Virtual reality, like all other realities, can be a tangle of annoying wires. That is not a particularly promising reality, so VR fans were likely pleased to read a recent Quark VR newsletter, which announced the company was working with Valve to build a wireless HTC VIVE.
Before you get too cheerful, however, here is Motherboard’s Ian Birnbaum with a helpful explanation of why wireless VR isn’t as easy as it sounds:
The trick will be finding a way to stream a ton of data without bringing back the lag that hardware iteration has slowly ironed out of head-mounted display technology. Back in the bad old days of the early Rift prototypes, motion sickness solutions showed a lot of promise if they improved nausea-free VR time by two seconds. Display lag time, already measured in milliseconds, got shorter as the hardware got better. The lower the latency, the less motion sickness users felt in VR.
So, wireless VR probably isn’t coming anytime soon—but at least people are working on it! (That is the definition of a lukewarm take, courtesy of your friends at Versions and Kill Screen. Thank us later.)
every tweak requires a sacrifice somewhere else
But this also speaks to the current technical challenges facing VR. In the grander scheme of things, humanity is close—so close!—but also so far from delivering an immersive experience. Every tweak, like an upgrade in streaming or latency, requires a sacrifice somewhere else, such as more wiring. And wiring isn’t great, because you can feel it sometimes and it takes you out of the moment. (In that respect, VR is a lot like sex, but let’s not plumb that parallel further right now.)
This, in a strange way, is a technological analogue to the uncanny valley, where the final challenge for delivery is in some ways the most insurmountable. (Similarly, networks often worry most about the last foot and/or mile.) It’s worth contextualizing this problem as one that arises when most larger issues have already been solved.