At its Oculus Connect event today, Oculus announced a new set of $ 500 systems designed for fast, smooth VR at a much lower price point. When the Oculus Rift launched this year, Oculus’ official minimum recommendation was an 900 system running a GTX 970. Today, the company described a new technology it’s invented, asynchronous spacewarp, that allowed it to bring VR to much more affordable computers without compromising the user experience. This is also the first time we’ve seen Oculus partner up with AMD and CyberPower to launch a new VR system configuration; the first round of recommended systems for VR used Nvidia GPUs.
Sources we’ve spoken to confirmed the GPU inside the new CyberPower PC is an RX 470. That GPU is somewhat less powerful than the GTX 970 Oculus formerly recommended as a minimum standard for VR, but that’s where asynchronous spacewarp comes in. Details on the new technology are a bit scarce, but here’s what we know so far.
Earlier this year, Oculus introduced a feature supported by both AMD and Nvidia known as asynchronous timewarp. Essentially, asynchronous timewarp is a way for developers to ensure the view you see during gameplay is accurately mapped to in 3D space. Without asynchronous timewarp, the game measures your position, renders the image, and sends the finished frame back to the headset. If you moved your head after the sensor scanned for your position, however, the image sent back to the headset would reflect where you were, not where you are. Asynchronous timewarp samples your head’s position a second time, immediately before the frame is displayed, and then distorts and re-projects the frame to ensure it accurately reflects your position.
Asynchronous timewarp can smooth over bumps in the frame rate display period. But it doesn’t fully address the problem of low frame rates (developers have generally been told to target a 90Hz refresh rate, aka 90 FPS). That’s where asynchronous spacewarp comes in.
Asynchronous timewarp adjusts a frame to ensure it matches the users’ actual view before displaying it. Asynchronous spacewarp analyzes content and motion vectors to create an inferred frame of animation between them. While Oculus is still painting 90 FPS as the best choice, Oculus believes asynchronous spacewarp is an extremely useful way to bring VR to lower price points and partnered with AMD and CyberPower to make it happen.
The Rift’s new minimum specs call for a GTX 960 or RX 470, a Core i3-6100 or FX-4350, and at least 8GB of RAM. Previously, Oculus recommended a Core i5-4590 and GTX 970 for gaming. While the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive are both still quite expensive, whacking $ 300-$ 400 off the cost of a minimum VR experience in less than a year is no small feat. While the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift haven’t seen any price cuts themselves, bringing the overall cost of ownership down this much is still extremely important if VR is to ever make any headway in the mainstream market.
Developments like this are also part of why we recommended people wait before pre-ordering either the Vive or the Oculus Rift. Passionate VR enthusiasts and those with large disposable incomes can afford to take chances on new hardware and Version 1.0 launches, but we’ve already seen a significant reduction in up-front VR ready cost. If you want to maximize the value of your purchases it’s always best to wait and see how a market evolves before jumping in. We’ll want to wait and see how the RX 470 with asynchronous spacewarp compares with higher-end GPUs without the feature. But Oculus presumably wouldn’t have rolled the capability out if it didn’t think it was a good idea.