Tech Up! D-Link VR Air Bridge Review

By Chris Leebody 08.05.2024

Tech Up! D-Link VR Air Bridge Review on Nintendo gaming news, videos and discussion
Anyone using a VR headset and trying to leverage their gaming PC for a higher quality experience knows the results can vary quite widely. While things have undoubtedly got better over the years with Meta's Air Link and the Steam VR tools no longer demanding the use of a physical cable, many people often run into inconsistent performance hampered by Wi-Fi connectivity between their PC and Meta Quest and the general hardware performance of their PC. On the face of it, the D-Link DWA-F18 VR Air Bridge aims to solve some of those inconsistencies. Can it hold its promise?
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The idea of the D-Link DWA-F18 VR Air Bridge is to solve connectivity inconsistencies by providing a direct Wi-Fi 6 connection between Meta Quest and PC, which promises to be more stable and requires no complicated set up beyond connecting the dongle to a PC and going through a few steps in the Meta app. On top of that, it aims to replicate the performance of using the Meta Quest Link cable solution - but obviously, without needing to be restrictively chained to the desktop. Cubed3 tested the device with Meta Quest 3 on a 500mb/s internet connection. The bridge is optimised and marketed to work for both Quest 2 and 3.  The Air Bridge is available online now for around £99.99. 

Upon first opening the box, it's clear D-Link have worked closely with Meta to ensure the product matches the premium aesthetic and build quality expected of such an accessory. The box and packaging are clearly inspired by the clean-cut and minimalist theme of Meta Quest and its box.  

The dongle and base itself are compact devices powered by USB 3.2, with the base plugged into a PC or laptop. The cable that came with the device could have been a bit more flexible and longer; it was not always possible to ensure the device was firmly positioned on a computer desk without a lot of adjustment or the use of a more convenient port.  

It probably doesn't ultimately matter as the dongle still powered on, but it's kind of annoying to have the product flimsily dangling around. It would be good to see a detachable cable in a future iteration of the product to solve this problem. 

After plugging everything in, the D-Link Air Bridge feels like a first-party accessory because of how smooth the setup process is in the Oculus desktop app. The Quest 3 picked it up straight away and it takes just a few taps to connect to the Bridge and start enjoying a PCVR experience. 

The Air Bridge is part of the "Made for Meta" programme, which means D-Link and Meta have partnered to make what they determine is a high-quality product. The Air Bridge uses Wi-Fi 6 which should make it well catered to offering a smooth experience from PC to VR headset. 

Air Link allows the user to stream PCVR games directly to the Quest. One big advantage of doing this is avoiding all of the wires typically associated with PCVR.  

However, doing this wirelessly can often introduce latency and artifacts caused by bandwidth limitations. Typically, the headset must communicate with the router which then sends any information such as controller inputs onto the PC or laptop. Then, the rendered images get sent from the PC or laptop back to the router which then finally get displayed on the headset's screens.  

This can work well under some circumstances but can quickly fall apart if any one of the headset, router, or PC/laptop are too far away from each other. Additionally, if the PC/laptop is using Wi-Fi to connect to the router, it is more likely to experience these problems. 

The D-Link VR Air Bridge solves this problem by allowing the headset to directly connect to the PC/laptop. This allows Air Link to skip the internet router part and reduce the number of 'hops' needed for the information to pass through.  

Previously, for example, someone was restricted to playing PCVR games in a small room where their router was close to their laptop. With this accessory - at least in theory - it is possible to have the laptop in a larger room and it shouldn't matter how far away the router is.  

It also means that other people using the Wi-Fi shouldn't impact on the VR experience. During the best conditions, using the Air Bridge and being close to the desktop, the low input latency makes it feel like the user is playing a native Quest game and the high-quality PCVR visuals look stunning on the Quest 3's display. 

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Cubed3 tested the Air Bridge out in Half-Life: Alyx, a PCVR exclusive game that is one of the best reviewed Steam games of all time, alongside the zombie-shooter Arizona Sunshine. As mentioned above, during peak conditions the game ran flawlessly using the device. There were occasions of low bitrate and the usual symptoms of a bad connection, but these were minor, and turning the graphics settings down often helped smooth out most of the issues. 

When far away from the router, normal PCVR without the Air Bridge performed poorly. The bitrate and latency made it unplayable. Unfortunately, the Air Bridge struggled to connect the laptop to the Quest 3 under the same circumstances. 

Failing that test, Cubed3 repeated the tests with a Wi-Fi extender turned on and performance was back to being relatively smooth. It's hard to say if the Air Bridge was better - it might well have been - but it certainly wasn't noticeable enough to categorically say it had improved things. 

With that in mind it therefore makes it a tricky device to recommend based on what it currently offers. Upon first reading about the D-Link Air Bridge, it's easy to think that it offers something it actually doesn't. Don't get the wrong impression - the Air Bridge is sadly not providing a dedicated way to access PCVR while offline. 

It still appears to require that the PC/laptop has a connection to a router or some existing access to a Wi-Fi network. If the home internet is turned off, the Air Link software inside of the Quest appears to stop working and it reports that the Air Bridge has no internet connection.  

It feels like the Quest itself needs a software improvement to make offline scenarios with the Air Bridge a possibility. In its current state, however, the Air Bridge can't be used on a camping trip in the middle of nowhere because of the dependency on a router. Ultimately, the dependency on a router does feel like it slightly limits the full potential of the accessory. 

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

Given the limitations of the D-Link Air Bridge still requiring a home router to access PCVR gaming, it's hard to immediately tell how much better the device is at providing a quality experience over and above the existing tools already available on the Quest 3. The product is built well, runs well and has an ultra-smooth setup process. Performance while using the device was always more than adequate although given the testing, it's hard to say whether it was definitively better. For a £99.99 product, ideally it would have stood out more and it's hard to see the scenarios in most households in which it would ever come into its own.

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