Lots of things are holding back the widespread usage of virtual reality, including side effects like motion sickness and high prices for equipment. But one prickly challenge is getting rid of the wires that connect high-end headsets to video game consoles and personal computers.
Now, one company aiming to sell graphics chips for virtual reality is also diving into wireless hardware for untethering headsets. On Monday, Advanced Micro Devices said that it had bought a 13-year-old company called Nitero, whose wireless chips can stream video into premium virtual reality headsets.
Nitero's chips transmit images using a version of Wi-Fi that operates in the 60 gigahertz frequency band. The firm says that its WiGig chips combine low latency with high throughput, creating an invisible wire for the virtual reality systems. That could lessen the delay between the headset's display and the user's head movements.
“Unwieldly headset cables remain a significant barrier to drive widespread adoption of VR,” Mark Papermaster, AMD's chief technology officer, said in a statement. The deal fits into its "long-term technology investments to develop high-performance computing and graphics technologies that can create more immersive computing experiences,” he added.
To improve coverage and reliability, the chips can shape signals around obstacles using beamforming, directly shooting data into headsets and computers. This helps get around the shortfalls of millimeter wave spectrum like the 60 GHz band, which require a line of sight between devices and cannot penetrate walls.
Few chip makers are targeting wireless virtual reality, but most are turning to WiGig. Intel, for instance, is using the technology in its Project Alloy headset, while Qualcomm and Lattice Semiconductor have released products for the market. Another is the little-known Peraso Technology, a start-up making 60GHz chips for wireless displays and broadband applications.
The Austin, Texas-based Nitero started out in the market for mobile devices, but it shifted in recent years into virtual reality. Most major manufacturers like Facebook's Oculus, Sulon, and HTC are aiming to make wireless headsets that provide a more immersive experience than ones using smartphones as the display.
In the deal, AMD is acquiring patents and key engineers from Nitero, though it has not said how it would integrate the technology with its own. Pat Kelly, Nitero's chief executive of eight years, will join AMD as its vice president of wireless IP. AMD did not share the terms of the deal.