Video Perspective: HTC Vive Pre First Impressions

Subject: General Tech, Graphics Cards | March 26, 2016 - 12:11 AM |
Tagged: VR, vive pre, vive, virtual reality, video, pre, htc

On Friday I was able to get a pre-release HTC Vive Pre in the office and spend some time with it. Not only was I interested in getting more hands-on time with the hardware without a time limit but we were also experimenting with how to stream and record VR demos and environments. 

Enjoy and mock!

Author:
Manufacturer: Various

A system worthy of VR!

Early this year I started getting request after request for hardware suggestions for upcoming PC builds for VR. The excitement surrounding the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive has caught fire across all spectrums of technology, from PC enthusiasts to gaming enthusiasts to just those of you interested in a technology that has been "right around the corner" for decades. The requests for build suggestions spanned our normal readership as well as those that had previously only focused on console gaming, and thus the need for a selection of build guides began.

Looking for all of the PC Perspective Spring 2016 VR guides?

I launched build guides for $900 and $1500 price points earlier in the week, but today we look at the flagship option, targeting a budget of $2500. Though this is a pricey system that should not be undertaken lightly, it is far from a "crazy expensive" build with multiple GPUs, multiple CPUs or high dollar items unnecessary for gaming and VR.

system1.jpg

With that in mind, let's jump right into the information you are looking for: the components we recommend.

VR Build Guide
$2500 Spring 2016
Component Amazon.com Link B&H Photo Link
Processor Intel Core i7-5930K $527 $578
Motherboard ASUS X99-A USB 3.1 $264 $259
Memory Corsair Dominator Platinum 16GB DDR4-3000 $169  
Graphics Card ASUS GeForce GTX 980 Ti STRIX $659 $669
Storage 512GB Samsung 950 Pro
Western Digital Red 4TB
$326
$180
$322
$154
Power Supply Corsair HX750i Platinum $144 $149
CPU Cooler Corsair H100i v2 $107 $107
Case Corsair Carbide 600C $149 $141
Total Price   Full cart - $2,519  

For those of you interested in a bit more detail on the why of the parts selection, rather than just the what, I have some additional information for you.

cpu.jpg

Unlike the previous two builds that used Intel's consumer Skylake processors, our $2500 build moves to the Haswell-E platform, an enthusiast design that comes from the realm of workstation products. The Core i7-5930K is a 6-core processor with HyperThreading, allowing for 12 addressable threads. Though we are targeting this machine for VR gaming, the move to this processor will mean better performance for other tasks as well including video encoding, photo editing and more. It's unlocked too - so if you want to stretch that clock speed up via overclocking, you have the flexibility for that.

Update: Several people have pointed out that the Core i7-5820K is a very similar processor to the 5930K, with a $100-150 price advantage. It's another great option if you are looking to save a bit more money, and you don't expect to want/need the additional PCI Express lanes the 5930K offers (40 lanes versus 28 lanes).

mb.jpg

With the transition to Haswell-E we have an ASUS X99-A USB 3.1 motherboard. This board is the first in our VR builds to support not just 2-Way SLI and CrossFire but 3-Way as well if we find that VR games and engines are able to consistently and properly integrate support for multi-GPU. This recently updated board from ASUS includes USB 3.1 support as you can tell from the name, includes 8 slots for DDR4 memory and offers enough PCIe lanes for expansion in all directions.

Looking to build a PC for the very first time, or need a refresher? You can find our recent step-by-step build videos to help you through the process right here!!

980ti.jpg

For our graphics card we have gone with the ASUS GeForce GTX 980 Ti Strix. The 980 Ti is the fastest single GPU solution on the market today and with 6GB of memory on-board should be able to handle anything that VR can toss at it. In terms of compute performance the 980 Ti is more than 40% faster than the GTX 980, the GPU used in our $1500 solution. The Strix integration uses a custom cooler that performs much better than the stock solution and is quieter. 

Continue reading our recommend build for a VR system with a budget of $2500!!

Red matter and green blood; Vulkan runs on Linux

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 24, 2016 - 02:04 PM |
Tagged: Ubuntu 16.04, linux, vulkan, amd, nvidia

Last week AMD released a new GPU-PRO Beta driver stack and this Monday, NVIDIA released the 364.12 beta driver, both of which support Vulkan and meant that Phoronix had a lot of work to do.  Up for testing were the GTX 950, 960, 970, 980, and 980 Ti as well as the R9 Fury, 290 and 285.  Logically, they used the Talos Principal test, their results compare not only the cards but also the performance delta between OpenGL and Vulkan and finished up with several OpenGL benchmarks to see if there were any performance improvements from the new drivers.  The results look good for Vulkan as it beats OpenGL across the board as you can see in the review.

image.php_.jpg

"Thanks to AMD having released their new GPU-PRO "hybrid" Linux driver a few days ago, there is now Vulkan API support for Radeon GPU owners on Linux. This new AMD Linux driver holds much potential and the closed-source bits are now limited to user-space, among other benefits covered in dozens of Phoronix articles over recent months. With having this new driver in hand plus NVIDIA promoting their Vulkan support to the 364 Linux driver series, it's a great time for some benchmarking. Here are OpenGL and Vulkan atop Ubuntu 16.04 Linux for both AMD Radeon and NVIDIA GeForce graphics cards."

Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:

Graphics Cards

Source: Phoronix

Valve targeting lower price systems and GPUs for VR

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 19, 2016 - 03:02 PM |
Tagged: VR, vive, valve, htc, gdc 2016, GDC

A story posted over at UploadVR has some interesting information that came out of the final days of GDC last week. We know that Valve, HTC and Oculus have recommended users have a Radeon R9 290 or GTX 970 GPU or higher to run virtual reality content on both the Vive and the Rift, and that comes with a high cost for users that weren't already invested in PC gaming. Valve’s Alex Vlachos has other plans that might enable graphics cards from as far back as 2012 to work in Valve's VR ecosystem.

badresult2.jpg

Valve wants to lower the requirements for VR

Obviously there are some trade offs to consider. The reason GPUs have such high requirements for the Rift and Vive is their need to run at 90 FPS / 90 Hz without dropping frames to create a smooth and effective immersion. Deviance from that means the potential for motion sickness and poor VR experiences in general. 

From UploadVR's story:

“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].”

It's interesting that Valve would be talking about a 45 FPS target now, implying there would be some kind of frame doubling or frame interpolation to get back to the 90 FPS mark that the company believes is required for a good VR experience. 

adaptive-quality-valve.jpg

Image source: UploadVR

Vlachos also mentioned some other avenues that Valve could expand on to help improve performance. One of them is "adaptive quality", a feature we first saw discussed with the release of the Valve SteamVR Performance Test. This would allow the game to lower the image quality dynamically (texture detail, draw distance, etc.) based on hardware performance but might also include something called fixed foveated rendering. With FFR only the center of the image is rendered at maximum detail while the surrounding image runs at lower quality; the theory being that you are only focused on the center of the screen anyway and human vision blurs the periphery already. This is similar to NVIDIA's multi-res shading technology that is integrated into UE4 already, so I'm curious to see how this one might shape out.

Another quote from UploadVR:

“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.

I have always said that neither Valve nor Oculus are going to lock out older hardware, but that they wouldn't directly support it. That a Valve developer can run its performance test (with adaptive quality) on a GTX 680 is a good sign.

screen2.jpg

The Valve SteamVR Performance Test

But the point is also made by Vlachos that "most art we’re seeing in VR isn’t as dense" as other PC titles is a bit worrisome. We WANT VR games to improve to the same image quality and realism levels that we see in modern PC titles and not depend solely on artistic angles to get to the necessary performance levels for high quality virtual reality. Yes, the entry price today for PC-based VR is going to be steep, but I think "console-ifying" the platform will do a disservice in the long run.

Source: UploadVR

Going for Gold with MSI's newest GTX 980 Ti

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 18, 2016 - 01:59 PM |
Tagged: msi, GTX 980 Ti, MSI GTX 980 Ti GOLDEN Edition, nvidia, factory overclocked

Apart from the golden fan and HDMI port MSI's 980 Ti GOLDEN Edition also comes with a moderate factory overclock, 1140MHz Base, 1228MHz Boost and 7GHz memory, with an observed frequency of 1329MHz in game.  [H]ard|OCP managed to up those to 1290MHz Base and 1378MHz Boost and 7.8GHz memory with the card hitting 1504MHz in game.  That overclock produced noticeable results in many games and pushed it close to the performance of [H]'s overclocked MSI 980 Ti LIGHTNING.  The LIGHTNING proved to be the better card in terms of performance, both graphically and thermally, however it is also more expensive than the GOLDEN and does not have quite the same aesthetics, if that is important to you.

14566999420lauEJffPR_1_8_l.jpg

"Today we evaluate the MSI GTX 980 Ti GOLDEN Edition video card. This video card features a pure copper heatsink geared towards faster heat dissipation and better temps on air than other air cooled video cards. We will compare it to the MSI GTX 980 Ti LIGHTNING, placing the two video cards head to head in an overclocking shootout. "

Here are some more Graphics Card articles from around the web:

Graphics Cards

 

Source: [H]ard|OCP

Razer Core External GPU Enclosure Pricing and Availability Announced

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 16, 2016 - 09:29 PM |
Tagged:

Razer has announced pricing and availability for their Core external GPU enclosure, which allows GPUs of up to 375W to run over Thunderbolt 3 with compatible devices.

core_01.jpg

"The Razer Core is the world’s first true plug and play Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) external graphics enclosure, allowing you to transform your notebook into a desktop gaming experience. Featuring plug and play support with compatible graphics cards, you won’t need to reboot your system every time you connect your Razer Blade Stealth to Razer Core. Connect to the future with the most advanced and versatile external desktop graphics solution available."

The Razer Core will cost $499 alone, or $399 when purchased with a Razer laptop. It will be available in April.

core_02.jpg

What's this? The new Core i7 Skull Canyon NUC connected to the Core eGPU??

An interesting addition to this announcement, the Razer Core is certified with the upcoming Core i7 Skull Canyon NUC, which features Thunderbolt 3. I don't know about you, but the idea of portable, external, upgradable graphics is awesome.

So what do you think? $499 as a standalone product for a user-upgradable external GPU solution with power supply? The $399 price is obviously more attractive, but you'd need to be in the market for a new laptop as well (and again, it would need to a Razer laptop to get that $100 discount). In any case, AMD's XConnect technology certainly makes the Core a compelling possibility.

Source: Razer
Author:
Manufacturer: AMD

Some Hints as to What Comes Next

On March 14 at the Capsaicin event at GDC AMD disclosed their roadmap for GPU architectures through 2018.  There were two new names in attendance as well as some hints at what technology will be implemented in these products.  It was only one slide, but some interesting information can be inferred from what we have seen and what was said in the event and afterwards during interviews.

Polaris the the next generation of GCN products from AMD that have been shown off for the past few months.  Previously in December and at CES we saw the Polaris 11 GPU on display.  Very little is known about this product except that it is small and extremely power efficient.  Last night we saw the Polaris 10 being run and we only know that it is competitive with current mainstream performance and is larger than the Polaris 11.  These products are purportedly based on Samsung/GLOBALFOUNDRIES 14nm LPP.

roadmap.jpg

The source of near endless speculation online.

In the slide AMD showed it listed Polaris as having 2.5X the performance per watt over the previous 28 nm products in AMD’s lineup.  This is impressive, but not terribly surprising.  AMD and NVIDIA both skipped the 20 nm planar node because it just did not offer up the type of performance and scaling to make sense economically.  Simply put, the expense was not worth the results in terms of die size improvements and more importantly power scaling.  20 nm planar just could not offer the type of performance overall that GPU manufacturers could achieve with 2nd and 3rd generation 28nm processes.

What was missing from the slide is mention that Polaris will integrate either HMB1 or HBM2.  Vega, the architecture after Polaris, does in fact list HBM2 as the memory technology it will be packaged with.  It promises another tick up in terms of performance per watt, but that is going to come more from aggressive design optimizations and likely improvements on FinFET process technologies.  Vega will be a 2017 product.

Beyond that we see Navi.  It again boasts an improvement in perf per watt as well as the inclusion of a new memory technology behind HBM.  Current conjecture is that this could be HMC (hybrid memory cube).  I am not entirely certain of that particular conjecture as it does not necessarily improve upon the advantages of current generation HBM and upcoming HBM2 implementations.  Navi will not show up until 2018 at the earliest.  This *could* be a 10 nm part, but considering the struggle that the industry has had getting to 14/16nm FinFET I am not holding my breath.

AMD provided few details about these products other than what we see here.  From here on out is conjecture based upon industry trends, analysis of known roadmaps, and the limitations of the process and memory technologies that are already well known.

Click here to read the rest about AMD's upcoming roadmap!

Shedding a little light on Monday's announcement

Most of our readers should have some familiarity with GameWorks, which is a series of libraries and utilities that help game developers (and others) create software. While many hardware and platform vendors provide samples and frameworks, taking the brunt of the work required to solve complex problems, this is NVIDIA's branding for their suite of technologies. Their hope is that it pushes the industry forward, which in turn drives GPU sales as users see the benefits of upgrading.

nvidia-2016-gdc-gameworksmission.png

This release, GameWorks SDK 3.1, contains three complete features and two “beta” ones. We will start with the first three, each of which target a portion of the lighting and shadowing problem. The last two, which we will discuss at the end, are the experimental ones and fall under the blanket of physics and visual effects.

nvidia-2016-gdc-volumetriclighting-fallout.png

The first technology is Volumetric Lighting, which simulates the way light scatters off dust in the atmosphere. Game developers have been approximating this effect for a long time. In fact, I remember a particular section of Resident Evil 4 where you walk down a dim hallway that has light rays spilling in from the windows. Gamecube-era graphics could only do so much, though, and certain camera positions show that the effect was just a translucent, one-sided, decorative plane. It was a cheat that was hand-placed by a clever artist.

nvidia-2016-gdc-volumetriclighting-shaftswireframe.png

GameWorks' Volumetric Lighting goes after the same effect, but with a much different implementation. It looks at the generated shadow maps and, using hardware tessellation, extrudes geometry from the unshadowed portions toward the light. These little bits of geometry sum, depending on how deep the volume is, which translates into the required highlight. Also, since it's hardware tessellated, it probably has a smaller impact on performance because the GPU only needs to store enough information to generate the geometry, not store (and update) the geometry data for all possible light shafts themselves -- and it needs to store those shadow maps anyway.

nvidia-2016-gdc-volumetriclighting-shaftsfinal.png

Even though it seemed like this effect was independent of render method, since it basically just adds geometry to the scene, I asked whether it was locked to deferred rendering methods. NVIDIA said that it should be unrelated, as I suspected, which is good for VR. Forward rendering is easier to anti-alias, which makes the uneven pixel distribution (after lens distortion) appear more smooth.

Read on to see the other four technologies, and a little announcement about source access.

Video Perspective: Spending the day with an Oculus Rift

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 16, 2016 - 10:00 AM |
Tagged: video, rift, Oculus

As part of our second day at GDC, Ken and I spent 4+ hours with Oculus during their "Game Days 2016" event, an opportunity for us to taste test games in 30 minute blocks, getting more hands on time than we ever have before. The event was perfectly organized and easy to work in, and it helps that the product is amazing as well.

oculus-rift-consumer-edition.png

Of the 40-ish games available to play, 30 of them will be available on the Rift launch day, March 28th. We were able to spend some time with the following:

We aren't game reviewers here, but we obviously have a deep interest in games, and thus, having access to these games is awesome. But more than that, access to the best software that VR will have to offer this spring is invaluable as we continue to evaluate hardware accurately for our readers. 

kitchen2.jpg

Job Simulator

Ken and I sat down after the Oculus event to talk about the games we played, the experiences we had and what input the developers had about the technical issues and concerns surrounding VR development.

AMD's Raja Koduri talks moving past CrossFire, smaller GPU dies, HBM2 and more.

Subject: Graphics Cards | March 15, 2016 - 02:02 AM |
Tagged: vulkan, raja koduri, Polaris, HBM2, hbm, dx12, crossfire, amd

After hosting the AMD Capsaicin event at GDC tonight, the SVP and Chief Architect of the Radeon Technologies Group Raja Koduri sat down with me to talk about the event and offered up some additional details on the Radeon Pro Duo, upcoming Polaris GPUs and more. The video below has the full interview but there are several highlights that stand out as noteworthy.

  • Raja claimed that one of the reasons to launch the dual-Fiji card as the Radeon Pro Duo for developers rather than pure Radeon, aimed at gamers, was to “get past CrossFire.” He believes we are at an inflection point with APIs. Where previously you would abstract two GPUs to appear as a single to the game engine, with DX12 and Vulkan the problem is more complex than that as we have seen in testing with early titles like Ashes of the Singularity.

    But with the dual-Fiji product mostly developed and prepared, AMD was able to find a market between the enthusiast and the creator to target, and thus the Radeon Pro branding was born.

    pro_duo_zoom.jpg

    Raja further expands on it, telling me that in order to make multi-GPU useful and productive for the next generation of APIs, getting multi-GPU hardware solutions in the hands of developers is crucial. He admitted that CrossFire in the past has had performance scaling concerns and compatibility issues, and that getting multi-GPU correct from the ground floor here is crucial.
     

  • With changes in Moore’s Law and the realities of process technology and processor construction, multi-GPU is going to be more important for the entire product stack, not just the extreme enthusiast crowd. Why? Because realities are dictating that GPU vendors build smaller, more power efficient GPUs, and to scale performance overall, multi-GPU solutions need to be efficient and plentiful. The “economics of the smaller die” are much better for AMD (and we assume NVIDIA) and by 2017-2019, this is the reality and will be how graphics performance will scale.

    Getting the software ecosystem going now is going to be crucial to ease into that standard.
     

  • The naming scheme of Polaris (10, 11…) has no equation, it’s just “a sequence of numbers” and we should only expect it to increase going forward. The next Polaris chip will be bigger than 11, that’s the secret he gave us.

    There have been concerns that AMD was only going to go for the mainstream gaming market with Polaris but Raja promised me and our readers that we “would be really really pleased.” We expect to see Polaris-based GPUs across the entire performance stack.
     

  • AMD’s primary goal here is to get many millions of gamers VR-ready, though getting the enthusiasts “that last millisecond” is still a goal and it will happen from Radeon.
     
  • No solid date on Polaris parts at all – I tried! (Other than the launches start in June.) Though Raja did promise that after tonight, he will only have his next alcoholic beverage until the launch of Polaris. Serious commitment!
     
  • Curious about the HBM2 inclusion in Vega on the roadmap and what that means for Polaris? Though he didn’t say it outright, it appears that Polaris will be using HBM1, leaving me to wonder about the memory capacity limitations inherent in that. Has AMD found a way to get past the 4GB barrier? We are trying to figure that out for sure.

    roadmap.jpg

    Why is Polaris going to use HBM1? Raja pointed towards the extreme cost and expense of building the HBM ecosystem prepping the pipeline for the new memory technology as the culprit and AMD obviously wants to recoup some of that cost with another generation of GPU usage.

Speaking with Raja is always interesting and the confidence and knowledge he showcases is still what gives me assurance that the Radeon Technologies Group is headed in the correct direction. This is going to be a very interesting year for graphics, PC gaming and for GPU technologies, as showcased throughout the Capsaicin event, and I think everyone should be looking forward do it.