Musk’s Long Road to Mars: How Poor Planning Dogged the Development of SpaceX RocketRead Now

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 microsoft enterprise
Microsoft Might Keep Losing in Search and Still Win
Satya Nadella. Photo by Bloomberg.
Could Microsoft win even if it loses in the next chapter of internet search? That was the question running through my head at an event in Redmond, Wash., earlier today, where Microsoft confirmed reporting from The Information and others when it announced it will remake its Bing search engine using artificial intelligence technology from OpenAI.     The new and improved...
Latest Briefs
 
Goldman Sachs Asset Management Closes $5.2 Billion Growth Fund
Twitter’s Head of Revenue Strategy & Operations Departs
Meta Beginning Effort to Trim Managerial Ranks
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.
The supplement stacks of 11 founders and investors. Photos courtesy of subjects.
The Big Read culture
The Supplement Stacks: All the Pills, Powders and Potions Filling Tech’s Kitchen Counters
When Courtney Reum wakes up in his Los Angeles home, it’s time to freeze, shake and dangle upside down.
Photos via Adept Labs, Edmund Hillary Fellowship, Gantry ML, KIT Gründerschmiede, Sci Founders, Shutterstock, Stanford University, University of Central Florida, UC Irvine, UC Berkeley and YouTube.
Exclusive ai
OpenAI Is Making Headlines. It’s Also Seeding Talent Across Silicon Valley
OpenAI has just 375 full-time employees, but its buzzy chatbot, ChatGPT, is shaking up Silicon Valley.
Verily headquarters in San Francisco. Photo by AP.
Exclusive google
Revenues Rise at Alphabet’s Biggest ‘Other Bet’ But So Do Losses
Verily, by far the biggest Alphabet unit by revenue after Google, continues to post heavy losses, according to previously undisclosed financial information.
Art by Clark Miller.
The 1:1 google
‘We Just Have to Keep Winning’: A Sonos Executive With a Colorful History Goes to War Against Google
A few months into his job as chief legal officer of Sonos, Eddie Lazarus was ready to wage war. When Lazarus joined the audio hardware company in late 2018, it was facing growing competition from tech giants like Amazon and Google.
John and Patrick Collison. Photos by Bloomberg.
markets startups
Stripe Walks Tightrope to Stay Private. Could Other Firms Follow?
Thirteen years after starting Stripe, chief executive Patrick Collison is raising his company’s largest ever slug of cash from venture capitalists.
Illustration by Clark Miller.
Opinion startups
Stop Paying People So Much
Every startup leadership team wrestles with the trade-offs between growth and profitability. This is fitting and ever shall be.