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.

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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. 

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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.

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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

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March 19, 2016 | 03:55 PM - Posted by mLocke

so I *don't* need a $1,500 double-precision-less GPU for VR?

cheeky comments aside, if you look at the lineup of games for Playstation VR, there isn't much that is graphically impressive, other than the characters of Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball 3.

March 19, 2016 | 05:39 PM - Posted by Crazycanukk

I ran this on my system..

I have 16 gigs DDR4 , a 5960x o'cd to 4.0ghz and a 980 ti and Steams VR test told me i had to upgrade my GPU that i wasnt going to be able to use VR even on low.

Something has got to be off.

March 19, 2016 | 10:35 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Eh? I have a 5820k at 4.4, 32gb ddr4 and a 980Ti and it gave me a score of 11 with no dips on the performance line thing..

And i agree with the above, VR will need a strong GPU.. I'm used to my 120hz screen now and 40fps or so feels quite low now to me tbh.. really has to be a minimum of 50-60 at the very lowest during intense sections.

I mean new games are struggling to run at a solid 60fps even with a high end GPU @ 1440p, and some think 4k is becoming the next big thing, yea maybe in a few years when single graphics cards can handle it. You don't want to use multi GPU with VR because then you'll end up with micro stuttering.

Single high end GPU and 1440p/1080p with high refresh is best.

March 19, 2016 | 11:49 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

If they set it up properly, then you should not end up with micro-stuttering. You can use one GPU for each eye if the graphics engine allows this to be set-up. Doing AFR would be a very inefficient way to set it up.

March 20, 2016 | 02:39 AM - Posted by BlackDove (not verified)

Youve either got broken hardware or a software issue then. That can easily get a 10 out of 11 unless its broken or filled with dust or malware.

March 19, 2016 | 07:46 PM - Posted by Kareha (not verified)

Oh god, the frame rates on the demo units I've tried already make me super I'll after about 5-10 minutes, 45 fps would likely finish me off. It sucks because I really wanted to get into VR as well, but my stupid brain won't allow it :-(

March 19, 2016 | 08:54 PM - Posted by Lance Ripplinger (not verified)

Does this mean I can run VR on my old i7-860 here with a GTX 660Ti and get 90fps? *sarcasm*

March 19, 2016 | 10:43 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

RoadtoVR have a full transcript of Alex Vlachos' talk:

The drop-to-half-VSYNC implementation of synchronous timewarp was discussed as only to be used in an absolute worst performance case, with other scaling methods used in preference (e.g. changing MSAA level, rendering resolution, 'fixed foveal' masking, density masking, etc).

March 20, 2016 | 12:03 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Foveated rendering seems like a great idea. Maybe they could even do some ray tracing and such. The actual field of view where humans have good focus and good color perception is a very small FOV. That could reduce the hardware required significantly, but it would need to be very low latency to actually work. I don't know if lower end hardware would be able to pull this off. It isn't in the video card maker's best interest to implement such things, to some extent, since they want you to have a good reason to upgrade your video card.

March 20, 2016 | 05:08 AM - Posted by JohnGR

I guess it is bad idea to say to someone that "you have to buy a $300 card before buying a vr headset", so they decided to give the OK to more systems.

That way people with an R9 380 or an GTX 960 for example, will go and buy that vr headset they always wanted to, and if they end up unsatisfied, well, after giving $600-$800 dollars I guess it is easier to persuade yourself to throw $300 more for that card that can reach 90fps.

March 20, 2016 | 05:11 PM - Posted by djotter

Sunk Cost Fallacy hard at work.

March 20, 2016 | 02:41 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Well once Polaris and Pascal are out there, AMDs eariler GCN generation crds will continue to go down in price so maybe there will be some very good deals for some AMD based dual graphics card setups along with more savings on the pre-Polaris AMD high end GPUs. Once the 14nm cards hit the market and performance doubles across the full product stacks of the GPU makers then VR will definitely become more affordable. AMD's GCN cards that can better support async compute and Vulkan/DX12 will offer better VR performance for the money spent! Used GPU prices should fall also, and more gamers switch to the newer technology.

March 21, 2016 | 06:37 AM - Posted by siriq

Looks , i am good :D
GTX 580 9.3 vr score :D

Just did one more run with some extra OC:

VR score of 10

March 22, 2016 | 01:37 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

If you have $800 to blow on a VR headset for gaming, then you can afford $300-$400 for a video card.

March 22, 2016 | 05:46 PM - Posted by siriq

I can use VR headset for free. So why would i buy a new vga? This one is more than enough for VR movies etc. Even for games with lowered settings.

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