E3 2017: Wireless VR With DisplayLink and Intel Is What We’ve Been Waiting For

by Ian Hamilton • June 16th, 2017

Companies developing VR headsets are racing toward wireless six degrees of freedom. This means you can move in any way and your experience in VR matches what you would expect. Headset freedom seems to be virtually solved either using external sensors like Rift and Vive, or using inside-out tracking pursued by Google, Microsoft, Intel and Facebook.

These inside-out solutions are a great step forward for ease of use. It is much easier to get in and out of VR because there’s no setup involved, making it quick to move from one room to another. While Microsoft is shipping inside-out headsets that still tether to a PC for high-end rendering, this type of tracking is also a pathway to standalone systems that put everything needed for VR into the headset itself.

There’s a major limitation to these inside-out solutions though — controllers and input. We have yet to use compelling controllers that offer six degrees of freedom for your hands with an inside-out headset. Microsoft is planning a promising solution with a pair of light-up controllers that can be accurately tracked as long as they are in the view of the sensors on the front of the headset.  This could be a sweet spot for Microsoft, but we are skeptical inverse kinematics and the sensors inside the controllers themselves can be used to provide experiences as compelling as what’s available with the HTC Vive or Rift with three sensors.

Which brings me to the most impressive and compelling VR experience I’ve ever had. 

Here at E3 2017 I tried a pair of wireless VR prototype add-ons that worked with the HTC Vive. My favorite was the DisplayLink prototype wireless add-on which sat at the back of my head. This balanced the weight of the unit in such a way that I didn’t notice it. Also, unlike TPCAST, this position would move it out of the way of headphones. Another wireless unit I tried with Vive in Intel’s booth at E3 (in the video above) positioned it on the top of the head like TPCAST, and its loose fitting meant that even slight movements right or left would swing the unit from one side to the other on top on my head. This was very distracting.

But the DisplayLink prototype disappeared snugly on the back of the head. The moment I realized there was no noticeable lag, and I had the freedom to walk around a large room, I suddenly lost myself in a virtual world in a way I’d never before experienced. It might seem slight, but the wire between a Vive or Rift and the PC rendering a world at 90 frames per second is a huge impediment. When it is gone, you are never going to go back.

“I think once you’ve tried it without a wire, there’s no way you’d ever want to use it with a wire. The wire is like there’s a dog barking in the background. You can kind of tune it out but it’s still there. And when it stops barking you go ‘suddenly I’m here’,” said Graham O’Keeffe, CEO and Chairman of DisplayLink. “I think it is going to 100 percent attach rate. I don’t see why you would even consider having a wired VR system anymore.”

DisplayLink set up Longbow, one of my favorite games, and I found a grin stretching across my face the moment I realized there was no noticeable lag and I could walk around a large space with complete freedom. After a year and a half of fighting with wires every time I wanted to move around a virtual world, I was free from that nagging reminder. No more remembering to step over it, or to turn in a way that doesn’t tangle up my body.

I loosed arrows with complete freedom for the first time in my life and lit them on fire behind me without even looking at the flames. I moved with speed and ease from wall to wall, not worrying whether I was tangled up. I nocked the arrows on my bow and fired them into the incoming stick-men one after another after another. It was the best I’ve ever felt in VR and a joy to experience.

O’Keeffe might be selling some of the silicon chips that make this experience possible, but I have to agree with him. Everyone is going to be going wireless as soon as they can. No specific timeline has been provided, but I’m hoping by CES 2018 we’ll get consumer-facing announcements from a variety of companies providing this tech.

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  • Tyler Soward

    really looking forward to this!

  • Sean Lumly

    Sold! Now, all I need is a Vive refresh with a higher resolution (possibly eye tracking) and I’m all set!

    • GreasyMullet

      This is exactly what I am waiting on. A more polished VIVE that is lighter, more comfortable, slightly higher resolution, expanded FOV, and most importantly wireless.

      The HTC defenders are quick to point out most consumers are just now getting VR enabled machines so that upping the specs more just puts it out of reach. This VIVE still exists and nothing is stopping HTC from releasing this one as a wireless with a slightly beefy pro version for those of us on the bleeding edge.

      I will wait as long as I need. Until then I have access to a VIVE at a friends house and a PSVR at home to hold me over. But if VIVE waits too long then somebody else is going to come along and steal their thunder and just ask Oculus how hard it is to recover from that…

      • Sean Lumly

        The cool thing about SteamVR is that they are open (as is the tracking technology) so I’m sure we will see plenty of competitors. But I agree, if HTC doesn’t act quickly, some other company is going to eat their lunch! And I hope that they refresh their unit soon. I can only imagine that companies like Asus, Acer, Samsung, etc, are getting ready to compete in this space.

        But having the DisplayLink and the Vive would be enough for me to make a purchase. But if I get wind that there is another HMD coming that may improve in the aforementioned categories, I will hold off, and be content with my PSVR!

        I do wonder if DisplayLink will be compatible with non-Vive headsets (eg. Pimax 8K, or Elf).

        • Robert Cole

          After owning 2 Vive systems and spending a lot of time pushing the current hardware to the limits, in terms of physical modifications to increase FOV and improve ventilation, to super sampling at the PC end, and ‘room scale plus’ experimentation, I came to some solid conclusions about what is required for 2nd generation – Tetherless was top of the list, no doubt.

          With suitable processing power, super sampling is very effective even with the limitations of the Vive panel. Steam VR could be scaled quite considerably beyond what was published.

          However, the tether was the deal breaker, a constant immersion breaker. During the room scale plus, we used a “tether assistant” (i.e. buddy) to assist in keeping the 3-in-1 cable fluid and untangled, not a luxury many will enjoy?

          Tetherless even with current HMD limitations will suit fine, but having sold both Vive systems, I’d prefer to wait until Q3/4 2018 when there will something integrated coming down the pipeline 😉

        • What is supported will depend on who brings the product to market. There is no such limitation to DisplayLink technology, Sean.

          • Sean Lumly

            Who brings what product to market? What limitation are you referring to?

            I’m not being combative, I genuinely do not understand what you are referring to, but would like to..

            If you are referring to the wireless aspects of Displaylink, then of course it can be paired with anything (even integrated into a toaster outputting video). But if you are referring to the device in the article above, I assume it has pre-requisites that may limit the types of devices that will work with it.

            For example, a headset that relies on USB 3.1 Type-C because it requires the port and the bandwidth may be incompatible with the DisplayLink device in question if the DisplayLink device doesn’t contain a USB-C port.

            Another example of a likely incompatible scenario is with the PSVR. The PSVR uses (what appear to be) 2x HDMI ports, one of which will not fit standard HDMI ports due to its shape. There is a very low likelihood that PSVR would work with the DisplayLink device in the article above, though would work with the technology if it had been integrated.

          • DisplayLink is a technology company who worked on enabling this, and this is not the name of the box. DisplayLink won’t sell an end product you can buy. An OEM, via an ODM, will bring a product to market integrating the different technologies needed to make an end product (video, battery, radio,…). As I know you are familiar with them, I’ll take a comparison with ARM: they provide the technology, but they don’t do the products you buy with the technology they designed. The comparison stops here as, unlike ARM, DisplayLink does sell chips.
            You are asking “if DisplayLink will be compatible with non-Vive headsets”. I am replying that DisplayLink technology is not limited to Vive headsets. The shape the plug, the number of plugs and ports, battery size and chemistry (…) will be a decision of the manufacturer who decides to bring a product to market, similarly of what already takes place today with other products based on DisplayLink technology (wireless, or not as here the wireless link is highlighted as being Intel WiGig). Am I being clearer now?

          • Sean Lumly

            Ah, I understand your meaning… They license, and their product must be integrated to be used.

            Yes. Unlike your first comment, this one was much better articulated and its message was far less ambiguous, Alban.

      • Auburok

        Funny you mention cost prohibition, as the other threshold that needs to be crossed for most people is technical literacy. I’ve installed a few Vive setups for people that never even gamed before (at most, the family had a console) on a PC, and otherwise they use Mac for general computing. So, often, the people with cash have no idea how to do any of it. A lot of people with cash to spare just want a machine you turn on and “does VR” in a few steps.

        You’ll probably have to wait for a while anyway with Vive upgrades, though. They’ve cut down the weight by 15% and have the new cable that has less drag, but I’ve gone through a few Vive kits (through Amazon) in the past month because of defects. One kit the HMD wouldn’t talk to the compositor, and the other kit the controllers wouldn’t sync. I think if you see any upgrades on that front, they will be ones focused on interaction, like controllers or the Vive tracker stuff. I don’t think they’ll do a headset revision with new features for a little while, at least no features that aren’t added via plugging into USB on the headset itself. For now I think they are focused on bringing down manufacturing costs, what with the change to light houses and stuff.

  • NooYawker

    I’ll wait longer. well.. depends how much i play FO4VR and DoomVFR. I really don’t want to buy yet another piece of hardware to latch onto my head. But most likely, I’ll just wait for next gen before I spend any more money. I mean I just cracked my vive controller in half.. $140 with tax to replace.

    • Tyler Soward

      Damn. How’d you do that? Those things are pretty sturdy. Must have given it some serious heat!

      • NooYawker

        Superhot VR! got to close to my desk did a big under swing and slammed it under my desk. Pop. Cracked right where the donut and handle meet.
        I tried reconnecting those two flat cables to no avail.

        • Tyler Soward

          Oh snap! I could see that. That’s a bummer. Replacement Vive parts ain’t cheap either. Should be able to play a few games with just one

        • chicanoterp06

          that must have been one hell of a swing, I have smacked mine into my power rack (7 gauge steel) with just a scratch to show for it. At the time I was sure that I had done some damage…

          • NooYawker

            I hit the sweet spot I guess, pulled it apart right at the seam. Maybe if i hit it on the down swing it would have survived but i hit it on the upswing and hit under my table against the metal bar.

        • Jeffafah

          Ever bumped your controller into something and then checking if it is damaged while looking for damage on the virtual model in VR instead of reallife? Or is that just me?

          • NooYawker

            LOL… all the time!. I lift the controller and turn it around looking for damage.

      • Jay

        I wrecked one playing disc golf in rec room…doesn’t take much when you ignore chaperone and smash a brick wall.

        • Tyler Soward

          Guess brick defeats even the sturdiest of game controllers in a one on one match.. I’ve got my bounds set about a foot or so away from walls on all sides – lose a little play space, but it’s less likely that me or one of our kids will inadvertently smash hardware. Buffer zone. Seems to be working pretty well so far

  • SandmaN

    Yikes, that receiver that goes on top of the headset is HUUUUGE!! TPCast’s solution is quite a bit smaller and, from what I’ve seen so far, works incredibly well. Let’s hope that the final consumer version of this is much smaller and much more sleek than this gigantic prototype.

  • chicanoterp06

    I don’t see a wire coming off of the device leading down, so I assume the battery is also sitting on my head? I wonder what battery life is like, and if it produces a lot of heat?

    • The wire going down to a belt battery pack did exist and was another prototype. Some people might prefer it, some may prefer the head only…

  • LoreII

    Frankly I do not mind at all the headset with wire, when I wear my Psvr I’m not even aware there is a cable … this wireless necessity it’s bullshot in my opinion…

    • Auburok

      The wire is a roomscale problem rather than a VR problem. You can do VR with a cable sitting for days. Walking around the room, turning multiple times, tangling yourself up while trying to run and jump around… these are issues with having a wired setup for roomscale. I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten tangled up playing Arizona Sunshine’s survival mode. If you ignore the wire and focus on playing, you’ll end up with your feet tied up before long.

      • LoreII

        Actually with 3 games Psvr I played standing on my legs and moving left and right without any problem, that’s why I like Psvr.
        I do not like much room scale, in any case I undertstand what you mean, walkingin tge room with a cable could be a problem

        • Dream Chaser

          You dont need to walk around, simply turning is enough to get tangled. I dont know what kind of games psvr has but turning is pretty essential to almost any game (except the likes of Elite where your character is sitting all the time) so the cable is a big problem.

          • LoreII

            I finished farpoint turning continuously and no cable problem…so???

          • Probably because the content you’ve been using was created with a cable in mind. If it makes you turn left, it will then make sure you turn right not to entangle yourself and fall…

          • LoreII

            So probably they created it perfectly according to player needs…
            By the way, with Psvr when you turn it turn exactly how you would turn in real life, there are no security filters in turning, just the cable it’s so light and flexible that it doesn’t bother the moving

      • towblerone

        This Lorell guy’s PSVR will never be able to do roomscale and therefore wireless is something he’ll never get to enjoy, hence his dismissing wireless’s importance.

        It’s the same thing console gamers said about 4K and 60fps gameplay: if they can’t have it, then they deem it unimportant… which is easy to say when it’s not available to you. lol

    • Mo Last

      Lmao retard, stick with your shitty potato vr

      • Jack

        Cancer comment. Vive user btw.

      • towblerone

        He says “wireless isn’t important” when his PSVR will never be able to take advantage of roomscale so it’s a moot point. lol

        Console gamers also defend 30fps gameplay as being “cinematic” and that 4K is too high a resolution. Plebs.

        • LoreII

          I said it would be nice that ps and pc gmers would play together, but I regret what I said, people like you should play alone

    • towblerone

      “PSVR”

      Sit down. You should be used to it.

      • LoreII

        It’s obvious you know nothing about Psvr, maybe you could try it, I suggest you farpoint must be played compulsory standing on your legs, turning suddenly, knee under covers… move sideway to pass in the narrow path…
        I didn’t know that sitting means all these things…..!!!!!

    • CodeMonkey432

      PSVR & Vive are not in the same league. Really all there is to it. You have an illusion of some room scale with farpoint – but that’s what it is – illusion. So of course you aren’t tangling up your cable. I wouldn’t expect you to – you need a Vive or Rift to understand it. It’s like saying ‘I don’t understand why your car needs to go 0-60 in <10s. My SmartCar gets to 60. Eventually.'

      • LoreII

        The point is that I bought Psvr cause I would never like going around in my room, I like the “illusion” created by Psvr, in my opinion it’s the perfect mix between the 2 extremes: traditional gaming is too static, room scale is too chaotic, Psvr offers the solution that I want. I would never buy a vive or rift cause they do not offer what I want.
        Going back to your point, you convinced me, for vive and rift you need wireless. With Psvr you don’t need wireless.

  • JonBishop

    Just make it a helmet, and make it comfortable. Thanks.

  • Nicholas

    You keep showing and telling us how great the head mounted unit is in about 3 other articles so we get it – it’s cool. What does the rest of the setup involve on the PC end?

  • chienDISQ

    “I don’t see why you would even consider having a wired VR system anymore.” Maybe because long time exposure to radiation of these waves is toxic for your health.

    • Dream Chaser

      No it is not. These are very low frequency waves.

      • They are very high frequency and beam formed away from your head.

  • RationalThought

    Any info on battery life?

  • Everyone is going wireless… among us innovators. Standard consumers don’t want to spend more, to have the hassle of putting another box on the walls and also recharging batteries.