Qualcomm’s New Chips Should Enable Better Wireless VR

by David Heaney • November 2nd, 2018

Qualcomm recently announced the QCA64x1 series of 802.11ay 60 GHz Wi-Fi chipsets, noting “truly immersive wireless virtual and augmented reality experiences” among the list of use cases.

60 GHz offers far superior bandwidth to 5 GHz, but with the tradeoff that it cannot penetrate walls. Typical home WiFi uses relatively low frequency 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, and while this is great for achieving good coverage throughout your home even through thick walls, it’s not optimal for short distance ultra high bandwidth applications like wireless displays and PC VR.

802.11ay is the successor to 802.11ad, the previous 60 GHz WiFi standard, commonly known as ‘WiGig’. WiGig is actually the technology used in the HTC Vive Wireless Adapter.

WiGig has a theoretical maximum bandwidth of around 7 Gbit/sec. While this is technically just enough to transmit the 2160√ó1200 90Hz signal of the HTC Vive, in real world conditions it falls short, which is why HTC incorporates compression in their wireless solution. While this compression is minor enough to not to be noticeable in most scenarios, some may notice “blockiness” in fast moving action.

The 802.11ay upgrade promises to increase this theoretical maximum to 40 Gbit/sec, which even in real world conditions would be more than enough to send a current VR headset’s display signal without compression, and should be capable of making a future higher resolution headset wireless.

If the theoretical maximum bandwidth could be reached, 802.11ay could transmit much higher resolutions than today’s headsets at 90Hz without compression. In the real world, though, compression would likely be be used. It’s also important to note that Qualcomm’s QCA6421 & QCA6431 may target a lower maximum than the specification.

Qualcomm’s marketing highlights VR as a use case of these new chips

Neither 802.11ay nor WiGig are replacing standard WiFi of the kind your router would use. There’s another upcoming standard called 802.11ax (“WiFi 6”) intended to upgrade standard WiFi. Instead, the 802.11ay standard is intended only for niche applications like wireless displays, because they prioritize bandwidth over wall penetration.

Qualcomm has not given any specifics on when we might see the QCA6421 and QCA6431 in consumer products, but the fact that these chipsets are now finalized and available to electronics companies to integrate into products makes it likely that 2019 will be the year.

For wireless PC VR to keep up with increasing resolutions, until foveated rendering is available, companies need to continue to push bandwidth higher and higher, and with the 802.11ay QCA64x1 series, that’s exactly what Qualcomm is doing.

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