VR Pioneer Parisi on How Faster GPUs are Accelerating Advances in Virtual Reality

by Samantha Zee

Outsmarting charging dinosaurs, floating in space and slaying dragons can all be done safely in virtual reality. With the right gear, you can be fully immersed in the experience – really there, wherever there is – except if you are connected to a device with wires tethering you to a computer.

Facebook’s acquisition last year of Oculus VR, maker of the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, “changed everything,” said  Tony Parisi, founder of Third Eye, a San Francisco startup developing publishing software for the web, mobile and virtual reality systems.

“We’ve reached the promised land, or are at least getting close,” he said. “We’re seeing an explosion in hardware development and the Oculus acquisition released a burst of investment and funding.”

While Oculus hasn’t yet released a retail product, it’s shipped two developer kits.

The headset “provides the most immersive VR experience, and Oculus Rift is the gold standard,” Parisi said. Oculus Rift developer kits sell for about $350 and the company may ship their retail product toward the end of 2015, or early in 2016, he said.

Competitors, including Google, have followed with their own versions of VR gear. Google’s Cardboard puts virtual reality on your smartphone supported inside a folded cardboard viewer.

NVIDIA has its own play in the VR game, offering “crazy fast GPUs” including the GeForce GTX 980 and GTX 970, Parisi said. The Maxwell architecture in the 980 and 970 includes the integration of VR Direct, making NVIDIA the first hardware company to put virtual reality software into its GPUs.

“The first attempt at a comprehensive GPU approach to virtual reality is with NVIDIA VR Direct,” Parisi said. “NVIDIA’s 970 kicks up what you can do.”

NVIDIA’s GPUs have gone some way to help with what VR experts call the presence, or the challenge, of having a camera responding to someone turning their head at 75 frames per second, or FPS. Higher latency breaks the VR illusion and means users risk motion sickness.

Desktop and mobile gear “can’t hit this, and even classic targeting of 60FPS makes rendering hit a bottleneck,” Parisi said. “With software techniques now, you can push as much as you can to GPUs.”