In tech and gaming alike, virtual reality (VR) is starting to become more popular than ever, thanks to the rapidly increasing power of display and graphics technologies. Ever since the announcement of the Oculus Rift and its early releases, people have sworn that VR is the future. I’m not here to confirm or deny that sentiment – namely because I can’t actually see the future – but if you’d like to know all that you need to be ready for VR, then read onward. In this article we’ll be covering the graphics technologies necessary and the prominent first-gen VR headsets you’ll be seeing, as well as other items and peripherals you will need to ensure the best experience.
Graphics Cards and CPUs for Virtual Reality
According to Oculus, the minimum recommended requirements for good VR gaming are the following:
To understand these requirements, it’s important to contextualize the reason why they’re needed. These requirements won’t change much for other headsets playing PC games, by the way, so Oculus is a good enough source.
The Needs for Good Hardware Requirements
The reason why you need a very high-end GPU and a mid-range (but very powerful) CPU for the Oculus and other VR solutions is due to how our brains work. When using a VR headset, having a high framerate and minimal to no input lag is more important than ever. Real life doesn’t lag at all – but to get immersed in VR, your games can’t lag either.
The brain doesn’t respond well to VR with low refresh rates and framerates. While 60fps and 60 hz are perfectly fine for normal gameplay scenarios, VR requires a higher refresh rate (90 hz is the popular one right now, but the higher the better) and minimal input lag. If you turn your head and your in-game camera isn’t 1:1 with your movement, you will suffer from nausea. Your mind won’t buy an illusion that isn’t perfect.
In the future, the hardware for realizing VR gaming will be cheaper. Both CPU and GPU technologies are advancing at a blistering pace, and eventually the technology to realize VR will be as easy and cheap as we want it to be.
When it comes to gaming, there’s a common point about VR that many people miss: what about input? Keyboard, mouse and gamepad can be used in VR titles, sure, but this isn’t natural, especially since a part of VR is head-controlled first-person camera movement. What, then, should be used instead?
Have you ever played the Wii?
No, really. Handheld motion controllers are all the rage for input in virtual reality, starting with the Rift from Oculus, the STEM from SixSense, and the Hydra from Razer. These motion controllers will allow users to interact in more natural ways with in-game spaces via motion while keeping important things like analog sticks to enable in-game movement without actually walking around the room and hitting your shin on your coffee table.
Once VR becomes cheaper and more developers are able to implement it, both gamers and other audiences will be able to enjoy fully immersive virtual experiences. Future VR solutions will likely implement technology like the Kinect, too, in order to create true 1:1 motion detection, but this is a far-off proposition that you don’t necessarily need to prepare for yet.
The Main VR Headsets
Finally, we have the VR headsets themselves. I’ll be talking in detail about the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive, as those are the main ones relevant to this article.
Oculus Rift at $599
The Oculus Rift is arguably responsible for the latest wave of VR craze, thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, a subsequent acquisition from mega-Internet-corporation Facebook, and now widespread support in a number of PC games, including Valve-made FPSes (like TF2) and more.
HTC Vive at ???
The HTC Vive, co-developed with Valve, is set to be a huge name in VR gaming. The Vive offers sensors to place around the user to ensure true 1:1 tracking and a camera on the front to prevent accidents and is specced to run at 90 hz with its own accompanying motion controller, though not much is known about these at the time of writing.
The Rift and Vive are likely to be the two major rivals going down the line from here onward – however, other VR headsets are coming, too.
Microsoft HoloLens and Sony PlayStation VR
These are major VR headsets, though HoloLens is more AR than VR, from the current-gen of console makers, with HoloLens likely to be implemented with PC and Xbox One. HoloLens has a PC integrated inside of it and is extremely expensive, however. The PlayStation VR will require an external processing unit to be used with the PS4, as the base console isn’t powerful enough to drive a VR experience.
Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard
FOVE VR and Avegant Glyph
Two truly unique solutions. The FOVE offers eye-tracking that will allow simulated depth-of-field as well as eye-based input, and the Avegant Glyph uses a system of mirrors to reflect images directly into your eyes. The FOV for the latter is said to be fairly narrow, but the mirror setup also reduces motion sickness and eye fatigue.
The revolution of VR is upon us. Where it’ll take us as gamers and consumers is tough to tell at this relatively early point. However, the power behind our hardware is always increasing, while the price to pay for that performance is getting cheaper and cheaper as time goes on. Eventually, we’ll reach the point where the tech required to make 1:1 VR experiences is cheap and potentially even a scenario where we can make graphics that are completely true-to-life.
That’s probably far away, though.
That being said, who knows? The future always tends to come faster than you think.