High-end VR goes wireless with $220 accessory

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Virtual reality is about immersion, the feeling of being somewhere else. And today's most immersive VR is the kind where you can move around freely, using your own legs to walk and your own hands to pick things up (with the help of some controllers). The HTC Vive has occupied this space since its launch early this year, but it does still require you to drag a long cable behind you. HTC says a new experimental peripheral is about to change that.

TPCAST, a company funded by HTC's Vive X accelerator program, is launching the "VIVE tether-less upgrade kit" in Q1 2017. If it works as advertised – something we can't verify at this point – this accessory could be nothing less than the holy grail of high-end VR, taking wired headsets and making them wireless.

Mobile VR headsets, like the Gear VR and Daydream View, are already wireless, but they lack the high-end horsepower and positional body-tracking that you'll find in high-end alternatives like the Vive and Oculus Rift. Last month Facebook demoed a prototype version of the Rift that uses inside-out tracking (with sensors inside the headset itself) to cut the cords, but there was no indication it would be available to consumers anytime soon.

HTC's press materials are tight on info about TPCAST, but the image at the top of the article, provided by the company, appears to show a wireless transmitter/receiver slotting on top of the Vive's head strap (also shown below), along with a battery pack sitting on the back of the user's head.

The company also granted an interview to UploadVR, saying there would be no "noticeable difference" in latency compared to wired use. HTC also told the publication that the accessory would ship with a standard battery, with the option to purchase a second battery coming later on.

Those are big promises, and without any hands-on time we can't verify details like latency and battery life.

Right now the accessory is launching in a limited-quantity "preview edition" only sold in China. It's up for pre-order, but doesn't appear to be offering shipping to anywhere but Chinese provinces. It costs 1,499 RMB, which currently translates to around US$220.

Product page: HTC (Chinese)

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