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How virtual reality will shape the future of your PC hardware

Mark Hachman | March 28, 2016
VR's very specific set of hardware requirements is already influencing the components that go into your PC.

Intel’s Soqui and representatives from other chip makers say they see AR and VR technologies eventually meeting in the middle. We’re already seeing signs of that, as with the HTC Vive, which includes basic AR capabilities. Intel’s vision goes further: Soqui says Intel believes it can eventually “tether” a VR device to a PC by streaming gobs of data across a wireless link—even knowing that latency has to be avoided at all costs. 

“That’s our goal,” Soqui said. “Talk to anyone making any [head-mounted displays]. They wish they didn’t have the wire.”

How will Intel do that? Soqui declined to comment. But Intel has already launched a wireless dock that supports the new 802.11ad WiGig standard, which can stream a whopping 7Gbps over short distances. Intel and Qualcomm also recently announced interoperability between their respective 802.11ad chipsets. Intel’s goal for “wire-free” PCs has been a little aggressive, but the company believes in the mission enough to build 802.11ad support into Skylake PCs. VR makes the argument for such support even stronger. 

The only problem: 802.11ad uses 60GHz technology, which can’t really penetrate walls. An “untethered,” wireless VR solution, therefore, will likely require a broadcast point in the same room.

VR needs apps and content—and it’s getting them

Recently, at the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, VR was inescapable. Kim Pallister, the director of content at Intel, described its popularity this way:

“At the Game Developers Conference they occasionally will have a track that’s popular, and they’ll have an overflow room. This year they overflowed the overflow room, and they actually moved the entire track to a larger venue for the second day. I’ve never seen that happen in 23 years at GDC.”

VR is surprisingly mature for an industry that hasn’t even actually launched. There’s a “free” option: Google Cardboard, which has even been available in a box of breakfast cereal. There’s a convenient distribution method: The Vive, co-developed by HTC and Valve software, delivers software via Steam codes. Another 40 or so experiences, apps, and games are available to try out for the Rift. 

And brands love VR, too. Chuck Peil, head of business development and partnerships at ReelFX, said he was aware of about 30 pieces of VR content that companies like Lucasfilm, American Express, and others had either commissioned or were working on. There’s even a rivalry between the two leading VR camps: Vive and Rift. Jean-Michel Blottiere, executive director of an animation conference at Germany’s Filmakademie Baden-Wurttemberg, said that developers interested in telling a story seem to be leaning toward the HTC Vive, favoring the freedom that the headset allows within a virtual space.

What all this means is that there should be a viable ecosystem of apps and content, enough to help keep early VR adopters interested. As products like Microsoft’s Lumia smartphone have shown us, without apps, users will wander off.

 

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