Less than 24 hours to the Creator Economy Summit! Save 50% on a subscription and get a free ticket

AR/VR

Why AR and VR Still Struggle to Go Wireless

A slew of recent AR and VR devices are hitting the market without cables, most notably Facebook’s Oculus Quest headsets. To fulfill the promise of all-day use, headsets and glasses need to be wireless eventually. But after seeing some of the new hardware coming later this year, it’s clear to me that the freedom of wireless may not be worth the trade-offs.

Crossed Wires in the Conference Room

Take Campfire’s recently unveiled headset, which works either as an AR device or, with a quick visor swap, a VR device. That flexibility is offset by the fact that the Campfire headset is connected to a PC with a cable.

I got a demonstration of it last week, in a nearly empty office in Brooklyn, NY, where I met with Campfire CEO Jay Wright and COO Roy Ashok. As they explained it, Campfire is targeting its headset to product designers. The primary use case the company’s pitching is for design reviews; anyone with a headset on can examine a 3D object floating in place above a simple cross-shaped device called the “console.” A PowerPoint-like app lets users flip through a series of 3D models and scenes with their phones.

For all the inconvenience of the cable, there come potential savings because graphics processing can be offloaded to the PC?. Yet the executives are still of the mind that relying on a wire could hold its devices back in the long run.

“We’d love to get rid of the cable,” Wright said. “Especially when you get into meeting rooms and conference room environments, where you've got a lot of people together and we want to switch places or walk between each other. But I think the cable does give us simplicity and the robustness that we need. So that's why we started there.”

What the Steam Deck Means for VR

The day after my Campfire demo, VR enthusiasts on Twitter began eagerly dissecting the specs of Valve’s new Steam Deck, a $400 handheld PC. Valve acknowledged that the Steam Deck can be hooked up to a VR headset via a dock, but the system may lack the power to handle more demanding VR games.

The Steam Deck is using a chip similar to the ones in the newest home consoles from Sony and Microsoft. That makes the device more powerful than Nintendo’s Switch handheld, but it’s still optimized to work on-the-go with a single, small screen. Running any modern VR game would be roughly twice as taxing as what the device is designed to handle.

But some fans of Valve’s wired Index VR headset hope that the Steam Deck is a preview of things to come: perhaps Valve could use a next-generation chip similar to the one in the Steam Deck in a standalone wireless headset. That could be the direction Valve’s headed in (and Facebook should worry about yet another Quest competitor if so), but the idea ignores one of the major downsides to the Steam Deck: battery life of around 3 to 6 hours. Good luck getting an even more power hungry PC chip in a headset to last for a fraction of that time.

The Battery Barrier

The battery life problem is an inescapable issue for any kind of gaming-ready device, whether it’s capable of AR/VR or not. It’s something that hardware makers should weigh carefully against the pressure from Facebook and others that have cut the cord.

The Quest 2, by most accounts, only runs for two or three hours before it needs to be charged. For at least the next few years, it seems wireless AR devices will be even more constrained by battery life: Snap’s first AR Spectacles aren’t available for sale for a few reasons, but the puny 30 minute battery life wouldn’t win over consumers if they were. Batteries also add to the heft of a device, and if cables are a serious barrier to adoption of AR and VR devices, weight is too.

Right now, the quality of the VR and AR that companies like Valve and Campfire can muster on their wired devices can far outstrip what’s possible with standalone headsets. Barring miracle improvements in chips or battery efficiency, that will be true for years to come—and any company rushing to go wireless might be giving up on the very advantages that help their products stand out next to the likes of the Quest.

Other news:

  • Racket: NX, a VR racquetball game, received an endorsement from the International Racquetball Federation. Developers One Hamsa are planning changes to Racket: NX that could see it approved as an Olympic Virtual Series sport.

Thanks for reading Reality Check. I’d love to hear your thoughts any time at [email protected] And if you know someone who might like this newsletter, just forward it along and point them to www.theinformation.com/reality-check so they can sign up for it.

See you tomorrow,

Mathew

CORRECTION: Campfire's CEO. is Jay Wright. An earlier version of this newsletter incorrectly identified the CEO.


Mathew Olson is the writer for The Information’s Reality Check, a newsletter devoted to following trends, innovations and news in AR and VR. He is based in New York and can be reached by email at [email protected] or Signal at 646-694-0692.
Get access to exclusive coverage
Read deeply reported stories from the largest newsroom in tech.
Latest Articles
 
The Briefing Markets Economy
Snap Sends Shiver Through Ad Stocks
Snap CEO Evan Spiegel. Photo by Bloomberg.
Uh oh. Snap’s warning this afternoon that its second-quarter revenue and profits will be below what it projected just a few weeks ago, thanks to a faster than expected deterioration in macroeconomic conditions, is an ominous signal for the ad market. Snap had outperformed many of its digital ad peers, most obviously Meta Platform, Twitter and Pinterest, in revenue growth in recent quarters. If...
Latest Briefs
 
Zoom Shares Jump After Strong Earnings Report, Forecast
Klarna to Cut 10% of Global Workforce
Mark Zuckerberg Sued by D.C. Attorney General Over Cambridge Analytica Scandal
Stay in the know
Receive a summary of the day's top tech news—distilled into one email.
Access on the go
View stories on our mobile app and tune into our weekly podcast.
Join live video Q&A’s
Deep-dive into topics like startups and autonomous vehicles with our top reporters and other executives.
Enjoy a clutter-free experience
Read without any banner ads.
Apple's Tim Cook (clockwise from top left), Bob Iger, Al Gore and Mike Rockwell. Images by Bloomberg, Shutterstock. Art by Mike Sullivan.
Exclusive Facebook Apple
The Inside Story of Why Apple Bet Big on a Mixed-Reality Headset
In 2016, Apple’s board of directors gathered inside one of its buildings in Cupertino, Calif., for a glimpse into the company’s future.
(L-R) Jonathan Ive, Johny Srouji, Dan Riccio and Tim Cook. Photos by Bloomberg; Apple. Art by Mike Sullivan
Exclusive Apple AR/VR
Behind the Apple Design Decisions That Bogged Down Its Mixed-Reality Headset
Apple’s executives had a critical design decision to make about the company’s riskiest product in years.
Data Point Entertainment
Netflix Cancellations Rise Among Long-Standing Subscribers
Netflix is losing its grip on long-standing subscribers. New data show that people who have been subscribers to Netflix for more than three years accounted for a significantly greater share of cancellations in the first quarter than they did two years earlier.
(L-R) Cameo CEO and founder Steven Galanis, and Cameo co-founders Devon Townsend and Martin Blencowe. Photo by Getty. Art by Mike Sullivan.
Exclusive Venture Capital Startups
At Cameo, Boom Times Give Way to Sharp Sales Slowdown
By the beginning of last year, six-year-old startup Cameo was on a tear. Pandemic-induced lockdowns in 2020 had spurred demand for the personalized video messages celebrities sell on its website and app.
Art by Clark Miller
The Big Read Crypto
Panic at the Discord
The crypto party was as raucous as ever—and then someone turned on the lights. After a year of record-high token prices and newfound support from legacy financial institutions like Fidelity and BlackRock, reality bit hard the second week of May when the algorithmic stablecoin terraUSD (known as UST) crashed, taking down some $400 billion in crypto market cap with it.
Brian Armstrong, chief executive officer of Coinbase Global Inc. Photo by Bloomberg.
Exclusive Crypto
Coinbase Slashes Costs, Freezes Hiring Amid Crypto Crash
Cryptocurrency trading firm Coinbase, whose revenue has shrunk amid a downturn in the sector, is pausing new business projects, freezing hiring for two weeks and aiming to slash its cloud spending on Amazon Web Services, among other cost-cutting measures, according to a pair of internal emails sent to employees this week and viewed by The Information.