TPCAST Wireless Vive Add-on Impressions

by Upload • September 7th, 2017

For a product that makes your VR experience untethered, TPCAST certainly adds a lot of wires and additional hardware to your HTC Vive setup. At the end of the day, though, the accessory removes one of the biggest things holding VR back — the long cord running from a PC to the headset. And it does so without sacrificing any notable fidelity compared with the wired Vive experience.

Last December, we had our first go with wireless VR with an early TPCAST unit and had an experience in VR that we’d never felt before: Freedom. The freedom to just walk and meander about a beautiful scene, the freedom to keep spinning, twisting, and even flipping without worrying about a cable holding us back.

We’ve tried a number of wireless VR dev kits now and these products often seem to compromise between latency and visual/color fidelity. You could either have low latency and bad compression artifacts, or high visual fidelity and high latency, which can lead to extreme discomfort. TPCAST shows that by a network technology operating at 60GHz, you have to sacrifice neither. That said, with a not-so-simple initial setup, missing features, and high cost, it isn’t exactly for everyone. Nevertheless it is first-to-market, works as advertised and overall it excites us about the future of VR.

Also note that TPCAST provided to us a used PEQ (product equivalent) model which they’d been actively using to demo their product at conferences. All the parts, cables, and software tested will be included with the final product. We also tested it with a Vive Pre rather than a consumer Vive.

Setup

If you thought setting up an HTC Vive involved some wires and time investment, prepare yourself for the following diagram outlining how everything connects. It is quite the process.

Hardware

  • Transmitter
  • Receiver
  • 20100 mah Battery
  • Battery adapter
  • Router
  • Cables
    • Short 3-in-1 variant
    • Short HDMI male-to-male
    • 3 foot ethernet

Visual Fidelity Is High

The most important aspect of the product’s functionality is the quality of the visuals, and we found them to be very high. I placed the transmitter on my desk by my keyboard & mouse, rather than mounting it in an ideal position high up on my walls facing downward, and the visual fidelity of the transmitter did not disappoint. After many hours of usage I never noticed any bit of latency, which is a cardinal sin of VR.

However, due to it being mounted in a not-so-ideal location, I did run into some noticeable color compression when bending over and facing away from the transmitter — when my body became a barrier between the transmitter/receiver pair. This issue was fixed when I mounted the transmitter to an unused TV mount in the room (~5ft high) and had the top face outward using the recommended 90° mounting position. Once the transmitter had a clear view of the whole room, I could not get the compression artifacts to appear without fully blocking the receiver on the HMD with my hand.

We played games with tons of particles, turned up settings to max, and upped the super sampling rate to 2.0, and did not notice any bitrate or compression issues on the image. Even with apps like Tilt Brush that have a lot of colors and gradients, we failed to notice any difference between a wired HMD.

We will of course put the caveat out there that we still have not done a straight A/B test where we ask someone to try and identify whether the headset is wireless or wired based on the visual fidelity alone. Our time was limited and the setup process too involved to do this yet.

Audio Fidelity

The sound quality with TPCAST’s wireless solution sounded largely the same as the wired HMD. However, the biggest problem you’ll face with having a TPCAST receiver on the top strap, is that you won’t be able to use overhead headphones. If you cover the receiver with a headphone band, you’ll be blocking the line-of-sight signal, which means the video stream will be choppy and compressed. If you scoot the headphone band backwards so that it sits right behind the receiver, then it’ll slide down your head easily. For the time being, the only option seem to be either using earphones, or getting your hands on one of Vive’s Deluxe Audio straps (which we didn’t test with TPCAST).

Another important thing to note is the lack of microphone support. TPCAST tells us that this is a driver issue and will be fixed, without providing us with a date. This is by far one of the biggest issues, especially if you want to meet up with people in VR.

Battery Life

Using a fairly new Anker 20100 battery we had sitting around the office, we got a solid 4.5 hours of consistent play time. Charging the battery takes a minimum of 8 to 10 hrs using a 2A output USB charger, which means you probably should buy a second battery. When standing I kept the battery in my back pocket with a cord running to the headset.

There isn’t any indication of battery life in the headset so the only way to know is through 4 dots displayed on the battery hardware itself indicating 25 percent intervals on the battery. When the battery is dead everything just turns off, which can be a big annoyance.

The headset turned off twice over the course of seven hours of usage, which we think is most likely due to the battery overheating. The two times that it did turn off is when we were sitting on a swivel chair and had tucked the battery in between a leg and the arm of the chair. Standing up, we didn’t have much of an issue.

The battery that came with the hardware seemed to be heavily used — after all we were using a unit TPCAST said was the same they use at conferences. Unlike the battery we had around the office, this battery, which looked very similar in size to the one we already had, only lasted around 1 hour and 45 minutes, and recharged with the same charger in around 3.5 hours.

Wifi issues

We ran into an issue where the devices in the room with the TPCAST active and SteamVR running had a noticeable reduction in connection speed. This was fixed by pressing a button on the TPCAST hardware that switched channels and optimized the WiFi usage. This seemed to solve the issue for the most part.

Conclusion

Don’t let these technical details obscure the fact that it is truly an excellent feeling to be able to walk around, get into bed and rest your head on a pillow, put your arms behind your head and watch a movie in Bigscreen. Untethered freedom is the future of VR, and TPCAST with HTC Vive delivered.

TPCAST provided a freeing experience that we haven’t had with the Vive. The ability to sit on your bed, then jump to your swivel chair and spin around without getting tangled is much appreciated. However, it definitely feels like a 3rd party accessory rather than an integrated part of the Vive. The tech powering the video transmission works, and works very well. We just hope the setup and audio issues would be solved for the next product iteration.

Correction: The language surrounding the wireless technology used by TPCAST has been updated to say it operates in the 60GHz range.

Editor’s Note: This piece originally ran June 6, 2017, but is being posted again because of the recent announcement of North American pre-orders going live.

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  • wheeler

    Great impressions. Addresses all of the concerns succinctly.

    Looks like a driver update (for microphone support) will make this a worthwhile purchase for us early adopters. And then hopefully next year intel will deliver on a more consumer friendly option.

  • koenshaku

    Once they fix the mic they can sign me up ^^

    • JerryCHEMTRAILboy

      bluetooth mic in the meantime?

      • koenshaku

        Haven’t tried it, some have run into latency issues with Bluetooth in VR so i don’t know if that would be a viable option especially since i have the deluxe strap already as well.. Intel’s will be out come first quarter 2018 that will likely be the complete package I’ll take either if they work fully.

        • Reuben Ahmed

          i’ll take both

  • Sebastien Mathieu

    WOW !! Cant’t wait !! hope will get it in Canada….

  • Great article… so… can I borrow the TPCAST now?

  • nargorn

    Just plug it into the rift and make it work!;-)

  • REP

    Looking forward to seeing batteries explosion with bloody head lol.

    • Bling

      Were you declared retarded permanently or is there hope?

    • Caven

      Considering that hundreds of millions of people hold Li-Ion batteries right next to their heads every day in the form of cellphones–all without an epidemic of bloody explosions–you’re going to have to live with a lot of disappointment. Even the infamous Galaxy Note 7 wasn’t prone to causing injuries like that.

      Unlike a cellphone, the TPCAST doesn’t have a glass surface pressed against the skin that could shatter in the even of a rupture. Also, the TPCAST that was tested uses an external battery pack that the reviewer kept in their back pocket (there are even pictures), so all you have to do to avoid having the battery blow up in your face is to take your head out of your ass.

    • JustNiz

      The battery isn’t anywhere near your head

  • Walextheone

    Seems like a handy device. The biggest downside are probably price and battery life but outside that thumbs up

  • Thud

    “I placed the transmitter on my desk by my keyboard & mouse, rather
    than mounting it in an ideal position high up on my walls facing
    downward”
    Sorry otherwise good article but why would you not set the Vive up correctly in order to get a true idea of the performance of the device?

    • ” This issue was fixed when I mounted the transmitter to an unused TV mount in the room (~5ft high) and had the top face outward using the recommended 90° mounting position. Once the transmitter had a clear view of the whole room, I could not get the compression artifacts to appear without fully blocking the receiver on the HMD with my hand.”

  • iago

    ‘TPCAST shows that by using cutting edge network technology known as 60GHz WiGig’
    I thought WiGig was Intel’s choice, and TPCAST was using WirelessHD instead.

    • Bling

      No.

      • iago

        I’m not sure if worth the reply, but here are two uploadvr articles that point the same thing (cant add the link):
        tpcasts-vive-add-kit-uses-lattices-wirelesshd-tech
        and
        htc-working-intel-wigi-wireless-vive

    • Anshel Sag

      TPCast does not use WiGig… Its SiBeam’s proprietary 60 GHz, not WiGig.

      • iago

        Yes, it has been corrected in the article

  • JustNiz

    Cna you confirm that its not just the mic thats not working, the front camera is also not supported?

    • Hacker4748

      Yeah, no mention about the camera in the review. :-/ Is nobody using it?

  • fuyou2

    Wifi issue!, Audio issue!, Compression Issue1!, Battery issue! Setup issue! So WTF is good about this piece of shit? And I bet most comments here are trolls either from Upload or TPcast.. Another substandard product with wishy washy claims

  • Joel Dittrich

    Can I order this now? If so, from where?

    • Nikolai Torp Dragnes

      I bought one on ebay from China. Works great 🙂

    • Bebang Galore

      You can actually go to the website, you can preorder if you’re from Europe. For the US it’s going to be released middle of November.

      • koenshaku

        I preordered mine from the Microsoft Store here in the U.S. it is supposed to be available today. I am keeping my fingers crossed if it actually ships.

        • lee whicker

          I have not gotten word on my preorder. Let me know if you hear something.

          • koenshaku

            I have not gotten word either, some people have been saying it was erroneously advertised. They advertised the 6 hour battery for the price of the 2 hour battery according to some. My guess is since the page was just terminated I don’t think they will be honoring those pre-orders any time soon.. >_>

  • Martin L

    UploadVR, do you have any updates on the software update that was supposed to fix the microphone? Would love to somehow hear back from TPCast, but all non-Chinese channels seem to be closed to contact them regarding this issue.

  • John C. Murray

    What is the router needed for?

  • Bobby Cratchet

    Price would have rounded out this article. Having an MSRP included is just as important as its refresh rate and all of its other tech. specs. If it wasn’t available that fact still helps potential buyers. I’m seeing 5 on ebay for $516.

  • mellott124

    Just release one already. Tired of hearing about wireless tech for HMDs and yet no product has been released yet. It’s starting to sound like some Kickstarter projects.

    • JMB

      It has released, just not in your country of residence. I’ve been using one for months. Or did you mean it’s starting to sound like a Kickstarter funded logistics startup that hasn’t yet been able to deliver to your particular spot on earth?

      • Firestorm185

        xD lol. Can’t wait for the US to get this! ^^

        • DukeAJuke ✓σοφός

          You can order one now from overseas if you don’t want to wait. It is worth it..

          • Firestorm185

            I need to get a college job first to save up, by I want one! ^^

  • Ombra Alberto

    No thanks. No Wireless near my head for at least 2 years.

  • john orsis

    It doesn’t work with the rift i presume?

    • polysix

      they are making a rift version soon.

      • Firestorm185

        Praise the TPGods, I will definitely be buying a Rift one when it comes out!

  • Thanks for the interesting review!

  • Reuben Ahmed

    taking 2 long

  • Firestorm185

    tbh I’d love to see a hot-swappable version that could work on both Vive and Rift (although yes, I know that wouldn’t happen in 1000 years) cause I have both headsets and it would be nice to not have to disconnect it all to go from one headset to the other.

  • SandmaN

    Seriously, editor – put your ‘Editor’s Note’ stating that this was originally written on June 6th 2017 at the top of the article. That way everyone knows this is just a repost with no new information.

  • Vernon Lee Whicker

    What’s up uploadvr. No updates on the us release?

  • JesperL

    I surrendered, and preorderd the EU version for a total overprise of 350 euro (about 400$+)
    It should arrive at the end og next week 19-20’th.. can’t wait.

  • Fre Timmerman

    OK, i get that HMD stands for Head-Mounted Display. (and that’s where you might have confused the terms)
    but the cable connected to a Vive and a PC is an HDMI cable, not HMDI. you should update the text in the connections-diagram

  • knowhere0

    Is no one else concerned about security? I’m very reluctant to put this thing on our wifi network, let alone plug it into our LAN.