Skip to main content

Next-Generation VR Headsets Will Connect to Your PC With a VirtualLink USB-C Port

The rumors are true: Nvidia is working on a new display interface standard for its upcoming graphics cards. However, it’s not a new port. New graphics cards will offer a VirtualLink USB-C port to power next-generation VR headsets.

Last month, we caught wind of some inside information about Nvidia’s upcoming 11-series graphics cards, which indicated that the new cards would include a special display interface for next-generation VR headsets. We thought the rumor was somewhat suspect because creating a new display interface standard would require cooperation from a variety of companies, and we hadn’t yet heard of such a partnership. However, it turns out the rumor was true. Mostly. Nvidia is working with a handful of companies to offer a new port for VR headsets, but it’s not an entirely new port. It’s a new mode for USB Type-C.

The VirtualLink consortium, which is led by the biggest companies in the VR industry, including Nvidia, AMD, Oculus, Valve, and Microsoft, is pushing a new USB Type-C standard that is optimized to transfer high-resolution, low-latency graphics, camera, and sensors data and power to VR headsets through a single connection.

First generation VR headsets, like the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, are impressive devices, but they certainly have drawbacks, such as cumbersome setup procedures. The Rift requires a USB port and HDMI port for the headset and at least a pair of USB ports for the sensors. The Vive doesn’t require as many ports from your PC, but it needs additional power from a wall outlet to function. When Microsoft jumped into the VR market it saw the setup process as a concern and designed the Windows MR headsets to run off a single USB port and a single HDMI port. However, thanks to VirtualLink, the next generation of VR headsets will offer an even more streamlined connection interface.

The VirtualLink interface also offers significantly higher bandwidth to support higher resolution and higher refresh rate displays. The VirtualLink USB-C port offers the equivalent of four high-speed HBR3 DisplayPort lanes along with a USB3.1 data channel. The interface can also provide up to 27W of power through the same connection, which means future headsets won’t require an external power source.

The VirtualLink consortium said the new interface would also enable VR headset support on more compact devices, such as light notebooks. And with the rapid advancements in mobile computing capability, we can imagine VirtualLink-enabled smartphones or tablets coming to the market in the coming years.

The VirtualLink consortium is releasing VirtualLink as an open standard, and the group is encouraging head-mounted display makers, hardware manufacturers and developers to adopt the standard to promote rapid advancement in VR hardware interoperability. The consortium didn’t say when VirtualLink 1.0 specification would be available, but interested parties can request an overview of VirtualLink ahead of the release.

Kevin Carbotte is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He writes news and reviews of graphics cards and virtual reality hardware.