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The hidden software tricks AMD and Nvidia use to supercharge VR gaming

Brad Chacos | April 12, 2016
With VR gaming, hardware's only part of the equation.

It’s been a long time coming, but virtual reality is finally here, with the Oculus Rift and HTC’s Vive headsets now available to gamers and real-world Holodeck enthusiasts. But playing around in VR worlds demands some seriously heavy graphical performance—remember, we’re talking two 1080x1200 displays (one for each eye) at a whopping 90 frames per second. Drop below that frame rate and a user is apt to feel nauseous, at best, and possibly even lose their lunch. 

The most foolproof way around that pitfall is to simply throw as much graphical firepower at VR as possible. We tackled that end of the equation in last week’s roundup of the best graphics cards for VR gaming. Hardware’s just the beginning when it comes to VR, however.

While it’s not readily apparent in the SteamVR Performance Test, software can play a massive role in your virtual reality experience, and both AMD and Nvidia have crafted clever software tricks designed to let you eke out more frames from your GPU. AMD calls its VR software LiquidVR, while Nvidia’s is dubbed VRWorks. (Neither likes the idea of spaces between words, apparently.) Many of the software’s tools are under-the-hood features aimed at developers, but some offer massive advantages for users of VR headsets, too.

Let’s highlight some of AMD and Nvidia’s most potent VR software tricks that can make a difference to you—if developers embrace them.

Multi-GPU support

We’ll start this journey with a basic feature that means a lot more for virtual reality than traditional PC gaming: Both AMD and Nvidia’s toolsets enable multi-GPU support in VR.

While multi-GPU support in traditional games has been a bit hit-or-miss recently, running multiple graphics cards in VR delivers clear, immediate benefits, as both technologies dedicate discrete GPUs to each of your eyeballs. “You’ll actually notice the difference immediately,” says AMD’s Omar Faiz. “Not only does it perform faster, but also the image quality improves significantly.”

evga quick disconnect water cooling
Brad Chacos The more GPUs, the better the VR—if games support it.

AMD’s LiquidVR support for two or four Radeon GPUs and Nvidia’s VR SLI are already baked into the SteamVR Performance Test and the Vive’s The Lab series of demos. Again, that’s the rub with all these vendor-specific software tricks; developers need to support them in their games. On Twitter, Nvidia spokesperson Brian Burke said that VR SLI support is incoming due to VRWorks’ inclusion in game engines themselves, but no Oculus launch games embraced the technology at launch. AMD reps confirmed the same on their end. We’re still in VR’s early days.

 

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