When Oculus and Valve launched their VR platforms, both companies emphasized the need for a high-performance host machine to avoid motion sickness. Following years of internal research, Oculus and Valve both concluded that a 90 Hz refresh rate is ideal. Such an aggressive goal requires lot of graphics horsepower. Early on, you needed a GeForce GTX 970 or Radeon R9 390 to handle the workload. Oculus and Valve have since introduced technologies like Asynchronous Space Warp, Asynchronous Time Warp, and Asynchronous Reprojection to help compensate for less-powerful graphics subsystems. Nevertheless, you still need a modern gaming PC for comfortable VR.
Microsoft offers two performance tiers for WMR headsets, and these enable different experience levels. Basic Windows Mixed Reality compatibility requires a PC equipped with a sixth- or seventh-gen Intel Core i5 or i7 processor that includes integrated graphics and at least 8GB of memory, running Windows 10 Fall Creators Update. This base performance tier lets you interact with WMR-compatible UWP apps in the Windows MR home environment and enjoy 360° images/videos. You can even play some games with Intel HD Graphics, including Space Pirate Trainer.
We asked Microsoft how it achieves all of this using decidedly mainstream graphics hardware. The company credits its ownership of the OS and access to the entire pipeline for its ability to optimize performance.
Ultra MR Experience
If you’re serious about using Microsoft’s platform, especially at 90 Hz, you really need a PC that meets or exceeds the Windows Mixed Reality Ultra configuration. Higher refresh rates make it easier to keep the device on your head for extended periods. And of course, the Ultra configuration enables support for more content, particularly modern VR games.
At the very least, you want an Nvidia GeForce GTX 960/GTX 1050 or AMD Radeon RX 460/RX 560 graphics card. But even those boards won't give you access to the full gamut of available content. If you want to play SteamVR games with your Windows MR headset, you need a GeForce GTX 1070 or Radeon RX Vega 56. Granted, SteamVR for Windows MR is still in Early Access, so the requirements may change. Just remember that WMR headsets boast a higher resolution than the Vive and Rift HMDs, imposing a more taxing graphics workload.
The standard Windows MR Ultra configuration offers support for a wide range of CPUs, from an Intel Core i5-4590 or AMD Ryzen 5 1400 on up. Microsoft and Valve won’t cut you off from running SteamVR on one of those mid-range processors. However, both companies suggest a Core i7 for the best possible experience.
Many PCs meet the requirements for one of Microsoft’s WMR performance tiers. However, most don’t offer native Bluetooth 4.0 support, which is required if you want to use the WMR controllers with your headset.
Use Microsoft’s compatibility tool to check if your system meets the Windows MR requirements. When we ran it on our VR test system, we received a warning that the machine didn't have a Bluetooth controller. We expected that the Acer HMD would have one in it like HTC’s Vive, but alas, that's not the case.
We picked up an inexpensive IOGear USB Bluetooth 4.0 receiver for less than $20, but you shouldn't have to endure such an inconvenience. Take note, Acer: leaving out critical (and inexpensive) components leads to confusion and, ultimately, dissatisfied customers.
MORE: Virtual Reality Basics