One of the advantages mobile VR kit (like the Samsung Gear VR or Google Daydream View) has over the more powerful devices (like the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive) is that the latter bunch of headsets need a wired connection to a computer – which can very quickly yank you out of your immersive experience if you stray too far or trip over the cable.
Enter the TPCAST, the first gadget out of HTC’s specially approved development programme for accessories. It acts as both a battery for the Vive and a wireless transmitter, releasing you from the wires and letting you wander around your magical virtual reality world with a bit more freely. Its makers are promising less than two milliseconds of latency over the air, and around 90 minutes of gameplay between battery charges. You’ll still be limited to the room-scale environment set by the Vive’s base station sensors, although this limited roaming is something HTC does better than Oculus right now.
While you can preorder the kit now, it won’t be shipping until the start of 2017, and supply is expected to be tight. The official listed price is 1,499 Chinese yuan, which converts to roughly £175 or $220. There’s also a version coming soon with a bigger battery you keep in your pocket, for even longer periods of gameplay. If TPCAST can meet its claims – and early demos suggest it can – it’s set to be the must-have HTC Vive accessory of next year. Based on a rough currency conversion, the TPCAST is going to set you back around £175/$220
Will this add-on make you feel sick?
Latency is the enemy of good VR: the delay between your movements and the response you see in front of your eyes, even if its a small one, can ruin the experience and even make you nauseous. The TPCAST has a promised latency of less than 2 milliseconds, which should keep the vomit at bay – it’s also less than the latency of the Vive controllers, which have a worst-case delay of 2.7 milliseconds. Most industry experts think anything under 20 milliseconds is safe enough, but that still requires a lot of processing power… hence the high-end PCs and smartphones needed.
Everyone wants cable-free VR
MSI VR One
One alternative to ditching the wires is to carry your gaming PC around with you. Enter the MSI VR One, available to pre-order now from a starting price of $1,999 (about £1,610), and offering around three hours of game time per charge.
Zoltac VR GO
Also taking the backpack route is PC maker Zoltac. The VR GO backpack is packed with top-end components and can still be used as a desktop PC. We don’t have pricing or availability details yet but expect to see it at CES 2017.
Intel Project Alloy
Intel is working on a prototype called Project Alloy that takes a different approach: packing everything you need into the headset itself. As yet there’s no firm launch date but this is likely to be the future of VR technology.
Oculus Santa Cruz
Oculus and owner Facebook aren’t standing still, and they recently showed off a wireless, all-in-one prototype of their own called Santa Cruz – no PC needed. It’s just a question of getting the components both powerful and light enough.
Some of the brightest minds in science are on the case too, with MIT researchers developing a wireless VR attachment called MoVR that lets any headset communicate with its base PC or console without the need for cables.