When Frank Azor, the cofounder of Dell’s Alienware gamer PC division and the general manager of XPS, saw a demo of Oculus VR’s virtual reality headset for the first time, his first question was, “How can we help?” That was awhile ago, and at the recent 2016 International Consumer Electronics Show, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas, Alienware showed how it would help.

During CES, Palmer Luckey, the founder of Oculus, had to apologize for saying that the newly announced price for the Rift, which goes on sale formally on March 28, was “cheap” — even though, at $600, it costs more than Oculus originally expected.

Dell, meanwhile, said that it would price its VR-ready Alienware machines at $1,000, or about $100 or $200 below the usual price of its gamer PCs. Alienware also made it easy to order an Oculus-ready PC from its website. VR on the PC isn’t going to be cheap, and a very small percentage of PC owners will be able to run VR on their machines. But over time, Luckey and Azor are confident that VR will reach the masses.

Azor and Luckey teamed up at a Dell event at CES to talk about the alliance between the PC maker and the headset maker. Azor said that Luckey’s single-handed effort to revive virtual reality for the modern age reminded him of cofounding Alienware two decades earlier. They talked about the push and pull between hardware and software and how the dawn of a new gaming and entertainment system could drive demand for the entire hardware industry.


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Here’s an edited transcript of their geek lover’s conversation.

Oculus VR's Palmer Luckey and Dell's Frank Azor.

Above: Oculus VR’s Palmer Luckey and Dell’s Frank Azor.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Frank Azor: 2016 is the year of VR.

Palmer Luckey: It’s the first year that virtual reality is going to be available to consumers on a large scale. We partnered with Samsung to launch Gear VR last year. It’s pretty amazing how far the computing industry has come, to where virtual reality is actually feasible. If you look back a few decades, people have been trying to harness virtual reality for years. The display hardware just wasn’t there. The motion tracking hardware wasn’t there. The PC hardware wasn’t there. You could buy an SGI workstation for $100,000 that doesn’t touch the experience you can get with a back to school laptop today. That’s what makes virtual reality feasible today.

Azor: Can you give us a recap of all the big announcements you guys have made this week?

Luckey: We announced that we’re finally taking pre-orders for the consumer version of the Rift. We shipped DK1 and DK2, our development kits, before that. We’ll be shipping more than 20 Oculus Studios titles and many more third-party titles in 2016. We announced that we’re going to be bundling Lucky’s Tale with every sale of the Rift, and EVE: Valkyrie with every pre-order.

Pre-orders are going much better than I could have expected. There are a lot of people getting into virtual reality who are not necessarily the gamers who’ve been waiting. They’re people who’ve just heard about it now or heard about it recently, and they’re convinced enough to pre-order. Hopefully they’re convinced enough to use it.

Azor: It reminds me of where we were 20 years ago. We were in a similar place as far as some of the challenges and opportunities we see today in VR. If you can remember the world back then, some folks were playing PC games in 16-bit and 32-bit architectures. You had Windows. You had DOS. You had to do a lot of work to get some of this stuff to run. There was an unfair balance of trying to get a game to work versus actually playing it. That was the genesis of how we started Alienware. Our goal has been to keep people focused on their games. Don’t worry about supporting the tech. If you want the turnkey system, we’ll provide it to you and support it for you.

I feel like VR, in a lot of ways, is in need of that same opportunity. You guys have produced an amazing product. The experience is phenomenal. But there’s a decent amount of hardware requirements coming with it. How are you finding that folks who are pre-ordering the system—Are they equipped for the system performance that’s necessary to run the experience?

Luckey: The short answer is that they are not. But the longer answer is that we’ve been telling people you need a high-end PC to run VR for a long time. Earlier last year, we really started pushing this message, that virtual reality was going to be at least a $1500 all-in investment, for the PC and the Rift. A lot of people don’t have PCs like that. PC gamers do, people who build their own PCs or buy high-end PCs, people who play games that use high-end GPUs. But the majority of people out there do not have high-end PCs. That’s the reality. A lot of them have never owned one. A lot of people buying the Rift, I don’t know if they’ve ever had a reason to own a gaming PC. They might not even be buying the Rift for gaming, but that doesn’t change the fact that you need a high-end graphics card.

Azor: It’s more than just the graphics card. It’s the memory, the CPU, the way it fits together in general. You can’t have 15 apps running at once. It compromises the experience.

Luckey: VR is one of the least tolerant applications on the PC as far as applications running in the background. Rather than just losing a couple of frames once in a while, your entire view of the world will jerk and shake in a way that can make people really uncomfortable, even people like me who’ve adapted to anything. It’s very annoying.

Oculus founder Palmer Luckey at CES 2016.

Above: Oculus founder Palmer Luckey at CES 2016.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Azor: Why is the performance requirement so high?

Luckey: It boils down to resolution and frame rate, and the fact that you’re rendering multiple views. You’re not rendering one 2D view. You’re rendering two very wide field of view, very high resolution, very high framerate images. Even the most basic scenes in virtual reality can bring a system to its knees compared to relatively rich graphics that can run at 30 frames per second in 2D.

Unlike film or games or any other medium, there’s not a lot of tolerance for low frame rate or latency in the rendering pipeline. Every bit of the rendering pipeline has to be working properly, or the entire illusion falls apart. It doesn’t slightly degrade the experience. When it breaks, it breaks in a very bad way.

Azor: We’ve been working together for several years now, Oculus and Alienware and Dell. We share a common vision around driving the VR revolution. I remember meeting with Brendan Iribe a few years ago, when you were still a Kickstarter.

Luckey: It wasn’t just you. Multiple people within Dell and Alienware reached out to us, all in their own channels.

Azor: I remember talking to Brendan in this tiny little room down a hallway in E3. He put DK1 in front of me and I said, “That’s it. What do we need to do? How do we work together?” Ever since then we’ve been working on how we can make this vision come true. We want to put VR in as many homes and in front of as many people as possible.

I’m proud to announce today that we’re investing with Oculus in making this possible. Oculus has come to the market and said it’s going to be a bit more than $1500 to get this experience. The truth is, today it’s a lot more than that. It’s a few hundred dollars more. But we want to make that vision a reality. We’ll be taking our XPS 8900 and our X51 systems that meet the Oculus VR specification and are in the Oculus certified program, and we’ll invest in those platforms so that consumers can get them at a price point of about $1600.

Those machines typically run $1200 alone. Then you have to invest in the headset as well. You’ll be able to get one of those systems, starting today, bundled with a Rift headset, for $999 plus the headset.

We have believed in this vision of VR for a very long time now, all the way back to Michael Dell, who flew over to your offices and you met with him. I remember he sent me a note when he was done with the demo. “This thing is amazing. We have to work with these guys.”

When we first met, you guys were really enthusiastic about working with us. Can you tell the audience, why Dell? Why have you been so excited about working with us, and why has this thing gone so smoothly between us?

Luckey: Both Dell and Alienware have often worked in new markets and places where they can make unique stuff in the computing space. Both of you have a pretty solid credibility in the gaming market. The products I’ve bought – an Inspiron 5200, a Latitude D420, an Alienware M11X – I have experience with high quality machines. They’re robust. They survived me being a teenager.

Azor: You’re not the typical PC user, I would imagine.

Luckey: I’m not. I was bringing them to school, and then I was just trashing them when I was working, especially the D420. But Dell has a good reputation. Alienware has a good reputation, among gamers and the general consumer market. Every step of the way that we’ve been working with these guys has been awesome. They’re committed to the future of this as much as we are. They know that virtual reality is the future of computing in many ways. They want to help us make sure we get this to as many people as possible.

Frank Azor of Dell/Alienware wants VR to reach the masses.

Above: Frank Azor of Dell/Alienware wants VR to reach the masses.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Azor: Like I said, we’re investing with Oculus. We’re all in on it. Whether it be what we’re doing now with the bundle discount—The other thing to know is that these machines will be completely turn-key. The vision of Alienware systems is that you can be focused on your gaming, not worried about troubleshooting the tech. All of that’s going to carry through these Oculus bundles. We’ll be very sensitive around how that experience is for customers. It’s going to be plug and play. Everything will work great. That’s important for us.

You guys have already integrated into what we’re doing today, and we have plans for you to be integrated into everything we’re doing around the world. Alienware and Dell have grown in the gaming space. It’s been obvious since that first meeting with you and Brendan that this is the future. We’ve spent 20 years trying to make gaming more immersive by giving you higher resolution LCDs, better graphics cards. Our content partners are developing better games, better keyboards, mice, game pads. But all these things are still evolutionary.

This experience—If you haven’t sat inside an Oculus experience, it’s the most immersive thing you’ve ever seen before. I’m thankful that you guys have done what you’ve done, because it’s not evolutionary. It’s completely revolutionary.

Our first meeting, actually, was in virtual reality. If any of you have done the Oculus Toybox experience—I thought you were an avatar, by the way. I put the headset on and you didn’t say your name, so I thought, okay, that’s what this is. You said, “What’s your name?” I said, “Hey, I’m Frank.” You said, “Hey, I’m Palmer.” This was another guy in a whole new VR world with me. I’d done a ton of VR demos, but it was always just me and the game. But for two people to be in VR at the same time, interacting—We played ping pong and threw some boomerangs. It blew my mind again.

These guys blew my mind twice in three years. What are the next three years going to bring? It’s a little scary, but I’m amazingly excited.

Adrian Grenier (left), Palmer Luckey (center left) at a Dell CES event.

Above: Adrian Grenier (left) and Palmer Luckey (center left) at a Dell CES event.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Luckey: The good thing about virtual reality is that it’s increasing. A lot of problems are known, and in many cases the solutions are also known. It’s just a matter of engineering them, building them, and deploying them to consumers. That’s different from the smartphone industry, where people are really stretching for new ways to make them interesting and advance the technology.

There are no obvious wins for smartphones. “Obviously we need to solve that huge functional problem.” You can make the battery life better. You can make the resolution better. But virtual reality is going to be moving really fast over the next few years and the next decade.

Azor: Toybox was amazing. Everyone who’s tried this thing thinks it’s incredible. But what else have you seen? You’re working with most of the content partners out there building experiences for Oculus. Can you describe some of the most impressive experiences from the partners you’re working with that you’ve seen?

Luckey: I don’t want to play favorites too much, because some partners have announced things, some partners have yet to announce things. You’re going to see more things going public in the next few weeks. I like EVE: Valkyrie, which we’re bundling with every pre-order. CCP started developing this thing a long time ago. It was an experimental side project, and it turned into this full triple-A game, where you actually feel like you’re in a spaceship. You’re in a Star Wars-esque World War II in space fighter simulation. You feel like you’re in that fictionalized ideal space that you’ve seen in lots of fiction.

To be honest, that’s probably better than a perfect space simulation – “This is exactly how I imagined it was going to be!” I’ve been hugely impressed with that in particular, and we’re going to be announcing a bunch more stuff soon.

Azor: What do you have going on at the booth? What should everyone be lining up to see?

Luckey: At the booth we’re showing everything we’ve got. We’re showing a lot of different games, Oculus Touch, and Toybox, which you tried. We’re showing the latest version of the Rift, the final version that you’ll be getting when it ships, or very close to it. These are some of the units from earlier trade shows, not the off-the-line model. We’re also showing off Samsung Gear VR with a lot of different content.

Azor: Do you agree that 2016 is the year of virtual reality?

Luckey: It’s the first year. I wouldn’t say that 2016 is the year of VR in the same way that–Most other industries did grow over time. But 2016, people are going to look back and say that it was the start of virtual reality. It was when people started using it, when content started coming out, when there was something to do in VR and people could do it. You could never say that about any year before that.

You can point to earlier development kits and Gear VR, but those shipped in relatively small quantities to groups of people who are mostly using them to develop or experiment with prototypes and demos. It was never something that felt totally real until now.

Azor: We’re working together and making this announcement. It’s an exciting time for both of us. Talk a bit more, if you can, about what you see in the future of computing that’s powering these VR experiences. What should your partners focus on to not only provide these turn-key solutions now—What do you want to see from your partners over the next 12 months, six months, or in the longer term?

Luckey: More PCs that are optimized for VR. There are manufacturers. There are components. A lot of things have to come together to make virtual reality PCs more affordable, higher power, higher quality. It’s like when the GPU market really took off because of gaming. There was something to build these high-end graphics accelerators around. That’s what pushed the enhancement in that area. VR is going to do the same for PCs in a lot of ways.

Gaming is a big market, but it’s not big relative to, say, smartphones or laptops. There hasn’t been a big incentive for huge PC advancement in a long time. One big one was when people started being able to edit video on their laptops. That drove a lot of people to get machines that were powerful enough to do that. Or earlier than that, being able to watch videos. I remember having a hardware accelerator in a laptop to watch DVDs. That was a driving factor too.

VR is the same way. All of a sudden there will be a huge number of people who need a high-end PC, who want PCs that are even higher-end than exist in the world today, and it has nothing to do with gaming. It’ll be a much bigger market. I’m excited to see that drive the PC market and I’m excited that you guys are going to pursue that.

Harrison Weber of VentureBeat tries out an Oculus Rift.

Above: Harrison Weber of VentureBeat tries out an Oculus Rift.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Azor: I’m sure you’ve seen some amazing things emerge as a result of what you’ve done. There are probably use cases for VR that you never imagined. What are some of the use cases you’ve seen that maybe aren’t gaming? What have you seen that you never imagined?

Luckey: I’m not a creative person. Everything I think of is derivative. But the good news is that people have been thinking about virtual reality for a lot longer than I have. Most of the applications outside of gaming, people thought those up in science fiction a long time ago. There’s no application that hasn’t been covered by science fiction before.

Medical training, education, architecture visualization, these are all things that have nothing to do with gaming. Being able to communicate. Being able to have business meetings with people on the other side of the world without being in the same room. The fidelity is there today, where it’s the same quality as actually going to see them. This type of experience we’re having in this room could feasibly be simulated as real, or almost as real, in virtual reality. That has nothing to do with gaming at all. It’ll just save me a lot of flights.

Personally I’m most excited about the opportunities for education. VR has tremendous potential to present ideas and concepts in ways that are better than just pictures or text or videos. We can bring a lot of experiences that are only available to a select few right now to everybody in the entire world. I’m not talking about virtual reality as it exists today, but as the costs fall, it’ll be something that’s available to a lot more people. You can buy a smartphone now for $100 that blows my phone from 2009 out of the water.

As that happens, think of things like museums, which people in only a certain geographic area can enjoy. Countries that people are never able to go see. All that will be available in virtual reality. You can argue that it’s not as good as the real world, that it will always lack something special, but it’ll be better nothing, and I think there’s a chance that it will be as good or better than the real world in many scenarios. But I’m optimistic.

Azor: What were some of your influences? You were the one-man show that was pounding the table and meeting with everybody four or five years ago, saying that we can make this. What inspired you to see the vision and bring us to where we are now? I know you read a lot of sci-fi.

Luckey: I read a lot of sci-fi. When I first started working on virtual reality, it wasn’t any grand ambition. I was just trying to make one really good headset for me, and I thought that somehow that would be useful. I hadn’t thought it through. But I started experimenting with VR for fun, to see what I could do with it.

I started by modifying old year that I could get my hands on, from the ‘80s and ‘90s. I realized quickly that those architectures were critically flawed in a lot of ways. They didn’t take into account modern technological advancements. So I started working on entirely new architectures, and they got better and better. At first I would show my friends and they’d say I was a nutcase. Yeah, I know. But it started to get better, and people would say, “Okay, this is still stupid, but at least you’re doing something worthwhile.”

Eventually it got to a point where my younger sisters, even they thought I was doing something cool. That was huge, because they hate me. No, they love me. But it was around then I started realizing that this was better than I thought it could be. VR was better than I thought it could be when I started experimenting with it.

From there you make it sound like I had some incredible vision, like I went out and pitched it to people and convinced them of my vision for the world. But it was really pretty simple. It was people like you and Michael. I showed it to them and they said, “Okay, I totally get it.” That’s how we managed to get so many people on board from the hardware and software industries. That was how we convinced all of our partners that this is going to be the future.

Oculus Touch input system for virtual reality.

Above: Oculus Touch input system for virtual reality.

Image Credit: Oculus VR

Question: Palmer, you had to apologize for saying that $600 was a cheaper price. Frank, are you compensating for the Rift being a bit more expensive than we thought?

Azor: We made this commitment to Oculus before we knew what their pricing was going to be. When we met, it was pretty simple. When you see Brendan, he won’t talk to you. He says, “Watch this demo,” and then he’ll talk to you, because he knows it sells itself. He put me in the demo, I came back to the real world, and my first question was, “How can we help?” His response was, “Invest in making this accessible to as many people as you can.”

For months now, since they came out with the end spec, we’ve been saying, “How can we get this in the hands of as many people as possible?” We obviously have the marketing reach, the distribution, all that stuff. But the biggest investment we could make was investing in the price point to make it as affordable as possible. We made that commitment long before they announced the price point.

Luckey: We didn’t even know what the price point was going to be for a long time. Around the time when we started messaging how much it would cost for a PC and the Rift was around the time where it started becoming clear how much it was going to cost. To you guys’ credit, we’ve been able to push down the cost of the PC in a lot of ways, further than we thought was going to be possible. That’s been super helpful.

Question: With the next generation of GPUs, will we see a laptop bundle with the Rift?

Azor: You’ll see us design pretty much every system, moving forward, with VR in consideration. You can count on just about every form factor that we build, where possible, to be a VR-supportive platform. In a very short amount of time, it’ll even more affordable than $1600.

Question: For these bundled Rifts, are you putting aside units from the earliest production run to fill those?

Luckey: When you buy a PC that’s bundled, you’re getting all the pre-order bonuses we’ve talked about. You get EVE: Valkyrie when it’s pre-ordered. You’re reserving your place in line for Touch when you get this with a PC. I wouldn’t say that they’re being pulled or reserved from production, because we’ve always accounted for that. We’ve always planned on working with these guys to get these PC bundles out to people.

It depends on how this will all work out. There probably will be people who, when they buy a Rift and PC together, end up getting a Rift and a PC together earlier than some people who are pre-ordering on our website right now.

Question: As a photographer and someone who writes about photography, there’s a lot of talk in that community about new technologies and 4K video. What opportunities can you see in VR for photographers?

Luckey: One thing we’re already seeing on Gear VR, one of the most popular applications, is 360-degree photos. Whether they’re stereo or live, being able to capture the entire environment rather than a small frame. It’s a totally different way of taking a picture, trying to frame everything in the shot – even the things behind you and yourself. It’s fun to look at nature shots. “Where’s the photographer?” It turns out he’s crouching behind a rock. You can’t see him, but he’s there.

There’s going to be a lot more people who are working on this. The people who are good at film and photography, it turns out they’re good at VR as well. It’s the same people thinking in the same ways with new tools. We’re also seeing a lot of people do 360-degree videos. We’re seeing people build things that merge video, photos, and realtime rendered content in new ways.

That’s going to expand over time. The hardware you need to generate really good VR photos is somewhat high end. It’s in the domain of the professional photographer. But that’s coming down over time. I have a little camera called a Theta. It’s this little tiny point-and-click thing, and when I hold it over my head and click, it captures a 360-degree photo. As the quality of those goes up, people are going to start using VR capture as the primary way of taking photos. It allows you to not just crop the photo a little bit, you can crop the photo into any part of the scene. On top of that, you’re capturing a lot more than a photo or video ever could.

I’m just copying what science fiction says, but if we look into the future, the perception around VR versus traditional photos is going to change. Today, when we look back at old photos, you say, “How is it that this entire period of history had only these tiny little black and white photos?” That’s all we have for a visual record of those time periods. I have a feeling that people are going to look at normal photos in 50 years in the future. “Can you believe they could only capture one tiny static rectangle with a bunch of noise on this phone they carried around? We have no idea what was going on!” People will start to look at VR capture as the definitive method, not just for art, but also for journalism and personal photography.

There’s a person at Oculus who works at our Japanese office. He captured his wedding using 360-degree cameras. He won’t begrudge me saying this—He’s not an artist. It wasn’t artful. But it was a functional capture and he was able to show that to people in his family on Gear VR later, people who weren’t able to make it. That’s an example from right now, where someone is capturing something and able to provide a better experience than they would have just a few years ago.

Oculus doesn't need to convince GamesBeat's Dean Takahashi that VR works. He's seen it!

Above: Oculus doesn’t need to convince GamesBeat’s Dean Takahashi that VR works. He’s seen it!

Image Credit: Brendan Iribe/VentureBeat

Azor: From a hardware perspective it’s going to be pretty amazing. I’m not a photographer, so I’m not qualified as an expert. But just as a spectator of cameras, like the ones we have here, they’re marginally the same, on a macro level. They’ve evolved over time. Pictures have gotten higher resolution. But this spurs form factors for cameras that we’ve never seen before.

Luckey: There’s gonna be cameras in your eyeballs. Didn’t you see that documentary? The Terminator? (laughs)

Azor: What’s going to change—Even the way we speak. We’re not going to say that we took a picture. Maybe it’s a scene that I captured. What else is going to emerge from this? It’s fascinating. We won’t just look at a scene from a distance. This will allow people to be in this place seeing us talk. It’s not just a memory. It’s an entire experience.

A lot of times we try to re-create something by editing a video as well as we can, or even making the game or the 3D experience. But we can put someone in this room right now. We can capture it in its full form. You guys have a perspective right now that’s completely different from Palmer’s and mine. Fast forward three years and this scene will be completely different. The cameras and the videos coming out of it will be completely different.

Luckey: There have been people working on this specifically for football. They’re experimenting with capturing playing fields from all around the field so you can generate a realtime synthetic view. You can move a virtual camera around inside. The cameras are going to look very different. It’s going to be captured from a bunch of angles, from places we don’t notice, and you’ll be able to place virtual cameras and virtual viewpoints anywhere inside the field.

Question: Have you committed how long you’ll keep each min spec locked in? Is there a set time you’ll keep that, so when consumers buy certain hardware they’ll have a length of time that will be the best experience?

Azor: The min spec is a result of the processing requirements that the experience has. Today that requires a certain set of hardware. Fortunately, that hardware gets faster at a very rapid rate in our industry. We’ve seen that for a long time. I expect that min spec to get more affordable as every generation of new parts comes out. We’re in a fortunate place where that happens every nine to 12 months. I expect specs are going to come down as lower price points meet performance requirements.

Luckey: The other thing you can look at is, the experience you have with the Rift and a recommended spec PC is the bare bones requirements for running a headset that can deliver that oft-used buzzword, “presence.” If you have something that can deliver presence – 90 frames per second at a high enough resolution — and not fail, that’s not going to change in the future. Even if you go five years out, I don’t think that minimum specification will change. That will be the minimum bar for quality virtual reality.

The cost for that min spec is coming down. Eventually people won’t be buying special PCs for VR. They’ll buy PCs that simply have that power integrated into them. That’s going to be huge, when PCs are being built to the power where they’re able to meet this specification without having to be a specialized VR PC.

Azor: Our design considerations now have VR in every single one of them. In the future, hopefully every Alienware system, and every Dell XPS system eventually as well, will be an Oculus certified experience.

Luckey: The more they’re optimized for VR, the fewer hours it takes to make it work well for VR, as opposed to just building it for gaming or word processing or whatever a computer is for. The deeper the optimization goes, the lower the price can be.

Azor: Direct connections to the graphics hardware are one issue. There are others that are going to be dealt with.

Luckey: The funny thing is, that layout isn’t necessarily bad for traditional gaming. Especially for a laptop, where most of the work is taking place on the integrated display. That’s actually a great architecture. It’s not a flawed architecture. The problem is when you start to stack VR on top of something that was never built for VR in the first place. By building specifically for VR, or at least keeping it in mind, you make sure you don’t end up in scenarios where you build architectures that have critical flaws for VR.

Question: I wonder whether the 970 min spec is too low. I imagine a 980 Ti would really be optimal for VR. Are we aiming too low with the 970?

Luckey: There’s a reason we call the 970 a recommended spec and not the minimum spec. Right now I play a lot of games on a 980 or higher because they’re internal builds that haven’t been optimized yet. But when I’m playing final builds, I use a 970 rig, because that’s what the majority of people will be using. Once you go into the 980 world, it’s rarefied air. Not many people are up there.

We’ve been working on virtual reality for a few years now. Imagine going back two or three years and saying that the 970 isn’t going to be enough for VR. It’d blow your mind. There will always be cards coming in the future, but at some point you have to say, “What’s something I can make a good experience with?” You’re not going to be able to make every game in the world that you can imagine work on a 970. But there’ve always been limits on PC games. How many objects can you render? How many textures can you stream? A 970 is going to allow most games to look good because developers are going to be optimizing around it.

If a developer says they want to make VR games with 5000 spaceships around this giant Death Star, you’re not going to necessarily do that on a 970 without cutting graphical fidelity to match. A 970 is not the minimum requirement. It’s plenty. It will render a lot of great-looking games.

Azor: The way we’ve played games up to now, one of the principal ways we’ve improved immersion has been through resolution and improved textures, shadows, anti-aliasing, all these little things that have made evolutionary changes to create a more immersive experience. Larger screens, all that stuff. The way you immerse yourself in VR is less dependent on those elements, the typical performance markers we’re used to now, and it’s a lot of other factors.

There’s a different balance for immersion now. It doesn’t necessarily have to be crazy resolution or crazy textures. We have other tools to play with that aren’t as burdensome on a graphics card as some of the more traditional things we’re used to. On top of that, you’re designing the content to a very specific set of hardware on all fronts, both on the PC side and on the headset side. If it doesn’t play well on 970, you can make it play well by turning things down a bit and using some other immersion tools that you haven’t had at your disposal before, or you can say, “This is going to run on a 980.”

There was a long line to try out the Oculus Rift at CES 2016.

Above: There was a long line to try out the Oculus Rift at CES 2016.

Image Credit: Dean Takahashi

Question: You mentioned optimizing for VR. To my understanding, shouldn’t that be higher GPU power and compatible drivers? What else is there to optimize?

Luckey: There are a lot of other things going on. The GPU and CPU can be optimized in a lot of ways for virtual reality. A lot of it also comes down to the system software stack, and even fundamental things like—You asked about laptops and how that will hook up. It’s not just about putting in a better GPU and CPU. It’s about architecting the entire PC in a way where the system is working better for VR.

You guys have built a lot of custom motherboards. There are lots of things you can do beyond putting in a good graphics card and CPU to make a system work well for a particular application.

Azor: I have to be a little cryptic in the answer because VR has introduced a bunch of challenges and opportunities that result from those challenges. We have a rich history of solving problems for gamers – a lot of firsts, a lot of innovations, a lot of patents, a lot of IP – in the spirit of building this evolutionary experience that we’ve seen over the last 20 years. We have a laundry list of opportunities now with VR. If I told you all of them then my competitors would have that list as well.

Question: So it’s not just a performance challenge. It’s architecturally different?

Azor: There are architectural considerations. There are form factor considerations. I wouldn’t say everything changes, but the considerations that go into our designs now have an additional layer that we have to think through that we never had to think through before. Maybe I have to sacrifice a little bit of battery life in order to make this a VR compatible configuration. That’s probably worth it. There are other issues around simple things like cables.

Luckey: One really simple issue is just having USB 3.0 controllers that are able to work properly. I don’t know if everyone remembers the early days of USB 3.0, but there were some pretty bad control chips back then. They didn’t exactly follow spec. That can be a problem when you’re relying on everything working to maximum performance on the USB 3.0 spec. Luckily it’s not really an issue now. But that’s the type of thing that–For a lot of people it doesn’t matter that you’re able to deliver maximum throughput, maximum speed, and maximum power on a single port. It starts to matter when you’re making high-end gear that does rely on that.

Azor: In the past, if there was any lag introduced in playing a game on a flat screen, it was inconvenient. Now it’s the difference between getting sick and not getting sick. What are the opportunities there, to reduce the lag across the entire configuration? It’s not necessarily just on the graphics card or the display. There are so many different challenges and opportunities that this has presented.

We’re at day one. Where was PC gaming 20 or 30 years ago? It was well established before we even got into the game. Where are we now? If I knew then what I know now—We know a lot now. We’re going to be able to innovate and accelerate and do some things that are pretty miraculous around VR that took us a lot longer when we had less resources and less knowledge.

This is revolutionary. There will be revolutionary problems and opportunities for us. We don’t have all the answers yet, but we’re invested. We’re committed. You can expect to see solutions coming very rapidly.

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