Virtual Reality becoming more of a reality at Computex Taipei
Virtual reality becoming more of a reality at Computex Taipei
Michael McManus, DIGITIMES, Taipei [Thursday 1 June 2017]
A number of announcements and technology demos were made and seen at Computex Taipei this year that are sure to help virtual reality (VR) technology become more accessible and exciting for consumers moving forward. And while industry giants like Intel and Microsoft may have made the big splashes at the show, an announcement from some lesser-known but still key industry players may also have an impact as the market matures.
During Intel's keynote on the first day of the show, Gregory M. Bryant, senior vice president and general manager of the Client Computing Group at Intel, announced that VR was going wireless, with Intel partnering with HTC to create a VR accessory that utilizes WiGig technology to allows HTC Vive customers to get quality VR experiences without the wires.
Then there was Microsoft, which followed up on its push last year at Computex to merge physical and virtual realities through mixed reality solutions by showing off designs its partners have been working on over the past year. Microsoft's goal with the platform is to enable a single and consistent user interface, standardized inputs, and a universal app platform for developers. The company indicated that headsets from Acer, Asustek, Dell, Hewlett Packard (HP), and Lenovo are expected to be available by the holiday season at the end of the year.
Microsoft noted that Asustek will be launching a futuristic head-mount device that features six degrees of freedom (DOF) in a tracked motion controller, Dell is partnering with Microsoft to deliver an affordable consumer headset to bring mixed reality experiences to a broad audience, and Lenovo will deliver a mixed reality headset - which will feature built-in sensors to enable inside-out tracking and simplified set-up - to the market by the end of the year. In addition, at Microsoft's Build conference prior to the show, the company announced that Windows Mixed Reality developer kits from Acer and HP are available for pre-order.
Perhaps lost in the VR buzz shuffle was an announcement of the founding of a group called ICVR, based on a partnership between LG Electronics, Analogix Semiconductor, Tencent, and Dell. The group has developed, and will continue to develop what it calls an Interface for Connected VR (ICVR) standard, which defines how virtual reality source (VRS) devices, such as smartphones, PCs and other consumer electronics, connect and interoperate with head-mounted displays (HMDs).
The open industry standard for VR, AR and MR headset connectivity is based on DisplayPort over USB-C and features multi-channel audio, high-definition video, and the head-tracking measurement data required to render the virtual environment between the VRS and the HMD. Industry-standard content protection technology is also available.
One of the key goals of ICVR is to separate the VR source device from the head-mounted display and allow interoperability between devices from different manufacturers of VR solutions. This means consumers can have confidence that a VR headsets will work with any ICVR compliant smartphone or PC.
Ramchan Woo, vice president, new product development at LG Electronics observed that an industry standard can drive an increased level of investment in VR products by hardware manufacturers, developers, and content creators, bringing more applications and an improved VR user experience to consumers.
According to Analogix CTO Ning Zhu, VR solutions available in the market today are all proprietary so they do not interoperate with each other. Connectivity based on USB Type-C is something that would eliminate the proprietary protocols and connectors, which is beneficial to the entire VR ecosystem, ICVR stated.
The ICVR specification will be available for adopters in the third quarter of 2017, the organization stated.
One of the founders of the group, IC design house Analogix is probably best known for its SlimPort display solutions but the company is now looking to make a name for itself in the fast-growing VR industry. Early this year, the company launched its ANX7580 mobile receiver solution, a chip that supports 8 MIPI lanes and is applicable to headsets that use a single panel shared between both eyes. It supports panel resolutions up to a total of 2560x1600.
Commenting on the number of HMDs featured by vendors at the Computex show, Matt Ready, VP of sales at Analogix, pointed out that the ANX7580 would feature in most if there was a teardown of those products.
Ready explained that previous generations of VR HMDs had issues with frame rates not being fast enough and this is an issue the 7580 addresses through bandwidth, and the market is always asking for a fatter pipe.
Ready added that Analogix has developed its VR solutions by leveraging its history of products proven on many generations of silicon. The company's IP when it comes to low-power, high-speed Serializer/Deserializer (SERDES), is ideal for converting DisplayPort input to MIPI-DSI output. In terms of specs, the DisplayPort 1.4 input supports link frequencies up to 6.75Gbps while MIPI-DSI 1.2 output supports link frequencies up to 1.5Gbps, with either 4-lanes or 8-lanes per eye. HDCP 2.2 and 1.4 high-bandwidth digital content protection is also supported.
According to Ready, there are currently four types of flavors that appear in the VR market. On the entry level there is Google Cardboard where you simply wear a handset on your face. Then there is PC VR which is sort of on the high-end of the market and features high-performance GPUs for products like Oculus. All-in-one is another type of solution for VR where you have everything inside the headset. Analogix calls the fourth kind of solution tethered VR, whereby an HMD is connected to any number of different devices, such as a handset, PC, tablet or media player. The company believes the biggest volume of shipments will come from this area of the market, once connectivity standards are set. And Analogix believes the future is USB type C when it comes to connectivity.
Analogix calls its development in the VR area a bottom-up approach. Companies like Steam and OSVR are taking a top down approach while Analogix is simply making sure that things work at the interconnect level. Miguel Rodriguez, senior marketing manager at Analogix, said it is their job to make sure that when a user connects two ICVR compliant devices that there is a guaranteed level of performance.
The 7530 will be in mass production in July, and Rodriguez predicts that 90% of the HMDs for PCs launched in the next year will likely have an Analogix solution inside.
Moreover, while the 7530 targets the HMD market, Analogix is also working on the computing side of the market. Previously the company was a major player in the handset industry for enabling video-out on smartphones by providing a MIPO-to-DisplayPort converter chip for implementation into the device. However, Qualcomm has begun integrating video-out into its mobile processors. Analogix though, does not see this as something that will constrain its business since it will now become that much easier for smartphones to be able to connect to HMDs, since video-out will become a standard feature supported on the devices.
Moreover, the requirements for VR continue to increase, meaning handsets need even more bandwidth. In line with this, DisplayPort connectors are roadmapped to have one, two, or four differential data pairs (lanes) in a Main Link. The high bit rate (HBR) for two lanes (HBR2) supports 5.4 Gbit/lane while the roadmap to HBR3 calls for support of 8.1Gbit/lane. Higher speeds call for additional challenges, Rodriguez indicated.