HTC announced that it joined the VR industry open standard VirtualLink on Monday, which works to solve price and experience barriers impeding adoption of PC-powered VR.
HTC will now contribute to the development of VirtualLink, which aims to reduce the various VR cables and connectors currently needed to power VR headsets to a single, high-bandwidth USB-C cord. The company is the latest VR player to join the standard, following the likes of Microsoft, Oculus, and NVIDIA, which were all part of VirtualLink’s inception this past July.
This is a smart move for the company, as the industry standard could make its PC-powered VR headsets, like the Vive, more attractive to consumers. That’s because the VirtualLink standard addresses two key barriers to tethered VR adoption: users’ restricted mobility and the high cost of ownership.
Regarding mobility, by reducing the number of cables on tethered headsets from as many as four or five to just one, users will be able to move more freely and easily with the device, rather than be restricted by a cluster of cords. As for price of ownership, the open standard will also allow VR headsets to run on smaller devices such as laptops and tablets, which means users won’t have to spend money on high-powered PCs that can cost $1,000 or more.
And it further cements that VirtualLink will be the baseline for all PC-powered VR experiences in the future. With the addition of HTC, three out of the four largest VR headset vendors in the world — which all offer PC-powered headsets — are now part of the VirtualLink open standard, meaning that a significant portion of tethered headsets will likely follow the standard once it’s completed.
The VirtualLink members, which include Oculus, HTC, and Microsoft, together accounted for 41% of total VR shipments in 2017. These vendors fall behind Sony, which accounts for 46% of shipments but only offers console-powered VR experiences, making it unlikely to join the open standard.
However, VirtualLink’s value might be short-lived, as 5G has the potential to eliminate the need for PCs in VR experiences altogether. 5G’s increased speeds and lower latency will open up the possibility to stream VR experiences over Wi-Fi and cellular networks, removing the need to wire a PC’s processing power into a VR headset and, in turn, making it unnecessary to own a PC for such experiences.
This shows that although VirtualLink’s benefits to PC-powered VR remain clear in the short term, the next generation of wireless networks might make the entire form factor obsolete.