Analogix's ICVR Could Make VR HMDs Less Cumbersome

Virtual reality activity at Computex earlier in June was sparse, with the usual assortment of “VR Ready” systems and components, but a small group consisting of Analogix Semiconductor, Dell, LG, and Tencent announced a potentially significant building block that went practically unnoticed. The group revealed ICVR, or "Interface for Connected VR," which is an attempt to standardize the physical connectivity of VR HMDs using DisplayPort over USB Type-C.

The key purveyor here is Analogix, a leader in DisplayPort technology. The company makes a variety of HDMI and DisplayPort transmitter and receiver cores, port controllers, and display controllers, and you’re likely making use of some of those on either (or both) a source device or display. The company’s DisplayPort timing controllers, for example, are in high-end notebook panels from LG, Samsung, Beijing Opto-Electronics, and Sharp, among others.

Earlier this year, the company created a series of mobile receivers (SlimPort DP to Quad MIPI-DSI display controllers) that let manufacturers use 120Hz displays in smartphones, mobile VR devices, and AR glasses, as well as 4K 60Hz panels in mobile devices.

Now the company is trying to position itself further in the world of VR. Clearly, ICVR stands to benefit Analogix, whose technology fits nicely within the confines of the proposed standard. The company’s architect also chairs a special interest group for VR and AR within VESA, so Analogix is making sure it’s a critical part of this developing ecosystem.

Using DisplayPort over USB Type-C will allow audio, video, head tracking data, and power to traverse a single cable between a VR headset and a VR source (PC or smartphone). Not only would a single cable reduce some of the clutter today’s high-end HMDs impose, but such a scheme would allow the elimination of transmitting radios and batteries from the headset, thereby allowing manufacturers to construct hardware that’s more lightweight and comfortable. Finally, the proposed effort would allow much more interoperability between VR source devices (smartphones and PCs) and HMDs that support the standard. Think Windows Mixed Reality running on commodity-like headsets from the usual suspects in the systems world.

Put differently, ICVR could be one crucial step in ushering in an XR ecosystem of commodity-like devices. Bluntly, it would allow the creation of mostly “dumb” VR headsets. Inherent in that is obviously cost reduction, which could also allow manufacturers to focus on improvements to the quality of the displays and the design of the HMDs.

Analogix claimed that it wouldn’t eliminate the high end of the market, where HTC Vive and Oculus Rift play. The company believes that there’s room for many different approaches, from those two particular companies at the high end to smartphone-powered experiences at the lower end. In between, we’ll also see solutions, like WiFi (and there are many players here, including Intel), which promises to eliminate cables altogether, but still keeps some of the complexity in the HMD (or adds to it if you consider the additional hardware required for WiFi transmission). Or we’ll see standalone HMDs, with everything including processors inside--we’ve seen demonstrations of this from Intel (Project Alloy) and Oculus (Santa Cruz).

Companies like Dell and Lenovo and Acer and other Wintel manufacturers have also made noise in the space that Analogix is targeting, and those are likely customers, along with--potentially--Asus and HP. In fact, Dell is behind the ICVR effort on the Windows side. LG is bringing Android to the party. Analogix projects between 2-4 million VR units shipping with its controllers inside, even before ICVR factors in.

With ICVR, Analogix will focus on a few key issues where DisplayPort is concerned, said Andre Bouwer, the company’s marketing chief. First, the video-out part of DP is not fully developed for VR, in that it cannot discover some of the capabilities of a headset related to field-of-view, panel persistence, and motion-to-photon latency. DisplayPort does include field of view discovery, Bouwer told us, but this is largely for things like size and pixel density, say for a TV, but it makes no assumption about how far away a user is, which is largely fixed with an HMD. Bouwer also said that DisplayPort must also have knowledge of the display scan mode, which differs among HMDs.

Another issue ICVR is tackling is head tracking. Although there will be other tracking issues over time, Bouwer said--like eye tracking and inside-out tracking, or even the specificity allowed by Lighthouse tracking--for now, the efforts will focus on the most basic, which is really understanding positioning and velocity of movement via gyro and accelerometer data. This is fairly simple data to add, he said.

There will be some additional protocols to ensure the source device is aware of the round-trip latency (motion to photon). This sort of synchronization is already a part of embedded DisplayPort (eDP), but that changes a bit in VR (obviously the latency is more crucial to comfort and factors in many other pieces of data than, say, a notebook) and must be accounted for.

Analogix told us that version 1.0 of the ICVR spec should be ready by the end of the year.

Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson is Editor-at-Large of Tom's Hardware US.
  • bit_user
    So, I guess this would mean your Graphics card would have a USB type-C connector on it?

    I think the PC-based VR industry will quickly converge on wireless HMDs with inside-out tracking. Even if you need to hang a poster or two on your wall, that's a lot better than having to install lighthouses.

    BTW, the article forgot to mention that Google has also demo'd inside-out tracking, with its Daydream HMD (made by Lenovo).
  • SockPuppet
    Need to ditch the side arms and start going with over-the-head designs like those crazy Oakley sunglasses from the 90's. A strap that has the yank the unit backwards into your eyesockets is not ideal.
  • Alex_462
    The problem is wireless will ALWAYS have more latency when with VR the target will always be for LESS latency. So wireless is far from ideal.

    Plus even if you go wireless, wouldn't that be easier to have a USB-C cable to the wireless box than multiple wires?
  • Th3pwn3r
    Am I the only one who read ANAL-ogix?
  • bit_user
    19862149 said:
    The problem is wireless will ALWAYS have more latency when with VR the target will always be for LESS latency. So wireless is far from ideal.
    It depends. Some wireless solutions add tens of ms of latency and do nothing to cover it, while others add only a couple ms and potentially move the Async time/space warp onto the HMD - leading to potentially less perceived latency than the current wired solutions. This is where I think the PC segment will eventually end up.
  • edzieba
    "Bluntly, it would allow the creation of mostly “dumb” VR headsets. "

    Changing the PHY layer would do bugger-all to change this. The problem is that HMDs are inherently NOT dumb displays. This was tried during the early prototypes of the Rift, and again during early prototypes of the Vive. Both abandoned the 'it;s just a display!' approach as both learnt that it doesn't work in practice. You don;t get guaranteed refresh intervals, you don't get guaranteed refresh timings (critical for both synchronous and asynchronous timewarp), latency is all over the place, and it plays merry hell with trying to get applications to even display on the correct 'screen'. It is also completely independent of the PHY layer (occurs on both DVI/HDMI and Dispalyport) so changing that would improve nothing.

    Whether Analogix can get this actually implemented is another matter. Spectra7 brought out a whole bunch of VR interconnect gubbins, but all that ended up being implemented was their cable tuning IC and Microchroma connector within the Rift CV1.
  • grimfox
    Being able to use a single standardized cable interconnect between any VR HMD and your PC is a good thing. That said I could easily see this tech being integrated into the next DP standard. 4k @ 100hz plus VR data, could fit within the reported bandwidth capacity of the next version of DP, based on wikipedia. I think that is the better way to go than using USB.
  • gdmaclew
    The only way VR is going to receive wide-spread adoption is if the community ditches the idea of HMD's completely and develops a "sunglasses" type model for its display.
    Whenever I see someone with those enormous HMD's on their face I have to laugh.
    I would love to use VR for gaming but I'm not going to strap one of those things to my face.
    Ten years from now (hopefully) people will look back and say "why did we ever accept that kind of klunky interface?"
    My 2 cents.