

Lossy (not a negative term, merely indicating data is discarded) video compression aims to shrink data sizes by discarding data used to describe a scene. As the same image still needs to be described in each frame only using less data, naturally their are compromises which must be made. A telltale sign of a compressed scene is loss of subtle colour fidelity, seen most glaringly as banding or posterisation on smooth colour gradients. You can see IMR’s older V2 algorithm struggling to the gradients as accurately as the raw image but their current method improves significantly, with minimal extra banding introduced.

If that level of image quality is indeed representative of the real-time, 90Hz experience, I can very easily see many users unable to distinguish between wired and wireless versions of the experience, except perhaps in especially challenging VR scenes.

Let me be clear here however; we have not yet seen this system in action for ourselves, so assuming that compression quality is indeed representative, we still are unable to judge added latency – the area of performance which will make or break the system of course.

Ultimately, IMR see their technology used as a way to provide universal wireless solutions for all VR headsets. “Our algorithm is designed to be as agnostic as possible with wireless equipment,” says Lucas, “we have demonstrated it to some of the world’s leading WiFi and VR experts and the general consensus is that our latency is the best anyone has seen. Allowing various options for integration which obviously would come with their own overheads.”

Continued on Page 2 – ‘Interview with Immersive Robotics’

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  • Get Schwifty!

    Really glad to hear wireless un-tethering is a priority out there and taken seriously. The feel of even just the Rift wiring alone is distracting to the experience… not to mention any wiring is a potential safety hazard at your feet. A 30mx30m area is pretty damn nice too if they can make it!.

  • J.C.

    Very excited about wireless tech, although recent experiences have made it clear that the tether DOES have a use, but only if configured in a certain way. Mine is suspended from the ceiling, coming down a bit behind the center of the play area. This has it drop down behind the user, never coming down to their feet. When they get near the edges of the play area, the cord puts enough tension on them that they’re reminded about the play space limits. In games where you turn around a lot, it’s still a problem, but the benefit to NEW players is pretty obvious.

    “People can use the chaperone/whateverOculusIsCallingTheirChaperone!” Ok sure. Put a 9 year old kid in there and tell them to stay inside the bounds, then put them in tilt brush. They won’t give a partial shit about the bounds, they’re too busy running around making swirls for 5 minutes while I dance around them keeping the cord from spinning them up. When they get near the edges, though, the cord tugs JUST enough that they turn another direction.

    How do I know it’s the cord doing this and not them using the chaperone? Because in the direction toward the “back” of the area, where there’s a bit less tension, they’ll bolt right past the boundary. There’s a good 3-4 foot “buffer” outside the chaperone, so they don’t immediately run into a snowblower or bicycle, but I’ve learned to put a bit more tension on the cord as they go that direction.

    Yes, this is a pretty rare scenario for day to day use. Wireless is the way to go, for sure. But the tether isn’t 100% detrimental to usage, especially for new players.

    • Get Schwifty!

      no way I’d let a nine year old use my HMD ;)

    • It’s not the best idea to give HMDs to kids.

  • Cool

  • Buddydudeguy

    “beams native resolution 2160 x 1200 images @90Hz to the target VR headset, currently an HTC Vive” ???? Why Vive only.

    • David

      Because the rift isn’t as versatile.

      • Buddydudeguy

        Bull. It does everything your Vive does within a smaller tracked area. Most people don’t even utilize the Vives potentially larger area.
        I play room scale games w/ Touch in a 10×10 area with out any issue.

        • Renato Wisocki Jr

          Bull; Vive rocks oculus is shit

          • Buddydudeguy

            You’re talking naive hyperbole smack and it’s kind of pathetic.

        • J.C.

          That’s not what he meant. The Vive is far easier to make third party hardware for, as Valve is heavily encouraging it. I don’t recall having seen one single piece of third party electronic hardware being announced for the Rift. For preliminary testing, the Vive just makes more sense for developers. It’s entirely likely that Oculus is working on a wireless system of their own, and/or that wireless systems will work WITH the Rift just fine.

          I know there’s a lot of fanboying on this forum, but I don’t think David was going that route with his comment.

          • Guygasm

            This solution is entirely separate from the main VR system. Is there anything, other than having to get a dongle to interface with Rift’s connector, that makes the Vive easier to develop for in this case?

          • Buddydudeguy

            Explain why it’s “easier to make third party hardware for”. You’re just making stuff up.

          • J.C.

            Rift is just as easy to develop third party stuff for? Please show me ONE third party device being made for the Rift.

          • Buddydudeguy

            Stop being dense. Just because HTC is getting contracts doesn’t mean the Rift is ” harder to develop for”. You’re reaching and it’s really sad. Why do you feel the need to do this? The two headsets are very similar except the Rift has built in audio and the sensors are tethered to the PC.

          • J.C.

            I’m not the one overreacting here. The article states that the headset currently being used for testing is a Vive, and you lose your shit. I have no doubt it’ll work with the Rift, unless Oculus goes out of their way again to block third party hardware.

            HTC isn’t getting contracts for hardware, who’s making shit up now? Third party hardware is using patents that Valve owns, and allows people to use royalty-free. You’re trying oh so hard to make it seem as if the Rift is getting the short end of the stick here when in reality, Oculus is HELLBENT on being an exclusive system. They clearly don’t want third party hardware, and refuse to support any hardware other than the stuff they sell.

            Also, both headsets have built in audio. One comes with headphones, one comes with earbuds.

          • Buddydudeguy

            Stop playing semantics. I meant the audio cable has to go from HMD to PC. On the Rift it’s through USB.

            And to my knowledge TPCast is not owned by Vive.
            “Hellbent on exclusives” you don’t even know what you’re talking about. Fan boy muted, thank you, come again.

          • J.C.

            So you’re saying the Oculus Store doesn’t pay for exclusives? You’re saying you’ve seen third party hardware announced for the Oculus system? I’ve asked it three times now and you run away from it every time, bitch about something else and then call me a fanboy. Oh, and then you put me on ignore so you don’t have to defend your completely false stance.

          • veritas

            > “Stop playing semantics. I meant the audio cable has to go from HMD to PC. On the Rift it’s through USB.”

            Vive has an audio port on its HMD. The audio signal for Vive is also coming through USB just like Rift, except that Rift doesn’t have a audio port on its HMD. So if you don’t want to use its built-in headphone then you have to either use wireless headphone or have headphone via an audio cable from PC.

            BTW, both of USB audio chips on Vive and Rift are made by the same Taiwanese company, just a slightly different models.

            > “And to my knowledge TPCast is not owned by Vive.”

            Vive doesn’t own any product or company. I don’t think HTC has spin off Vive into a separate company yet, so HTC still owns Vive.

            HTC has partially invested in TPCast through its Accelerator X program.

            > “you don’t even know what you’re talking about. Fan boy muted, thank you, come again.”

            You should really get your facts straight; otherwise you really sounded like a fan boy.

          • Buddydudeguy

            My facts are straight. Muted! No more notifications of morons please.

    • yag

      Probably because they think Oculus is already working on it.

      • David Herrington

        See above post

        • Buddydudeguy

          Ah, you mean your nonsense post that’s not even correct.

    • David Herrington

      Rift currently isn’t pushing room scale, but is mainly sit/stand. There is not as much need to go wireless if you aren’t moving around the room.

      • Buddydudeguy

        Don’t be dense. I have a 3mx3m area for Rift+ Touch with three sensors and it works great. I play Steam VR ( “Vive”) games daily. What you’re saying is misinfo nonsense. You would have been sort of right before Touch was released. I mean, where do you even come up with this shit? Well I’m off to go play Arizona Sunshine and Call of the Starseed…on my Rift, which “isn’t pushing room scale”. Dumb@ss.

        • David Herrington

          Oh, your fanboy-ism is noted. Insults are the crutch of the incorrect and weak minded.

          1. Name one, JUST ONE, solely room-scale Oculus Home title, go ahead I’m waiting…

          2. Rift still only provides 1 camera with its HMD. Buy Touch and you get one more. But to get FULL ROOM SCALE (3×3 meters…), you have to buy 1 MORE camera separately.

          Is “room scale” possible with the Rift? Absolutely. But that wasn’t my comment. What I said was that Oculus was not PUSHING room scale. As in, their hardware is capable of it but they do not wish to pursue it. Oculus wants you to use Rift seated with an Xbox controller, or standing 180° (aka not turning around) configuration with Touch. IF Oculus were to push room scale, they should provide 3 cameras with EVERY RIFT SOLD.

          Why would someone like IMR develop wireless for Oculus when only a niche group like you have access to room scale, when 100% of Vive users have access to room scale and would greatly benefit from it.

          But that’s ok, keep using room scale on your Rift with games you purchased from Steam (which Oculus doesn’t want you to do).

          • Buddydudeguy

            Wow, nice wall of text. “my” fanboy-ism! It’s painfully obvious you don’t own a Rift and are jumping at the opportunity to hate and sling misinfo.
            They don’t need to “push” room scale. Want room scale? Buy a third sensor, it’s that easy. I can see you think you’re awful clever though with your long winded rebuttal. Sorry, but your thoughts on this are really silly.

          • David Herrington

            I’m sorry that trying to read is so painful for you. I’ll keep this simple then.

            Name one solely room scale game on Oculus Home…

            Still waiting….

          • Buddydudeguy

            You still squawking, fanboy? I’ll do us both a favor and mute you so I don’t get anymore notifications. You got issues lol

          • David Herrington

            Yeah, that’s right. Walk away, because you obviously have nothing to contribute to this discussion. As I have said before, Oculus is not pushing room-scale.

  • Gerald Terveen

    Very cool and glad to read that 4k screens won’t tie us back up. Sad to read they are not going for the much bigger consumer market …

  • Andrew Jakobs

    Hmmm.. To be honest I have a feeling this is a high marketing talk, as running 120hz dual 4K over wifi without any real delay seems more like a fantasy or the compression is so high it’s like lowres..

    • Guygasm

      They do not claim to do dual 4K@120Hz over Wi-Fi, only (presumably dual) 2160×1200@90Hz (802.11ac Wi-Fi 5Ghz). They claim to scale to 4K@120Hz, but using 60Ghz WiGig

    • Daniel Fitzgerald

      Hi guys, Dr Daniel Fitzgerald, CEO of Immersive Robotics here. Andrew, thanks for the comments, however this is not marketing hype at all. Some clarifications: our current real time electronics run 2xHD, 90 frames per second. There is no noticeable lag (our compression/decompression total is less than 1 ms latency). The talk about 4K and 120 fps is to do with the fact that our algorithm is scalable to any resolution moving forward due to it’s pipeline (in terms of the data streaming through) and parallel design on chip as far as algorithm processing.
      As soon as there are screens and input VR video available at that resolution we can do it.
      We don’t do any frame to frame comparisons, which H264 does which immediately adds 2 or 3 frames (at least) of latency (approx. 22-33 ms).
      Please read more at my other posts below, but we are definitely the real deal – see our website also for other pics, etc of our actual electronics and of course can see us at CES in January.

      Thanks,
      Daniel
      http://www.immrobotics.com

    • OgreTactics

      It’s simply you being ignorant of the existing software and hardware technology.

  • Ian Shook

    I hope in the future there’s an app that adds the cord back in, for old time’s sake.

  • VRgameDevGirl

    Sounds awesome! Can’t wait! And VIVE and OCULUS are both fantastic. I have both. Rift is better when it comes to comfort. VIVE has better FOV IMHO. Rift has a sharper display IMO. VIVE is better for room scale. RIFT has better controllers. But I love them both. I played Arizona Sunshine Co-op with my husband. I was on vive, he on rift. It was amazing!!!!

  • evo

    that’s one fine ass! hope to see that in 4k per eye VR

  • CoffeeBuzz

    I wonder if that price point will stand ? I would not pay 800 for an HMD then 1200 on wireless attachment. When this comes out and is tested/verified, and if the price is significantly lower. then Im getting an HMD. Had the vive and sold it because of cable distraction. Most likely though if the price stays in the 1000+ range, ill wait for gen two headsets that may have something similar built in.

  • Daniel Fitzgerald

    Thanks to the roadtoVR guys for this article on our technology. We are very excited to be finally releasing our VR compression technology which we hope we can help formulate the new VR standard for transmitting VR data. We have been working on this technology since early 2015 and created a new video standard from the ground up. We also developed electronics that run our algorithms with combined latency for both compress and decompress combined of less than 1ms.

    This is unlike other groups recently trying to release solution that rely on underlying chips/tech that use H264 (or similar) type compression. As described in my post below, you get caught with motion artefacts, banding and other compression artefacts, but most importantly the latency is the problem. As soon as you start buffering frames for frame to frame compression latency is increased and you chipset is increased in terms of memory.

    The problems above we have solved by considering the VR problem since the beginning and we are very proud to be releasing this technology formally at CES. I want to be clear, we are not a newcomer to this game, and had wireless solutions for earlier VR dev headsets and the like from 2015. We knew the issues visually with the earlier HMDs and chose CES 2017 as the perfect time to show how great VR has now become.

    Please feel free to respond with questions here or contact us personally through our website.

  • OgreTactics

    At least some people are doing their job and working on what should have been implemented from the get-go in consumer HMDs.

    But I guess 2017 being the year of release of Wifi 811.2ad standard and the AV1 codec, these kind of solutions will be more streamlined than ever. There is absolutely no excuse for VR tethering anymore, this is a conceptual non-sense.

  • Ashwini

    Very nice and Informative article, 4k Display and virtual retinal display both has great scope in coming years because of future scope of VR and AR have in depth information @ for 4k Display: http://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/4k-market-105623863.html
    for virtual retinal display: http://www.marketsandmarkets.com/Market-Reports/virtual-retinal-display-market-238826103.html

  • David Herrington

    While this sounds great, that price tag will destroy it.

    If they are producing a similar wireless option as TPCAST and others, they need to be competitive if they are going to stay in the wireless race. The ability to capture multiple players in the same space is nice… but very niche.

    • Joseph Simons

      It is not a similar wireless option to TPCAST.Its completely different. IMR has built a new VR compression technology from the ground up for the VR community. They are supporting full frame rate 90 fps and 2xHD and scale-able to new higher resolutions (once newer HMDs are released). TPCAST does not do any of this to the same quality