Asynchronous Spacewarp lets cheaper PCs drive Oculus Rifts

— 2:39 PM on October 6, 2016

The PC gaming community has seen more that its fair share of discussion regarding VR's technical requirements and the implicit pricetags involved. Oculus' specs call on PCs to deliver a constant 90 FPS to its Rift headset (lest users throw up), which is a high bar to clear for the hardware in most people's homes. Those requirements may become more relaxed soon, however, thanks to Oculus' Asynchronous Spacewarp technology.

Asynchronous Spacewarp purports to offer a 90-FPS-equivalent VR experience with only 45 FPS from the source hardware. The company says a machine fitted with an Intel Core i3-6100 or AMD FX 4350 CPU plus a GeForce GTX 960-class card should be up to that task. That lowers the price of a VR-ready PC to under $700—like our $530 Budget Box. In case it's not clear, that's Kind of a Big Deal for folks who couldn't afford the Core i5-4590 and GeForce GTX 970 duo that Oculus recommended from the start. A PC with those specs ran about $1000 or more.

Technically-minded readers might remember Oculus' Asynchronous Timewarp algorithm, launched last March in the Rift SDK. This existing feature allows the host PC to compensate for dips in application frame rates by distorting and reprojecting a frame as the user turns their head. Oculus calls Timewarp its "framerate insurance," but the company also points out that it doesn't help matters much when the user's head actually changes position in the physical space. Enter Asynchronous Spacewarp.

Asynchronous Spacewarp aims to sort out "positional judder," the barf-inducing spikes that occur when there's a dip in the framerate after a sizable head movement. The algorithm takes two frames, examines the differences between them, and generates a synthetic frame for the headset. Spacewarp's processing delivers one frame of each type in sequence: one "real," then one that was "spacewarped." This allows the Rift to display a scene at 90 FPS while only getting 45 FPS from the source app. That's a much more palatable requirement for GPUs worldwide to handle, particularly but not only for mobile devices. This experience may not be comparable to a native 90 FPS, but it could make VR more accessible, at least.

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