VR gaming generates excitement. But even 18 months after we first reviewed the Oculus Rift, significant barriers to widespread adoption remain.
Most material is the price of VR. You have to buy an HMD. And while the Rift and Vive both cost a lot less than they did in 2016, that’s still an outlay of several hundred dollars. There’s also the investment in a high-end gaming PC. Both Oculus and HTC go out of their way to bring minimum requirements down through technologies like asynchronous spacewarp and asynchronous reprojection, respectively. But there’s a big difference between the “barely cutting it” experience and high-quality VR. Our tests today push maximum-quality settings through a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti. Really, that’s not the best way to isolate platform performance, since graphics bottlenecks stand to mask differences between host processors. When we’re immersed in VR, however, we want beautiful visuals.
Premium content is also in short supply. Those AAA titles that do exist knock this medium out of the park. They’re still pretty rare, though. And because the install base of HMDs is relatively small, developers aren’t making much money creating new games. You’re seeing stakeholders like HTC and Oculus subsidize the hefty development costs in order to get good games out of the door. Once those games exist, a greater number of enthusiasts will see the value in spending hundreds of dollars on new hardware. It’s a chicken-and-egg issue that works itself out slowly, and only after significant investment.
The pace at which this industry moves is breathtaking, though. Some of the developers we spoke with had an idea of how previous-gen platforms behaved under their games. Most could only speculate how newer architectures like Core i9 and Ryzen might fare since they hadn’t gone hands-on yet. And they all seemed to have moved on to new projects already. Clearly, the best is yet to come as those talented studios apply what they learned from the games we tested today.
As is usually the case after a cursory look at performance, a bit of data begs for more. We wanted to go wide on game testing, narrowing the comparison platforms to keep the workload manageable. And while it’s great to see how so many different engines handle such a wide range of hardware, a retrospective look back makes us wish we had Core i5 and a lower-end Ryzen chip to fill in holes in the middle.
The good news for enthusiasts building high-end PCs is that Core i9, Core i7, and Ryzen 7 are all capable of backing a GeForce GTX 1080 Ti. Frankly, though, if your primary focus is VR gaming, the Core i7-7700K really can’t be beaten. It’s a top performer and $90 cheaper than the Ryzen. You could pick up the -7700K and a GeForce GTX 1080 for less than a Core i9, leaving money left over for a couple of games.
Slower CPUs and flagship-class graphics cards obviously create balance issues. It’d be far more likely to pair an older FX or Core i3 with a GeForce GTX 1060 or Radeon RX 580, not the GTX 1080 Ti we used. But then you’re talking dialed-back detail settings in order to maintain playable performance. Until we’re able to generate some data with more mainstream configurations, we’d guess that mid-range GPUs are best paired with Core i5 or Ryzen 5 host processors at a minimum, rather than the baselines Oculus/HTC specify.
If there are specific combinations you’d like to see tested, or if you have questions you’d like to have your favorite developers answer, let us know in the comments—we’ll see what we can do!
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