We’re not far from getting the first virtual reality headsets into the hands of consumers, and there has been a lot of talk about the specs you will need to run VR comfortably. We have seen upcoming GPUs like AMD’s Polaris and Stardock’s DX12 multi GPU technology make virtual reality seem cheaper than we had previously thought.
But it seems Valve have their eyes set higher. In his talk at GDC 2016, Valve’s Alex Vlachos revealed plans to release a rendering plug in for Unity, as well as it’s source code, which will more efficiently render scenes for VR.
This increase in efficiency could mean that older and less expensive cards, even fairly aged cards like the Nvidia 680 generation of cards, could be capable of running Steam VR and the HTC Vive.
Alex said to UploadVR, “As long as the GPU can hit 45 HZ we want for people to be able to run VR. We’ve said the recommended spec is a 970, same as Oculus, but we do want lesser GPUs to work. We’re trying to reduce the cost [of VR].”
As we know, the main barrier to entry for PC virtual reality aside from the cost of the headsets themselves is the specs required to run it. VR on PC will require at least an Nvidia 970 or AMD 290 to run it at the recommended frame rate of 90 FPS.
Those GPUS aren’t cheap, and add in a powerful CPU and all of a sudden the bill for smooth performance in VR is enough to turn your hair white. So, if companies like Valve and the aforementioned Stardock can lower that requirement, all of a sudden VR is looking much more affordable. In his talk, Vlachos mentioned a few strategies of what he called “adaptive quality”.
One example of this is “fixed foveated rendering” which reduces GPU load by prioritising the centre of an image.
Alex went on, “I can run Aperture [a graphically rich Valve-built VR experience] on a 680 without dropping frames at a lower quality, and, for me, that’s enough of a proof of concept. Most art we’re seeing in VR isn’t as dense as that. So we should be pretty good to go…everything should be able to support that low-end hardware. But we need the right safety nets in place.”
If Valve can pull this off, Sony may not have as much of a price advantage with Playstation VR as we thought.