Tech Talk: Current Networks Won't Fit Future VR

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There are an insane number of directions that future interactions between man and machine could go in, and virtual reality is one of them. Right now, virtual reality experiences are somewhat immersive when it comes to top-end equipment; drop $1,600 or so to get a decent gaming PC and professional headset, or about $900 for a Sony PlayStation 4 and PlayStation VR, and you may look down at mech controls and feel them in your hands instead of the controller you're actually holding. Playing something like EVE: Valkyrie, touring a house, or navigating the Grand Canyon in VR can trick your inner ear into thinking you've been tipped on your side, flipped upside down, or are staring down a massive chasm and urgently need to keep your balance to avoid falling to your death. Still, these experiences are not yet all they can be, but are already eating up massive amounts of data. Current networks realistically won't keep up as the technology continues to advance.

Even on the mobile front, 4K phones can be popped into cheap headsets for a decent experience, Samsung is pushing their mid-quality Gear VR solution aggressively, and Google is set to launch their premium Daydream VR system in the very near future. All of these mobile VR experiences use apps and assets that take huge amounts of data to transfer, and even more to stream. While many carriers are working on rolling out 5G and dropping tests in the gigabit range, with some even hitting double digits, there's no telling how fast that technology will be when it's put to the real test and split between thousands of users in a given space. This means, for now, we are left waiting to see how much wiggle room mobile VR has in regards to network speed and strength. This factor may indeed affect the short-term and even long-term growth of mobile VR.

When it comes to current networks, land-based networks beyond the mythical 1 gigabit per second are rarely seen, and often quite costly. Google Fiber could, of course, fix this by offering faster packages in the future or simply lighting a fire under local telecoms, but both approaches will take time and money. Mobile network users, even with all of the bells and whistles that some networks are testing and rolling out like MIMO upgrades and three-channel carrier aggregation can't quite exceed that magical number, and 5G tests blowing through the gigabit barrier, as mentioned above, could end up amounting to a small performance bump per user in the end. One of the big barriers to better networks that we're currently facing is regulators; laws limiting spectrum usage in mobile networks, laws meant to prevent interference, and even old laws that were either written with only traditional telecoms in mind or were written in their favor for more local reasons all either blatantly or potentially stand in the way of network operators dramatically enhancing and overhauling their current networks.

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Even without those laws in the mix, however, it takes time to develop and deploy network technology, but the tech behind VR is advancing fast. The PlayStation 4 already has a 4K version with extra processing oomph, and NVIDIA recently released a new series of video cards based on a new architecture that can push all but the most demanding games at frame rates in excess of 100 frames per second, more than enough to create hyper-immersive VR at high resolutions, which means more data going in and out. Advancements like eye-tracking, new control mechanisms, and VR sickness prevention measures like Microsoft's SparseLight VR all push more data input and output. Naturally, these are going to go hand in hand with new types of VR media and interactive experiences, there are going to be more advancements, and more of the advancements only available on fixed solutions will be making their way to mobile as phones get more and more powerful with each iteration of major manufacturers' processor tech. This all adds up to what looks like a VR scene that's going to advance faster than the networks that support it, and unless that isn't the case, VR's growth and adoption could be hurt by it.

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Senior Staff Writer

Daniel has been writing for Android Headlines since 2015, and is one of the site's Senior Staff Writers. He's been living the Android life since 2010, and has been interested in technology of all sorts since childhood. His personal, educational and professional backgrounds in computer science, gaming, literature, and music leave him uniquely equipped to handle a wide range of news topics for the site. These include the likes of machine learning, Voice assistants, AI technology development news in the Android world. Contact him at [email protected]

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