There are two barriers to enjoying virtual reality on a PC. One is the price of admission: a PC VR setup requires an £700 headset, controllers and a high-end gaming PC. The other is freedom of movement. We’re not yet at a stage when our VR goggles can be truly wireless.
Or are we? Upgrades to the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive just made PC VR a whole lot more affordable and convenient than ever before.
Oculus, for example, recently announced the launch of Asynchronous Spacewarp (ASW) for the Rift, which lowers the minimum spec for a VR-ready system. So instead of requiring a PC stacked with at least an Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD 290 graphics card, ASW will allow VR to work on less powerful, everyday machines.
In this case, it supports current-generation AMD RX 400 series GPUs and previous- or current-generation Nvidia GTX 900 or 1000 series GPUs.
There’s obviously some technical trickery involved here. Oculus explains that Asynchronous Spacewarp is a technique that “extrapolates frames and lets VR titles run at up to half rate [45fps], while delivering a visual experience that’s almost as good as native 90hz rendering.” You can see ASW in action above.
The room-scale VR problem
Increased affordability and accessiblity should give a boost to PC VR adoption, with room-scale experiences (where you physically move around a virtual space) the ultimate goal. But even then immersion can be disrupted by the cables connecting your headset to your PC.
One heavyweight solution to this problem is a VR backpack PC, which you carry around with you as you play. Another is a proposed $220 add-on for the Vive that makes HTC’s SteamVR headset truly and wonderfully wireless.
According to Upload VR, the new accessory is made by a Chinese company called TPCAST. A transmitter and a receiver clip onto the Vive headset and connect to an external Power Box. Alvin W. Graylin, China Regional President of Vive at HTC, said that “the experience would ‘greatly improve’ the overall Vive experience, with no ‘noticeable difference’ for factors like latency.”
Anything that boosts the appeal of PC VR is welcome, especially in the light of cheaper alternatives such as PlayStation VR and entry-level goggles like Google’s Daydream View VR. While a lower minimum spec and the prospect of wireless connectivity give PC owners fresh reasons to buy in, PC VR still faces an uphill battle.
When cheaper is better
Figures from SuperData Research suggest that, by the end of 2016, “the Oculus Rift is projected to sell 355,088 units; the HTC Vive will sell 420,108 units; Google Daydream will sell 450,083 units; and the PS VR will sell 2,602,307 units.”
But is cheaper better? What these figures don’t take into account is that PC VR arguably delivers the best overall experience. The Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive have a superior resolution, better ‘touch’ controllers, impressive room-scale support, plus a wider range of games and apps. And all you need to get started is a decent PC.