As we stated in our recent CES VR retrospective, wireless VR looks set to be a big focus for next weeks show in Las Vegas. Now that consumer VR is here and filtering into people’s homes, the focus on making VR experiences better through incremental hardware upgrades, mods or peripherals will likely ramp up until next generation hardware arrives. For many, the biggest boost in the feeling of presence (now that both platforms have tracked motion controllers) would be to cut the distracting chord between the VR hardware and the PC powering it. For that, you need a wireless video compression and USB transmission system. To that end, companies like QuarkVR, Nitero, TPCast and most recently IMR are all working to being consumer (or prosumer) devices to market in 2017.
The latest to join the wireless VR race is Scalable Graphics, a firm whose focus up to now has been on GPU accelerated cloud compute systems. They’ve just announced KwikVR, a lightweight wireless compression and transmission system that will work with both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. What’s more, the firm is due to demonstrate the new hardware at CES next week.
As with many of the solutions current in development (or in TPcast‘s case, ready for sale), KwikVR’s solution provides a wearable receiver unit (in this case, belt mounted) which includes at an HDMI port and 2 USB ports. The idea is, you plug the cables that would ordinarily attach to your PC (or breakout box in the case of the Vive) into KwikVR’s equivalent ports. Compressed video is then transmitted to that unit then along to the headset over HDMI.
Input data from the headset is again sent wirelessly back to the host machine, and in the case of connected wireless controllers, bi-directionally. KwikVR apparently works over a common or garden 5Ghz WiFi (ac) network, which means its a tad more elegant (assuming it works of course) than TPcast’s solution which relies on WiGig 60Ghz transmitters and receivers shipped with the product. In theory at least, as with the recently unveiled IMR’s solution, KwikVR will work over your existing 5Ghz network hardware. However the company is saying the product will come complete with its own Wifi router (as well as the HDMI dongle for the back of your PC) – probably to ensure consistent results.
KwikVR is claiming 12ms additional latency working at both the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive’s native 2160 x 1200 resolution (each headset packs 2 x 1080 x 1200 OLED panels), running at 90Hz. So the key here will be how much image quality will be sacrificed in the compression stage in order to sustain a demanding VR video stream. IMR demonstrated some impressive results (albeit with some artefacts) and a 95% compression rate in our recent coverage so it’ll be interesting to compare the systems.
The whole package is powered by a 16100 mAh battery which supplies a claimed 4 hours of playtime between charges. A respectable figure.
How KwikVR stacks up against the rest of the solutions on their way to market is impossible to say right now. We’ll be endeavouring to try as many solutions at possible at CES next week to try to gauge the compromises and performance each presents. At any rate, it’s great to see so much competition in a field that just a couple of years ago would have seemed futuristic.