Last month, HTC quietly announced a peripheral called TPCast that professed to provide wireless functionality to the Vive VR headset, which ordinarily requires you to be tethered to a PC with a thick, lengthy cable. Designed and built by a startup inside HTC’s Vive X accelerator program, it’s only available to order in China for now, but it’s coming worldwide soon and is at CES this week. I just tried it out. Does it work? Yes.
Because of the immense bandwidth required just to get a high enough framerate on the Vive headset itself, I was expecting wireless VR to be quite a bit further away than this — even wireless monitors aren’t really practical just yet. But the TPCast works without much, if any, noticeable lag. There were occasional skipped frames, but that could have been down to tracking interference in a crowded demo area; I sometimes see similar minor glitches with my own Vive setup at home. The best thing I can say about the TPCast device is that, through a series of varied Vive demos from an educational science app to a fast-paced first-person shooter, I often forgot I was using it.
And that is to say it makes the regular Vive experience better. I never forget I’m using the normal Vive, because its cable is heavy and requires constant attention to avoid getting tangled up in. Assuming the TPCast device works as well in practice as it does in a demonstration environment, it really could change the game completely for room-scale VR.
There are issues, of course. Battery life from the larger 6,000mAh cell is rated for 2 hours, which is longer than most VR sessions but will be something users will need to keep track of; the battery died right at the beginning of my demo session and had to be replaced. And that battery means that this iteration of the TPCast isn’t entirely wireless — there’s still a cable running out of the headset, with the battery designed to be stuck in a back pocket. The device is going to be a lot less practical for someone wearing a dress than for someone wearing jeans.
It’s also going to cost $249 in the US, which is quite a lot to pay for a wireless adapter for anything. But we’re still in the early-adopters-throwing-money-at-fun-ideas phase of VR, and HTC might find it has more than a few people willing to pay when it puts the TPCast on sale in the second quarter of this year.
The company is committed to exploring other wireless solutions, too — it also announced a WiGig-based collaboration with Intel that we’ll hopefully get to check out later this week.