Among the many themes at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the problems with virtual reality stood out.
Yes, VR is one of those astonishing technologies that makes your jaw drop when you try it, but it hasn’t taken off yet for a number of reasons. For one, it’s expensive. There’s also no good way to move around inside it. And what about that damn cable protruding from the back of your head, like an umbilical cord from The Matrix?
On that last front at least, a number of companies are working on a solution. One of them is Peraso Technologies, a Toronto-based firm that specializes in high-frequency wireless chipsets.
Peraso makes chips that transmit data in the 60 gigahertz range—considerably higher than standard wi-fi, which operates within the 2.5 GHz and 5 GHz range.
The upside to 60 GHz, according to the company, is it gets really big transfer rates and has very low latency and interference. In plain English, it’s much faster than regular wi-fi—up to 10 times faster—so it’s ideal for applications that require speedy real-time throughput, such as video games and VR.
The downside of the high frequency is that it doesn’t go through walls, but that actually works well for games and VR, which are typically single-room experiences anyway.
Virtual reality does indeed require heavy throughput, which is why the cables exist. The Oculus Rift, for example, transmits uncompressed data from a computer to the headset worn by the user at about 10 to 12 gigabits per second. That data can be compressed, but then the video quality suffers.
Peraso says its wireless technology can currently handle three to four gigabits and should be able to deal with the uncompressed rates that VR demands within the next 18 months.
“We’re speaking to all vendors of VR headsets,” says company founder and chief executive Ronald Glibbery. “They see 60 GHz as the way they’re going to solve the wireless problem.”
VR companies are indeed looking at 60 GHz, which the Wi-Fi Alliance – the technology’s governing body – is now beginning to support. The group issued its first device certifications in the fall to a handful of chip makers including Intel, Qualcomm and Peraso, which is about to release 60 GHz USB dongles for laptops.
Glibbery showed me a demo of those dongles at CES and they did indeed perform file-transfers between computers at significantly faster speeds than a traditional wi-fi router. The dongles are meant as a stop-gap product for the company until it can get its technology into other devices.
Higher-frequency data transmission also shows promise in other areas besides VR. It’s beginning to be incorporated as a third channel in routers – Netgear and TP-Link have already released such devices – to accommodate the big growth in the number of devices that are clogging up traditional wi-fi frequencies. The biggest opportunity, however, is inevitably in smartphones.
“The volume on that is so significant, we really see that as the holy grail in the next 18 months,” Glibbery says. “VR will be the next 12 to 24 months.”
The few companies that do deal in 60 GHz chips are attracting investor attention as a result. Peraso, which was founded in 2009 and is up to 95 employees, last spring announced a $20 million Series C funding round, co-led by San Jose-based semiconductor maker Integrated Device Technology.
“There are so few companies that do this technology that when somebody does a search, we come up.”
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