Intel’s Wigig is the wireless VR experience we’ve been waiting for

If last year was the year of VR, 2018 will be the year of wireless virtual reality. Sure there’s mobile headsets like Samsung Gear VR and Google Daydream to keep everyone happy but for higher end experiences like Fallout 4 or Skyrim VR, the best way to roam a wasteland or fight off a dragon would likely involve less tripping over cords. 

And thanks to the new Wigig wireless solution from Intel and HTC, we’ll be doing just that … eventually. The device was first announced at Computex and is being demoed on the E3 showfloor for journalists. 

There’s no solid release date quite yet other than early next year, and firm details about the device are still in the works. However, the demo has proved HTC has found solid ground with partners Intel and DisplayLink. 

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Wigig wins the wireless prize ... so far

At first glance, it doesn’t look like a device that can handle wireless VR. The Wigig sits right on top of your head as you wear an HTC Vive with several wires poking out, and just like the Oculus Santa Cruz prototype, there was plenty of black electrical tape to keep the front portion secure. 

Compared to photos and video of the DisplayLink XR at Computex, the tech looked a bit smaller, and while the Wigig wasn’t significantly heavy but there was a noticeable heftiness. That's something Intel’s Kim Pallister said the team is working on, and future iterations will be much smaller and less cumbersome. 

In fact, they're still not even sure that Wigig will sit on top of your head. 

Pallister noted that whether the device could clip onto your side or whether it attaches to your shirt, sits in your pocket, or hangs out on your belt like an old school beeper are to be determined.

How the form factor will affect the battery life is also up in the air. Pallister told us that the device had been running fine all day on a full charge, and other reports state that battery life sits at two hours – but that could all improve when the Wigig device undergoes developmental changes.

The last refinement Intel is still wrapping its head around is how the Wigig on your head will talk to the computer. Pallister said the components could simply be built right into computers in the future like built-in Wi-Fi, but that’s much further down the line. For the time being, Wigig could connect through an additional slotted component that you pop into the back of your computer or a tiny, adorable router that sits on your desk.

Currently, though, WiGig (based on the 802.11ad standard) uses a 60GHz band to enable a low latency wireless connection from headset to PC and promises less than 7ms latency at all times. 

Pallister stated in an interview with TechRadar that you’ll get much less interference from multiple Wi-Fi devices allowing “a much tighter signal integrity.” This higher frequency also allows you to carry more bandwidth and, according to Pallister, “you won’t need to make compromises with display resolution, you can use the full Vive resolution.”

This was put to the test during a short demo of Space Pirate Trainer. 

If you haven’t played the game before, you’re basically fighting off wave after wave of robots as you twirl around to shoot them. While it’s not the most graphically intense game, a lot is happening. 

Despite the chaos, the Wigig was able to keep up without issue. There was no delay or stuttering and it played just as well as tethered experiences at home.

Who’s in the wireless game?

At the moment, there are several contenders trying to make VR wireless. Universities like MIT and smaller companies like Quark VR have made headlines within the last year however those prototypes are still being developed. 

It’s not exactly clear how well these wireless solutions will work since they haven’t been demoed but if they’re anything like Wigig, then it’s safe to say they’re on the right track. The other wireless device that’s closest to release is an HTC accessory from TPCast. It’ll be the first to hit households - but only in China with no word on a worldwide launch.  

Then there’s the Santa Cruz prototype from Oculus. As a self-contained VR headset, it stands apart from what HTC and Intel intend to release but nevertheless remains an equally exciting untethered device. While there have been updates on the tech that makes Santa Cruz tick, it won’t be seen on store shelves anytime soon. 

The biggest questions about wireless solutions right now are how companies will price the accessories and what battery life will be like. 

Pallister didn't comment on these details and said the final decisions on cost, how to bundle the device and whether the Vive would be completely rebranded would be entirely up to HTC. 

Here’s hoping we won’t have to keep paying an arm and a leg to experience VR without the messy cords. 

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