Making High-End Untethered VR a Reality

At GDC earlier this month, we test drove the Pico Neo CV, an all-in-one system that lets you experience 6DoF, roomscale VR with a crucial exception to normal high-end systems: no wire.

Right now, the VR industry hosts a variety of mobile and console options—but the former is fixed-position (meaning that, no matter where you move your body, your viewpoint stays the same) and the latter includes a tether, a prospect that renders “losing yourself” to a virtual environment a bit risky (don’t trip!).

As you can see in the video below from this year’s CES in Las Vegas, not so with Pico Neo CV:

“Other products that are tethered or require a PC—they have their inherent limitations in terms of setting up; it’s complex and technically challenging for some folks.” said Pico VP of Business Development Paul Viglienzone. “At the more entry-level end for mobile phone you have to put the mobile phone into something—battery life can be a challenge, and there are various other challenges. We want to design the experience that allows people to just grab the product and go. There’s no challenge to enter, you just put it on and you’re in VR.”

In the experience I demoed, my job was to navigate around the laser security system in a daunting dungeon challenge. The Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor stood up handsomely to the various ducks and shimmies I threw at it to make it across the room. And while the system itself is a refreshing answer to one of VR’s biggest pain points, the headset is also one of the most beautiful pieces of VR hardware you’ll encounter. As it turns out, the marriage of form and function are baked into the company’s DNA.

“Our mantra is really consumer-first design,” said Viglienzone. “Everything we build starts from the consumer.”

Of course, the major need for any VR hardware system right now is to produce content that consumers want to engage with. To that end, Pico announced their SDK during GDC, which includes a Unity plugin. Developers can register here to start crafting the compelling, cutting-edge experiences that will be best experienced in untethered, 6Dof VR.

“We’re working with over 100 developers right now,” said Viglienzone. “We also have a first-party studio who made our demo here [GDC], and we’re working with non-game partners as well—video partners to bring non-game experiences and 360 video, as well as games.”

In trying to build the ecosystem, Pico hopes to foster the development of top-tier content by making it an intuitive process for developers.

“We’re not really into exclusivity or anything like that—we might have some just because we’re the only 6DoF mobile device—but we want to support the industry and support the developers,” said Viglienzone. “Our goal, really, is to help get as much good content as we can get, and make it as easy to develop for the platform as possible. We’re invested in bringing as many folks onto the platform as we can—obviously because we want to provide as much content for consumers—but also we’re interested in developers even bringing legacy content. For us it’s about: how do we build an ecosystem for developers where they can make money off the platform but also how can we bring great content to consumers?”

In addition to the latest SDK, an Unreal plugin is in the works. Consumers, meanwhile, can expect to find the system at major tech and gaming events like E3 and GamesCon before the consumer launch later this year.

“We want to get as many hands on it as possible,” said Viglienzone. “And the great thing is, once consumers put it on, they get it. It’s no hassle. You’re in there.”

While there are various high-end and mobile solutions on the market right now, Viglienzone is convinced Pico Neo CV is one-of-a-kind.

“The main product proposition here is: we’re going to have this product priced well, it’s super easy to access and beautifully designed, and it’s 6DoF, untethered, free,” said Viglienzone. “How VR should be.”

About the Scout

Jesse Damiani

Jesse Damiani is Editor-at-Large of VRScout and Deputy Director of Emerging Technology at Southern New Hampshire University. He's also Series Editor for Best American Experimental Writing (Wesleyan University Press) and the author of @endless$pectator: The Screens Suite #loliloquy (BlazeVOX, 2017). Other writing can be found on Adweek, Billboard, Forbes, Quartz, and The Verge.

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