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Tested: The physical effects of low-end VR hardware

Gordon Mah Ung | Aug. 12, 2016
This is what happens when a nerd consumes a gross amount of food and then uses VR on a low-end PC.

It’s widely believed that a satisfying VR experience requires a steady 90 frames per second, and that dropping even a single frame below that threshold can cause nausea— forcing you to spew chunks.

To find out if that’s really true, I decided to test it. For my high-end control hardware, I used an AVA Direct Exemplar 2 box. This PC doesn’t just meet the specs for VR, it exceeds them with a GeForce GTX 1080, 64GB of DDR4, and an overclocked Core i7-6700K. Indeed, AVA Direct built this PC after consulting VR specialty site RoadToVR.com for guidance on achieving an optimal VR experience.

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The AVA Direct Exemplar 2 features a GeForce GTX 1080 and Core i7-6700K.

For the low-end test rig—the one that would presumably induce chunk-tossing—I bypassed a minimum-spec system, and went straight to a below-spec PC: It boasted an older Core i5-3570K, 8GB of DDR3, and a bone-stock GeForce GTX 960. The minimum GPU recommended for HTC’s VIVE is a GeForce GTX 970.

The game for this chunk challenge was Raw Data. It’s an awesome VR shooter that forces you to duck and move far more than most other VR games. You’re also forced to constantly check for enemies behind and above you. It’s a 360-degree VR environment shooter, and those pans will kill you if you have any sensitivity to motion sickness.

To better understand the physical effects of VR, I talked to Kent Bye, who hosts RoadToVR.com’s Voices of VR podcast. He has a wealth of knowledge about what causes “simulation,” or VR, sickness.

According to Bye, not everyone has the same sickening reaction to dropped-frame VR, nor is the nausea immediate. Often times, Bye said, players don’t get hit with sickness until after a VR session is finished.

That actually happened to a co-worker of mine who played Raw Data on our sub-spec machine for 20 minutes. He was fine during gameplay, but once he left and had lunch, it hit him and he was on the couch for an hour of recovery.

But back to my test. To make things a little more interesting, we decided to stack the deck with an odious assortment of food that I would force feed myself until I could eat no more. (To this day, I still suspect that the shrimp I ate was well past it’s prime.)

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Voices of VR host Kent Bye said dropped frames in VR can indeed induce nausea, but it rarely leads to a full hurl.

Will it hurl?

There’s obviously no comparison between our sub-spec PC and the AVA Direct Exemplar 2 and its GeForce GTX 1080. On the AVA Direct machine, VR on high is beatifically, buttery smooth.

 

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