Oculus Rift’s Recommended PC Specs Announced, and Why This May Benefit Sony

There’s been a lot of speculation for how powerful a PC will need to be to properly run an Oculus Rift when it releases early next year, and now we know the specifics. On Friday, a blog post from Oculus’s chief architect gave us the recommended system specifications for “the full Rift experience”:

  • NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD 290 equivalent or greater
  • Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater
  • 8GB+ RAM

To clarify, this is the level that Oculus recommends in order to create an ” ‘it just works’ experience,” by allowing developers to have a target to program for. In other words, by providing this baseline, which won’t change over the Rift’s lifetime, users can rest assured that if they have this configuration, anything they play developed for the Rift will work well (similar to how consoles work, more on this later).

Back to the specs: these are not paltry. These days, finding a desktop computer with 8GB of RAM is not difficult, and if an upgrade is needed, 8GB can be bought for around $60 online. More significantly, however, an i5-4590 costs about $200 right now, and a GTX 970 will run you at least $320. An AMD 290 saves you about $70 versus NVIDIA’s graphics card, but even so, upgrading your desktop to this level will cost at least $450. If you’re a dedicated PC gamer, I’m guessing you either already have something at this spec or greater, or the thought of upgrading your desktop isn’t too farfetched. But when factoring in the cost of the Rift itself, this suggests to me that, especially early in its life, it could have trouble catching on.

Wondering why I’ve been specifically saying “desktop”? From Oculus (emphasis mine):

“Apart from the recommended spec, the Rift will require:

  • Windows 7 SP1 or newer
  • 2x USB 3.0 ports
  • HDMI 1.3 video output supporting a 297MHz clock via a direct output architecture

“The last bullet point is tricky: many discrete GPU laptops have their external video output connected to the integrated GPU and drive the external output via hardware and software mechanisms that can’t support the Rift. Since this isn’t something that can be determined by reading the specs of a laptop, we are working on how to identify the right systems. Note that almost no current laptops have the GPU performance for the recommended spec, though upcoming mobile GPUs may be able to support this level of performance.”

If you were hoping to power your Rift from your laptop, you’re out of luck. And you’ll be far from alone: while the death of the PC overall has been greatly exaggerated, the fact is that laptops have outsold desktops for years. That only a small portion (i.e. the beefiest, most expensive) of laptops will be compatible with the Rift means a large portion of the potential market is now locked out until they buy a new system.

Enter Sony. Do you have a PS4? If yes, you can buy a Project Morpheus and run it day one. The “it just works” experience is the underlying premise of consoles, and is perhaps the biggest advantage consoles have over PCs. Plus, if all you care about is VR, you have two choices: a $400 PS4, or a desktop PC which will cost $450 plus the cost of the other components, the choice is clear. All Sony has to do is deliver a system that provides solid VR (and word is, it is at the very least comparable to Oculus’s) and the entire PS4 user base is a potential Project Morpheus consumer.

Granted, this is far from cut-and-dry. PC components have price drops all the time as technology advances, and what now is a $450 investment could, in a few years’ time, become a few hundred dollars cheaper. (Of course, console prices drop too). Also, consider that, as Oculus mentioned, if VR becomes a commercial success, chip makers will likely tailor their development to best support VR, further improving the experience. Another unknown is the recommended specs from Valve/HTC’s VR option, although I doubt it’ll be significantly lower than the Rift’s.

That being said, I think the cost savings and the plug-and-play nature of consoles give Sony the edge at this stage.

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