This is a great piece written by Jim McCauley Dialect’s Editor-in-Chief of Games and Tech, on behalf of Nvidia, for publication on IGN.
After numerous false starts over the past 25 years, high-quality virtual reality for the home is about to arrive. Pre-orders for the Oculus Rift are now open, and with HTC Vive, Steam VR and PlayStation VR also due to launch in 2016, everyone will soon be able to experience a whole new dimension in immersive gaming.
Of course, as is often the case with cutting-edge tech, you’re going to need the right hardware to take full advantage of your VR experience. To enjoy VR on PC, your system is going to have to be bang up to date to deliver the goods. To help you navigate the often-confusing world of tech specifications, NVIDIA, along with leading PC makers, system builders, add-in card partners and retailers, has introduced the GeForce GTX VR Ready program that will allow consumers to instantly identify VR capable GPUs in PCs, notebooks and add-in cards.
And so if you’re shopping for hardware that’ll go with your new Rift, simply look for the GeForce GTX VR Ready badge and you’ll know it’s ready for some VR action. Alongside your VR headset, NVIDIA recommends a GeForce GTX 970 for desktop VR or greater (or a GTX 980 if you’re using a notebook), as well as:
a PC with USB 3.0 support,
CPU: Intel Core i5-4590 equivalent or greater CPU
8GB+ RAM of Memory/RAM
2x USB 3.0 ports and HDMI 1.3
Windows 7 SP1 or newer.
It’s been a long time coming, but it’s definitely been worth the wait. To give you an idea of how far VR has come, here’s a quick trip through the leading VR systems over the years.
It might seem like an incongruous start, but for 50 years the humble View-Master was the cutting edge in virtual reality. Launched in 1939 – long before the term virtual reality was even coined – it was a clever little way to enjoy stereoscopic views of famous landmarks and tourist attractions, providing you with the next best thing to actually being there. Its cardboard discs contained seven pairs of tiny color transparencies that, when viewed through the View-Masters twin lenses, turned into vivid stereoscopic tableaux. And bringing it right up to date, 2015 saw the View-Master relaunched as a bargain VR system, using Google’s Cardboard platform.
Launched in 1991, Virtuality’s VR gaming pods promised to turn moribund arcades into worlds of virtual wonder. Powered by Commodore Amiga 3000 computers and comprised of head-mounted Visette displays and a variety of controllers, Virtuality’s pods delivered real-time multiplayer VR gaming with a small but varied range of games including Dactyl Nightmare, Grid Busters and Total Destruction. A later version of the system even boasted an official Pac-Man game: Pac-Man VR. The displays were low resolution – 276x37px – with a frame rate of just 20fps, and at $65,000 each, Virtuality machines were expensive arcade attractions that failed to sell in big numbers, but they helped kindle an interest in VR that continued through the 1990s.[Image attribution: Dr. Waldern/Virtuality Group]
Sega VR (1993)
Riding high on console success in the early 1990s, Sega was the first company to attempt to bring a proper virtual reality system into the home, announcing Sega VR in 1991 and demonstrating it at the 1993 Summer CES. The system was due to launch later that year as a $200 add-on for the Sega Genesis, with five games: Virtua Racing, Nuclear Rush, Iron Hammer, Matrix Runner and Outlaw Racing. However, it quickly turned out to be an early victim of the issues that have dogged VR throughout its history: headaches and motion sickness. Sega quietly cancelled the home version of Sega VR, although it went on to use VR technology in some of its arcade machines.
Virtual Boy (1995)
Unlike Sega VR, Nintendo’s Virtual Boy actually went on sale in 1995. Its red LED graphics were hard on the eyes, and despite it being tripod-mounted without any head-tracking technology, it still ended up causing dizziness, nausea and headaches in users. The final nail in the Virtual Boy’s coffin was a lack of decent games. Only 14 made it to North America, and bundled launch title Mario’s Tennis was arguably one of the best. Failing to sell despite multiple price cuts, the Virtual Boy was discontinued in 1996, less than a year after launch.
VFX1 Headgear (1995)
1995 also saw the launch of the first true consumer-level VR system. Forte Techologies’ VFX1 Headgear was a heavyweight piece of VR kit available at a comparatively reasonable price; for around $600 dollars you got a solid VR helmet with dual LCD displays, three degrees of motion tracking and built-in stereo speakers, plus a handheld controller called a Cyberpuck with its own motion sensors. Despite its shortcomings – it only had a 45 degree field of view and the displays were a chunky 263x230px per eye with only 256 colors – a refresh rate of 60Hz and a library of great games including Doom, Descent and Quake helped it do reasonable business.
[Image attribution: Ajerimez, http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/]
Oculus Rift (2016)
Public attention for VR quickly dwindled, and it wasn’t until 2012 that it finally got its big breakthrough. In 2009 when Palmer Luckey, a head-mounted display designer and VR aficionado, hit upon the idea of creating a low-cost, high-performance VR system using a single LCD screen, and by 2011 he’d built a prototype that caught the attention of id Software’s John Carmack. A Kickstarter campaign followed, raising over $2 million, and the rest is history. After six revisions, the retail version of the Oculus Rift features an OLED display with a resolution of 1080×1200 per eye, a 90Hz refresh rate, six degrees of head tracking and built-in headphones with 3D audio, and it’s available to pre-order now for $599 with an expected ship date of May 2016.