In a significant step forward for the Virtual Reality (VR) industry, a consortium of leading tech companies has agreed to develop a hardware-agnostic, industry standard “VirtualLink” – a specification for a standardised USB cable for VR headsets.
Major chip maker AMD, Microsoft, GPU specialist NVIDIA, leading VR headset maker Oculus and prominent game developer Valve co-released the specifications of the cable with the hope that it will become a widely adopted new standard.
VirtualLink is a single high bandwidth USB cable specification that lets developers connect headsets to PCs via just one cable. The new connection will be an alternative mode USB Type C; the 24-pin connector commonly used in mobile devices.
Welcomed by Developers
Speaking to Computer Business Review, Ben Bennett, founder of Luminous Group Ltd, a 3D technology provider said: “It will definitely aid in the development of cross platform applications and allow for more thorough testing of the created application as the developer could literally take one headset off and put another one on and it would just work.”
“Currently plugging in the display port connection, sensors, audio and power cables take time when switching between headsets, unifying this process into a single connection will inevitably free up developer time and allow for faster iteration on multiple headsets,” he added.
The VirtualLink cable can deliver up to 27 watts of power to VR headsets while simultaneously delivering four high-speed HBR3 DisplayPort lanes with a built in option of future scalability.
The proposed cable to standardise the industry will also have the capability to support high-resolution cameras and sensors via a USB3.1 data channel.
Growing Market for VR
As Computer Business Review reported back in April, the VR market is set to grow five-fold in sales by the year 2022, with CCS Insights estimating that the value of the technology will be worth nearly £10 billion in just a few years.
Currently gaming applications are the main driver for consumer VR technology and with the inclusion of Valve in a projects such as this, that is unlikely to change.
Pierre-Loup Griffais a coder at Valve, a videogame hardware and software company working in the consortium commented: “We hope to see the results of this collaboration enhance the user experience and extend the possibilities for all developers and hardware manufacturers.”
Mr Bennett of Luminous Group informed us that: “Using the USB for everything will also free up extra graphics card connections making it easier to mirror the VR content on your monitor, especially if you’re using a laptop.”
“Headsets like the HTC Vive need 3 external power sockets, these aren’t always available so powering everything through a single USB will be a vast improvement.”
“Having said all this though, cracking true wireless headsets is the holy grail and what everyone wants in a VR experience,” he added.
VirtualLink Open Industry Standards
Due to VirtualLink having designed specifically for VR it is hoped that it will achieve a high level of optimisation and developers will experience reduced latency issues.
The special purpose cable should be able to manage the high bandwidth demands of the next-generation of VR applications.
Sangita Verma, CSO at Spring, a strategic retail accelerator told Computer Business Review that: “VR has several issues to tackle before it becomes truly mainstream but implementing open industry standards is absolutely crucial for mass adoption.”
“Open industry standards will allow developers to streamline their development leading to better content and, more importantly in my opinion, will help drive down costs. Right now, VR headsets are just too expensive for the mass market,” she added.
While VR can be great for industry training programs, it unfortunately may not be suited for dynamic factory floors, as with VR you are essential blind to your environment as you immerse yourself in an generated reality.
Augmented reality is more suited to industry uses and smart glasses like Google Enterprise and Epson’s Moverio Pro BT-2000 are already having an impact as we reported earlier.