A number of untethered VR headsets have been unveiled this year with the hope of stimulating consumer adoption. Mobile and untethered VR may be the next step in the technology’s evolution, but experts agree that tethered isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“VR is definitely going in the direction of untethered, more than mobile,” Stephanie Llamas, VP of research and strategy at SuperData, told AListDaily. “However, on the gaming end, there will be continued potential for tethered devices for some time. Gamers will be more likely to want to add VR as an accessory to their gaming devices, but mainstream consumers will want to consume VR on standalone devices, looking at them as entertainment hardware rather than accessories.
“It will be a long time before untethered VR devices can render to the level of gamers’ expectations and contain enough content to give them replay value. So until that time, untethered devices will be most popular among those looking for entertainment that doesn’t require so much processing power,” said Llamas.
Mobile VR lacks the processing power and interactivity of VR powered by a desktop computer. To find the “sweet spot” between price and power, 2017 has seen the announcement of untethered VR headsets like Oculus Go, Vive Focus and Pico Goblin.
“Aside from the usual suspects making untethered [VR headsets] such as Oculus and HTC Vive, there are companies that are finding interesting ways to skirt tethering without actually removing it,” added Llamas. “With their recent product reveal, Magic Leap is notable in that the headset is tethered to a small, portable base, so it’s almost as ordinary as wearing headphones attached to a cell phone. Another company is TPCast, which has been available as a wireless solution for the Vive [in China] for more than a year.”
“The future is six degrees of freedom (6Dof),” explained Lewicki, with “degrees of freedom” referring to position tracking and the number of ways an object—such as a VR headset—can move within a 3D space. “Tethered headsets give a great VR experience because they are 6Dof, [while] the current mobile and untethered headsets only give you three degrees of freedom (3Dof). That’s a significant downgrade and is not the future.”
Much of today’s VR offerings simulate experiences in 3Dof—changing the camera view as users move their heads side to side or up and down. VR with 6Dof means that a user’s position is not only tracked by where they are looking, but how they are moving, including up and down and side to side—creating a more lifelike experience.
“It will take a bit of time, but 6Dof will arrive on mobile,” said Lewicki, who noted that Oculus and HTC will be releasing their 6Dof headsets at a competitive price point.
In the upcoming year, Lewicki predicts more interactive experiences for VR that are real-time and location-based.
“We are anticipating better screen quality, 3D room scanning and low network latency for real-time experiences,” he said. “It’s going to be an incremental improvement for VR. Its likely that AR will steal the show for a bit with Magic Leap and Hololens.”