oculus-rift-computer
Photo Credit: Sergey Galyonkin (CC BY-SA 2.0)

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.”

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oculus-rift-at-intel-booth
Attendees played Eve Valkyrie in groups of four on Oculus Rift HD Prototypes at Intel’s booth during CES 2014.

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.

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“[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.

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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.

2. Cost:Power

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.

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  • Stimpack

    That’s fantastic, but I’m surely not buying another $300 CPU unless the performance gains are incredible! A new GPU, on the the hand…

  • Faxvoice Romulator

    stimpack, i love your avatar.

  • eyeandeye

    Hmm…I hadn’t really considered this in my plans to build a new rig, which revolved loosely around waiting until Star Citizen’s single player campaign was released or near release.

    In the past I’ve been bad about jumping the gun a couple months to early, causing me to miss out on things like PCI-Express when it first became a thing. This time hopefully I’ll have the patience to wait for whatever VR goodness Intel/AMD bake into their delicious chips.

    I haven’t been this excited to build a computer since Half-Life 2.

    • Pontianak

      This has been my plan for some time, I’m simply not going to buy any hardware until the CV1 release. As somebody that has been following all the VR related news, podcasts, etc etc for some time, it has been hard to not drop the money for a DK1 or DK2. I haven’t had a chance to try VR since the 90’s. Talk about putting faith in a product!

      However I’ve suspected for some time that we would need much more graphical horsepower for the future than we do now. It takes quite a bit of money to push a single 4K monitor to 60 fps. A 4K Rift would require a very beefy setup. Won’t be running any 4K crysis for some time I suspect…

  • elecman

    What they need to do is make CrossFire et. al. work with VR and get rid of the micro stutters. If each video card could be used to render one camera, I would buy another one.

  • Psuedonymous

    I’m already gathering parts to move my current CPU & GPU to a compact ITX setup (for more portable DK2 demos than lugging a 550D around), and I was already waiting on Maxwell for a GPU upgrade. Unless a Broadwell brings a dramatic improvement of some sort, I’ll probably stick with the 2500K for the near future.

  • PsychShaman

    Well, the good thing about 1080p is it’s relatively easy to run. I feel like anti-aliasing and other graphical features will be less important due to the low-rez panel. I imagine everyone will turn off bloom for fear of being permanently blinded. So CV1 shouldn’t be so bad, I imagine most people won’t even need to upgrade (or just a new GPU). When we hit 1440p at 120hz, our wallets will be crying.

  • deadering

    This is very exciting news! Looking forward to see what AMD will be doing to get the most out of HMD’s.

  • Siew

    my ebay auction is ending this evening. depending on the result i can afford a dk2 and start developing my project :) fingers crossed please^^

  • Don Gateley

    I’ve never seen anything in tech that is so far in the future yet so present in the news and on the internet. People really, really want this and are wishing away the considerable wait time.