When NVIDIA debuted the GeForce RTX series several months back, it became the first video card chipset manufacturer to include a USB Type-C port on its reference card design. While it looks identical to the one found on your smartphone, this wasn't just a regular USB Type-C port though. This particular port was called the VirtualLink port, and it was designed to be the single connection needed for future VR head-mounted displays (HMDs), reducing the number of wires needed for these advanced headsets.
Reducing the number of ports needed for a high-quality VR experience was particularly important on laptops, where ports are quickly disappearing and those smaller USB Type-C ports really could be a saving grace for laptop gamers. Unfortunately, we've seen quite a number of new video cards ship without the VirtualLink port, which wasn't expected from the original announcement of the newest chipsets.
To make things worse, there's still no headset on the market that has an official cable or support for this VirtualLink cable. The Valve Index was supposed to be the first HMD with support and an appropriate cable but, alas, that's no longer going to be the case. In an email sent out to customers, Valve briefly explains the reasons for this cancellation.
FOR MULTIPLE TECHNICAL REASONS WE NO LONGER BELIEVE THAT THE PRODUCT WOULD DELIVER THAT ADDED CONVENIENCE. FOREMOST ON THAT LIST IS RELIABILITY. OUR CURRENT TESTING INDICATES THE VR CONNECTION MAY FAIL TO ESTABLISH IN A RELIABLE MANNER. ADDITIONALLY, VIRTUAL LINK TECHNOLOGY HAS NOT BEEN WIDELY ADOPTED BY MANUFACTURERS, LAPTOPS IN PARTICULAR (WHERE A SINGLE CONNECTION COULD BE THE MOST BENEFICIAL), TRANSLATING TO VERY FEW PCS HAVING VIABLE PORTS FOR THE CONNECTION.
Canceling this cable just because wide support is lacking from graphics cards manufacturers would make very little sense on its own. After all, the Valve Index is one of the most expensive VR HMDs on the market, and Valve has pitted this headset to enthusiasts from the beginning, meaning a large market share for the headset would be surprising, anyway. What's more important here is the part about reliability, and that's particularly concerning for the future of the standard.
If Valve is having issues getting its headset to work reliably with a port that's quite literally designed for VR HMDs, it seems like there's little hope that other companies would try to get their HMDs working with this either. This also makes us wonder about the future of wireless on the Index, as it's been teased as a possibility by Valve but there's been no concrete info on that part at all.
It's clear that wireless is the true way to go forward in VR, and it's possible that Valve recognizes this and doesn't want to spend any more R&D bucks on a new wired connection when wireless is what everyone wants. HTC's official wireless adapter for the Vive has shown that wireless for high-end PC VR HMDs isn't just possible, but it's absolutely the way we need to see things move in the future.
While VirtualLink's future certainly seems like it could be hanging in the balance, other cutting-edge tech in the VR space is only blossoming. That new Variable Shading architecture introduced on the same NVIDIA GeForce RTX generation of chipsets already has support in the form of the HTC Vive Pro Eye, and the company behind the eye-tracking foveated rendering software, Tobii, has laid out its plans for integration into future VR HMDs as well.