TPCast invited us to the Berlin VR-Lounge to check out an advance preview of their wireless VR solution. On site there was a prepared VR-capable PC with all the right equipment. From the setup description it becomes clear that one does not simply use TPCast with one or two plugged cables—VR becomes rather more complex, despite the lack of wires. The first step is to rebuild the Vive headset. The soon-to-be superfluous cable must be removed and the TPCast receiver must be attached to the head strap. Short cables connect the receiver to the Vive's HDMI and USB ports.
On the PC side, TPCast is connected to the usual link box, which joins USB and HDMI cables in the Vive USB cable. In addition, TPCast uses a WiFi network to transmit control data. This in turn requires its own router, which must be connected to the PC. On the PC, a software program ensures the correct connection. The headset also has a mobile battery, which provides the power for the radio module and the headset. The battery should last for five hours.
Technically, TPCast complicates the VR setup, but VR users should not let this put them off too much. After all, it's the experience that counts: So we equipped the Vive with TPCast, put the rechargeable battery into the back pocket and kicked off with Space Pirate Trainer. The game is particularly well suited to show off the advantage of wireless VR: In the game you have to shoot down waves of small drones while dodging their attacks. Speed and maneuverability are key. Because you have to constantly avoid enemy bullets, headset cables are especially annoying.
TPCast promises VR unchained
According to the pitch, there are no real downsides: TPCast promises to cause an effectively unnoticeable additional latency of only 2 milliseconds. In addition, graphics don't suffer because the image signal should not be further compressed—it is the original HDMI data stream that transmits an image signal with a resolution of 2,160 x 1,200 pixels at 90 frames per second.
In Space Pirates, TPCast can keep its promises—at least as far as we could tell. Movements of the head immediately translate into the picture seen through the headset. This is a relief, as when the image is more than 20 milliseconds behind the movement, there could be a serious risk of nausea.
In the heat of battle, it was not possible to carefully verify whether there was any reduction in graphical quality—the image signal should run one to one over the 60 GHz connection. But neither of our warriors could find any indications of compression during two short sessions of Space Pirate Trainer.
In fact, the wireless Vive feels just like the wired one, only without the tripping hazard from the cable. The additional weight is not noticeable. In the first few minutes of the demo I moved very cautiously, because as a habitual VR user I had trained myself to always be careful about the cable. Only after some time did I feel comfortable with moving freely all over the playing field.
In addition to the HTC Vive, TPCast has announced that it will make the solution available to Oculus Rift users later this year.
First impressions: It's time for VR to ditch the cables
In the short demo we could not satisfactorily address three topics: What is the setup like? How stable is the radio signal really? How reliable is TPCast in longer sessions and daily use? We can only address these questions once we get the chance to run a more in-depth test.
In any case, the fact is that TPCast keeps its promise that the VR experience will not suffer from the wireless connection. On the contrary: fast games in particular benefit massively. More 'athletic' VR games, where dodging and turning are more important, will feel much better without wires.
After trying wireless VR and enjoying the greater freedom of movement, you'll be loath to tether yourself to the computer again. For Vive owners, TPCast is almost a mandatory purchase.
What do you think? Does VR need to go wireless to realize its full potential?