The big thing that is going to slow the adoption of VR is its barrier to entry. The “recommended” specifications for both Oculus and Valve state that you need at least a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 970 or AMD Radeon R9 290 graphics card. That means you need to put out at least $300-400 before you even buy the headset, and bring the total cost of your PC for VR to around $1000.
In his advanced rendering talk at GDC Valve’s Alex Vlachos revealed plans to release a rendering plugin in the coming weeks for Unity, as well as its source code, that more efficiently renders scenes for VR. The efficiencies could mean older and less expensive graphics cards like NVIDIA’s GeForce GTX 680 from 2012 could run SteamVR.
“As long as the GPU can hit 45 HZ we want for people to be able to run VR,” Vlachos told UploadVR after the talk. “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].”
In his talk, Vlachos outlined a series of strategies grouped together as “adaptive quality” that would essentially cut corners rendering images for VR in ways that are less perceivable. One example called “fixed foveated rendering” reduces the graphics load for a GPU by prioritizing the pixels in the center of an image because those near the edges are less likely to be noticed. If high-quality eye-tracking sensors make it into future VR headsets, similar technology can further reduce the graphics requirements necessary to make highly immersive VR work by only rendering the pixels directly in front of the eye. The approach Vlachos described, however, didn’t rely on eye-tracking.
“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,” Vlachos said. “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.”