The problem with VR is … well, VR has more than one issue. The biggest one is that it’s still too expensive. But OK. It’s a luxury. People spend a lot of money on luxury goods. That shouldn’t hold it back. OK. Well how about these problems: the software is still in an early state, it requires a lot of space, it is not as simple as turning on a controller or opening an app, you need a powerful PC, you need to withstand isolation from any nearby friends or family, and — oh, yeah — that cable is kinda annoying.
The VR industry is still working on many of those problems, but HTC has a solution to that last one. It’s the Vive Wireless Adapter, which is now available now for $300. It’s a specialized dongle for your Vive or Vive Pro that enables you to get the video signal from y our PC without the tether.
But does it work? Yes. The technology is magic. I would want any future VR or AR headset to have this built in. But taking away the cable doesn’t make VR all that much better to use.
What you’ll like
It works really well
The technology here is undeniably cool. HTC teamed up with Intel to use its WiGig zero-latency wireless communication protocol. This sends data across a 60 GHz band at up to 7 Gbps per second. Intel wants to use this in a variety of products, but it turns out that it is ideal for something like VR. Latency kills virtual reality. It doesn’t just ruin the immersion, it can make people sick. But the Wireless Adapter doesn’t suffer from any of that.
I can’t really test the experiences side-by-side, but I didn’t notice a difference going from wired to wireless. HTC made a big promise with the Wireless Adapter, and it has kept it.
The added weight isn’t uncomfortable
You connect the Vive Wireless Adapter to the headset by removing the original cable. You then slide the large dongle onto the strap of your headset. Surprisingly, this didn’t bother me during use. To be fair, I have a large head and a thick neck and shoulders, but I think most people will find the original Vive as comfortable as it ever was. Now, the device was never as weightless as a PlayStation VR and that’s still true.
HTC’s wireless add-on can also connect to the advanced audio strap for the Vive or the Vive Pro (that’s a separate Wireless Adapter though). I didn’t try those, so I can’t speak to their comfort.
The battery lasts long enough
But adding the dongle and removing the original cable means you no longer have a power line going into the headset. This means you now need to run the entire thing off of battery. That introduces some new annoyances, but I don’t think that playtime is one of them. Sure, it’s a battery, and it’s not going to last you for a six-hour session. But I found that it can go for a solid two hours without issue. And you can always get a second battery pack to swap out when you need it.
What you won’t like
You are still dealing with a cable
The battery is not integrated into the headset or the dongle. Instead, it is a bulky external brick that you can put in your pocket or clip to your belt loop. And it connects to your headset with a USB cable. So while you’re not dealing with a cable dragging across the ground, you will still find yourself getting snagged or tangled on occasion.
In certain ways, it’s less convenient
But my biggest problem with the Vive Wireless Adapter is that it makes the headset feel sloppy. Previously, you’d have a headset with a big cord sticking out that you could wrap and put away when you needed a break. Now, with the dongle attached, the Vive takes on an awkward shape. It’s even more difficult to hold in your hand.
On top of that, you now also have a separate battery and cable that you have to keep track of and manage. You need to keep it charged, and then you need to put it away somewhere you can find it next time.
And I’m sure none of that sounds terrible, and it isn’t. But it adds to the overall burden of playing VR. I can feel myself avoiding playing VR because I don’t want to deal with getting it all set up and making sure the battery is ready to go and then having to put it all away. It’s just more friction for a device that doesn’t need to give people any more excuses to ignore it.
I still love VR when I’m in it, but I also think that owning a VR headset is a bit of a hassle. You are often dealing with lighthouses and babysitting USB ports and 20-foot cables, and I don’t think that it’s really an improvement to swap out some of those things for a battery and wireless tech. The HTC Vive Wireless Adapter is a great proof of concept. The technology works. But now we need to see what the elegant implementation looks like.
The Vive Wireless Adapter is available now. HTC provided GamesBeat with a sample unit for the purpose of this review.