VirtualLink was an open standard that defined a USB-C based connection protocol that was “developed to meet the connectivity requirements of current and next-generation VR headsets,” and backed by major VR industry players. The goal was to make a single, thin cable the norm for connecting VR headsets to PCs, instead of having multiple connectors (USB, video, and sometimes additional power) at the PC-end of the cable. Unfortunately the standard didn’t gain traction and appears to now be abandoned by the group that created it.

VirtualLink was announced back in 2018 with the backing of NVIDIA, AMD, Microsoft, Valve, Oculus, and HTC—representing a bulk of the most significant hardware players in the VR industry.

The standard would piggy-back off of USB-C as an “alternate mode” to offer four high-speed HBR3 DisplayPort lanes, a USB3.1 data channel for on-board cameras, and up to 27 watts of power. The standard was said to be “purpose-built for VR,” being optimized for latency and the needs of next-generation headsets.

At the outset, VirtualLink had seemingly strong momentum. All of NVIDIA’s latest desktop GPUs at the time, the RTX 20-series, were announced with an included USB-C port which supported VirtualLink. High-end headsets like StarVR and XTAL integrated VirtualLink to replace what would otherwise be four connectors (USB, power, and 2x video) into a single sleek cable that plugged directly into the GPU. Valve announced that it would sell a VirtualLink adapter for its Index headset which would slim down its three connectors to the single USB-C connector. But for some reason VirtualLink’s momentum faltered.

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As far as we know, despite being part of the standard’s consortium of backers, AMD never added VirtualLink support to any its GPUs. The second wave of Nvidia’s RTX 20-series cards (the ‘Supers’) also dropped the USB-C port of the cards that preceded them. Valve cancelled the VirtualLink adapter for its Index headset, citing both reliability issues and saying that “VirtualLink technology has not been widely adopted by manufacturers, laptops in particular (where a single connection could be the most beneficial), translating to very few PCs having viable ports for the connection.”

This week—in a move that likely puts the final nail in the VirtualLink coffin—Nvidia announced its brand new 30-series GPUs, none of which appear to include the necessary USB-C port. What’s more, the official VirtualLink website appears to have begun redirecting to the VirtuaLink Wikipedia entry sometime around July.

Road to VR spoke to VRgineers, one of the only companies to actually build a headset with the VirtualLink standard.

Photo by Road to VR

I got to see their XTAL headset with VirtualLink connection earlier this year and it was really quite impressive to see an ultra high-resolution headset with two huge displays running entirely from a thin cable plugged into a single port in the back of a computer.

XTAL’s two large displays, SteamVR Tracking Sensors, eye-tracking, and hand-tracking module were all served by a single VirtualLink cable (right) | Photo by Road to VR

While the company has created an adapter to allow their XTAL headset to work with standard ports, it told us that “the [VirtualLink] consortium has not operated for quite some time now. […] But it is a shame because it is really reliable and convenient interface and communication protocol.”

Road to VR reached out to members of the VirtualLink consortium but hasn’t received a response.

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Ben is the world's most senior professional analyst solely dedicated to the XR industry, having founded Road to VR in 2011—a year before the Oculus Kickstarter sparked a resurgence that led to the modern XR landscape. He has authored more than 3,000 articles chronicling the evolution of the XR industry over more than a decade. With that unique perspective, Ben has been consistently recognized as one of the most influential voices in XR, giving keynotes and joining panel and podcast discussions at key industry events. He is a self-described "journalist and analyst, not evangelist."
  • kontis

    All of NVIDIA’s latest desktop GPUs at the time, the RTX 20-series, were announced with an included USB-C port which supported VirtualLink

    Many OEM cards didn’t have it, especially the 2060.

    • gruguir

      yes, just as some 20xx SUPER have it.

      • benz145

        Yeah I’m only referring to NVIDIA’s own Founder’s edition models.

    • benz145

      It was Nvidia’s own Founder’s edition cards which all included it at the time, including the 2060 Founder’s IIRC. But you’re right, it wasn’t necessarily standard on OEM cards of the same model.

      • yeah, it was quite unfortunate the Rift S never got a virtuallink adapter, I bought the 2070 specifically because the model I got had a c port.

    • silvaring

      You’re right, very few cards had it, and almost none of the 2070’s / very few 2080 models iirc.

    • psuedonymous

      Many OEM cards still make utterly moronic port choices like replacing DP++ ports with HDMI-only ports (a DP++ port is electrically DP and HDMI, but a HDMI port cannot transport DP). Few expect them to make reasonable port decisions.

  • Lucidfeuer

    What a bunch a buffoons, can’t even agree to get one standard cable working.

    • cmt849

      Apple would like to know your location.

      • Lucidfeuer

        Apple doesn’t matter in this case (but agree with the feeling).

  • gruguir

    In any case, I’m making good use of it as an alternate DP port.

  • Ajedi32

    Seems like a bit of a chicken-egg problem. Sadly, VR headsets just aren’t common enough yet to warrant a dedicated port on most video cards. Hopefully that’ll change in the future and someone will give this concept another go a few years down the road.

    • Adrian Meredith

      For it to work it needed to be the next gen display port supported by all new monitors. That’s why it failed

    • mag

      if valve (or any vr headset maker) really wanted, they could make an adapter, to make it through the early phase.
      a little box that connects to display, usb and power near the pc,.. with a vrlink port for the headset.

      • Dave

        That’s called a breakout box, most headsets already have them… But there’s really no need. You only need a single cable with a split for a video output and power, this loss of virtuallink isn’t a massive issue.G2 has a displayport and USB-3 job done.

        XTAL’s of this world are a little different and they require multiple video connections but I don’t think thats necessary for us consumers, it will be a while before 77.37 Gbit/s of the displayport 2.0 gets exceeded and when it does there’s likely to be a better displayport.

  • I understood that it was dead when Valve canceled the adapter

  • I have a more stable connection when using my linked Quest to the USBC (VL) of my 2070super, than when I attach it to the motherboard. Just saying.

  • nejihiashi88

    i think hdmi 2.1 have higher bandwidth than virtuallink so maybe it became obsolete.

    • James Cobalt

      HDMI 2.1 does not transport power, so not a single cable solution.

  • Rob Farthing

    I’m not upset, I’m just disappointed.

  • wrich73

    Disappointing…I’ve had the official Quest Link cable plugged into the back of my Asus 2080ti since it launched and have never had a single problem. Noticeably better stability and performance vs. plugging the cable into the motherboard. I know it wasn’t an actual virtual link connection but that skinny Link cable would charge my Quest to 100% while playing Half Life: Alyx at ultra settings and 125% resolution in Steam.

  • Andrew Jakobs

    Big BIG shame, as the current cables are just very thick and require too much ports..

  • Sven Viking

    I didn’t even know XTAL and StarVR used it. At least it wasn’t entirely wasted I guess.

    • James Cobalt

      I don’t even think StarVR used it outside the lab. Last I read it was a planned release but the adapter still hadn’t come out.

  • Hymen Cholo

    I’d rather HMD’s go wireless anyway.

  • Blaexe

    Foveated Rendering + Foveated Transportation.

    Also will be interesting to see how good the Quest 2 will do it by compressing the image stream.

    • Tooluka

      Still not enough in the nearest years. We need two orders of magnitude reduction to fit in the existing top of the line 60 GHz wifi link at closest possible range.

  • Dev Doc

    That’s a bummer as it was at the very least a great high speed USB 3.2 port. Works great for Oculus Link. Best port I had.

  • Tooluka

    Even similarly abandoned 60 GHz wifi has 100 times less real throughput than is needed for VR helmet. And it had range like 1 meter, after that you throughput was even less. Wireless won’t happen in next decade at least that’s why Virtuallink was so promising.

  • Tethered VR has no future

  • Lucas Cunningham

    unfortunate, it actually had quite a bit of utility outside of just virtualLink for other usb stuff.

  • Tooluka

    I won’t even try to estimate the delay to encode and then decode video steam in the real time, though I suspect it is a lot more than 20ms. But what I know for sure is that video compression uses temporal compression among other tricks, we simply can’t compress a single standalone frame sufficiently, without degrading quality too much. And temporal compression requires multiple frames to be collected in the buffer, for example 12 frames, because we can start decoding only after we receive full frame, starting from which we can decode heavily compressed intermediate frames, deriving info from the full frame.

    Plus add all delays in the WiFi transmission.

    And all these delays will be on top of existing 15-30ms delays in the VR systems.

  • It’s funny how Valve states reliability issues while for XTAL it’s a really reliable solution