Valve looking to reduce SteamVR hardware requirements

March 21, 2016 // 3:04 p.m.

Tags: #aperture #gtx-680 #gtx-970 #htc-vive #nvidia #oculus-rift #steamvr #valve #virtual-reality

Valve is working to reduce the system requirements for a pleasant SteamVR experience, with the company planning to release a rendering plugin for the Unity game engine to increase its efficiency at rending virtual reality scenes.

Consumer interest in virtual reality has never been higher, despite the high cost of entry using the first generation hardware from this latest attempt to launch the market. While the headsets themselves, costing up to £750, are a major portion of the overall cost, they are typically equalled or even exceeded by the cost of building a gaming PC capable of driving them. That's an issue that will, in theory, be resolved by the faltering march of Moore's Law as compute performance gets steadily cheaper, but for now the equation is simple: if you have less than £1,000 to spare and don't already have a decent gaming PC, you're going to be left out of the VR party.

It's a major stumbling block for mainstream adoption, and one Valve is keen to resolve. Speaking to specialist news site UploadVR following a talk at the Game Developer Conference (GDC) late last week, Valve's Alex Vlachos explained that the company was planning to release a rendering plugin for the popular Unity engine which would increase its efficiency at rendering scenes for use with SteamVR - meaning that acceptable performance would be within reach of lower-end, cheaper hardware.

According to Vlachos, the plugin - which uses techniques developed for the company's own game engine, as used in the Aperture VR technology demo - could allow VR games to run at an acceptable level on an Nvidia GeForce GTX 680, rather than requiring a GTX 970 or better as with the current renderer. Granted, that's a far cry from supporting truly budget-friendly hardware or laptop devices, but it's a start - and a sign that the content creators are aware of the entry-bar issue and are working to resolve it.

The news broke shortly after Sony announced its own PlayStation VR headset, which is to launch in October at just £349.99 for exclusive use with the PlayStation 4 console with the PlayStation Camera - a significant reduction on the cost of either Valve's flagship HTC Vive SteamVR headset or Oculus VR's rival Rift hardware.
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