Any consumer-grade VR headset you buy these days has its share of compromises. Buying a self-contained or phone-based headset (e.g. Oculus Go or Samsung’s Gear VR) means giving up the power of a full-scale PC GPU and, usually, the freedom of full-scale head and hand motion tracking. But buying a tethered headset (e.g.
HTC’s new Vive Wireless Adapter does a fine job fixing that last particular compromise for Vive owners. With it, you can get the immersive graphical power of a high-end gaming PC and the freedom of being able to move around in a large VR space unencumbered by wires (or a bulky backpack laptop). It’s a best-of-both-worlds solution that we recommend highly—if you can spare the $300 in additional cost, that is.
Setting it up: It just works
Unlike the Vive itself, the Vive Wireless adapter isn’t a strictly plug-and-play affair. To use it, you have to be comfortable opening up your PC and inserting an included WiGig adapter card into a free PCI-e slot on your PC’s motherboard (if your motherboard doesn’t have a second such slot, you’re out of luck. Same deal if you only have two slots and want to link two graphics cards in an SLI setup). It’s a pretty simple process for anyone who has done any sort of tinkering with computer towers in the past, but those who rely on prefab computers that “just work” might need to expand their skills a bit.
With the WiGig adapter in place, Vive Wireless users then have to hook up a large black WiGig transmitter, which clips a bit awkwardly to the top of a monitor like an oversized webcam. That transmitter sends video and audio signals to a stylish dual-antenna receiver that velcros easily to the back side of the Vive head strap. That in turn connects to the Vive itself through short lengths of USB, HDMI, and power cables that run over the top of the head strap.
The only wire hanging off of the Vive Wireless setup is a single short USB-C cable that connects to the HTC PowerBank battery pack that actually powers both the headset and the receiver. The lightweight pack, which clips onto a belt loop or waistband, makes it pretty easy to situate that single wire behind you or under your shirt, where it won’t get in the way.
The whole setup process took me about 30 minutes, which included syncing the system to my PC through a small Vive Wireless connection app. After that, everything worked incredibly smoothly, as if my standard Vive headset was still wired directly to the PC.
Over hours of testing, the unwired Vive didn’t register a single missed frame during gameplay or any noticeable tracking lag with my movements (we weren’t able to test the adapter on the higher-resolution Vive Pro, which requires a different receiver model and an additional $60 “attachment kit”). After years spent struggling with spotty Wi-Fi issues (including questionable in-home game streaming), it felt a little magical to be getting such smooth results without wires.
Anyone who has used a tethered VR headset probably knows the extra care that needs to be taken around those big, slack wires hanging off the side of their head. Whenever you turn, walk around, or swing your arms in tethered VR, there’s always a small part of your brain that needs to be aware of that physical connection tugging you back in the real world, threatening to trip or tangle you up if you’re not careful. I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t take you out of the experience a little.
After a while, veteran tethered VR users learn to manage this annoyance, developing a sort of sixth sense for cable awareness like a stand-up comedian dragging a microphone cable around the stage. Many games made for tethered VR are already designed with this problem in mind, limiting the need for full 360-degree turning or quick movements that could cause wire tangles.
Let me tell you, you don’t realize the extent of this tethered VR “wire problem” until you go without it for a while. When I first started with the Vive Wireless Adapter, I defaulted to my usual cautious VR stance—moving deliberately and cautiously to manage the phantom cable I had grown accustomed to. After a while, I realized I was free to simply wander the room more freely, until and unless SteamVR’s Chaperone system warned me of a nearby wall.
With the Wireless Adapter, I was less hesitant to lunge for a ball in or my favorite VR table tennis simulation. I was less reluctant to whip my head around to cover my flank in and more able to use the entire room to dodge shots in and .
Simpler VR titles, like ‘s bullet hell space shoot ’em up “Xortex,” feel different when you know you can wander the room freely and approach enemies from any angle without getting wrapped up in cables. And even in titles where you don’t have to walk around much, like the excellent rhythm game , it’s nice swinging your arms with the knowledge that there’s no chance you’ll catch a cable.
The only technical factor limiting this newfound freedom is that battery pack. While HTC claims it’s rated for three hours of continuous play time, that ended up closer to four in my tests. That’s not too shabby, especially since spending more than four straight hours in VR can get pretty uncomfortable anyway.
The other practical limiting factor, of course, is the price. As nice as wireless high-end VR is, $300 is a pretty dear cost to ask for the whole package. And that’s on top of what you pay for the Vive itself ($500 for the standard model or $1,100 for the Vive Pro) and the high-end PC that can power it. Plus, you really should invest the $100 in Vive’s Deluxe Audio strap rather than relying on the flimsy fabric included with the headset. Unless you’re independently wealthy, that all starts to add up quickly.
After you experience the freedom of untethered, high-end VR streamed from a nearby computer, though, it’s hard to go back. So if money isn’t a concern, the Vive Wireless Adapter allows for a compromise-free VR experience unlike anything else out there.