Here and there I see threads pop up around the web asking what hardware ought to be bought in preparation for the consumer version of the Oculus Rift (also known as the CV1). If you’re looking to get top virtual reality gaming performance, and the most bang for your buck, you’ll want to pick up a new gaming rig for the Oculus Rift CV1. Here’s why.
1. VR-specific Optimizations Coming to Major Hardware Players
If virtual reality wasn’t already on the radar of top companies making PC hardware, it surely is after the Facebook acquisition. You can bet that we’ll be seeing these companies optimize and position their products toward virtual reality gaming. If you buy a brand new gaming rig today you may be disappointed to find that, closer to the Oculus Rift CV1 release date, there’s a slew of newly optimized hardware aimed at powering a high-end VR experience.
Oculus VR founder and Oculus Rift inventor Palmer Luckey told me that “we are directly working with hardware manufacturers on all kind of optimizations,” though he was understandably not able to name any specifics.
Intel, it turns out, has been following Oculus and VR even more closely than I suspected.
“We have a very large install base of DK1s, we have a few of the HD Prototypes floating around, and we’re anxiously awaiting our delivery of DK2s just like everyone else,” said Randy Stude, who oversees the world of high-end PC gaming as manager of Intel’s Enthusiast PC segment. “The VR world can expect that engagement with Intel, from the top down, will be very deep.”
Stude, who says he’s been working with Oculus for “quite a while,” impressed me with his knowledge of the consumer virtual reality space. Stude was responsible for Eve Valkyrie showing at Intel’s booth at CES 2014 in January. He told me that Intel planned to put the Oculus Rift Crystal Cove prototype up on stage during a presentation by CEO Brian Krzanich, though it was bumped at the last minute to make way for Intel’s Conflict-Free Initiative.
Stude told me that Intel “has a deep understanding of why the overall story for VR is strong for both processors and graphics,” and that,”…people that will buy our processors will be able to count on an optimized experience for VR.”
Intel has long added optimizations to their processors to enable their users. For example, Intel’s Quick Sync technology, which the chip-maker has been baking into its processors since Sandy Bridge, enables hardware accelerated encoding and decoding which opens the door to desktop-class video rendering on even their ultra-low voltage processors. You can bet that Intel will be actively investigating where its processors could optimize for VR computing.
Last year, Intel demonstrated a solution to improve image quality for VR headsets which employs ray-tracing techniques. Ray-tracing is computationally intensive; this is one area where Intel could potentially optimize for virtual reality to benefit all VR headsets.
“We’re definitely aggressively posturing to do magic work behind the scenes to make sure that all the drivers and software support VR. We’re hoping that Valve, when they launch their steam machines, embrace VR peripherals,” Stude said. He pointed to the computer-vision problem as a potential area for optimization.
“[The Oculus Rift DK2’s IR camera] is an analogue video analyzing IR markers. At some point that needs to be digitized and optimized.”
Intel isn’t the only company with their eyes on the Oculus Rift and virtual reality.
Robert Hallock is the Technical Communications Lead for PC graphics in AMD‘s Component Channel organization. Hallock says, “Virtual reality and surround computing are areas that have certainly captured AMD’s attention,” and that the company will ensure that its GPUs are up to the task.
We’ve already made forays into these spaces with demonstrations like the ‘Surround House 2,’ which immerses viewers in 360° of displays and audio—14 megapixels and 32.4 channels of audio. Our ultimate goal with such efforts is to recreate the famous ‘holodeck’ experience. With respect to more ‘consumer-grade’ technologies like the Oculus Rift, our general strategy is one of enablement: we will ensure that AMD Radeon™ GPUs are fully compatible, high-performance options for VR gamers.
And you can bet that Nvidia has their scope set on virtual reality optimizations as well. John Carmack, Oculus VR’s CTO, has been vocal about latency in modern GPUs. He often puts things into context with the anecdote that he can send a ping to Europe and back faster than he can get a frame from his GPU to his monitor. Carmack participated in the announcement of Nvidia’s G-Sync project back in October of 2013 and it’s almost certain that he has an open line to Nvidia to advise on virtual reality optimizations for their GPUs.
My bet is that around the time of the Oculus Rift CV1 launch we will see CPUs, GPUs, and other hardware makers marketing new products specifically for virtual reality.
Then there’s the obvious reason: the longer you wait, the more bang you’ll get for your buck. Moore’s Law describes the trend that the number of transistors that we’re able to fit onto a chip—which corresponds to processing power—doubles every two years. The trend has held true since Moore described it in 1965.
Generally speaking if you wait, let’s say, another year to buy a new gaming rig for the Oculus Rift CV1, you can get the same specs you would’ve got today for a cheaper price, or you can get better performance for the same price. The latter is especially true given that we’re likely to see VR-specific hardware optimizations down the road.