Wearable Tech World Feature Article
January 04, 2016

At CES NVIDIA Moves Early To Brand VR

NVIDIA just created a base specification and brand for Virtual Reality PCs.  Virtual Reality is one of several big things happening this week at CES and 2016 is slated to be the effective launch year for this technology into the mainstream of computing.   This class of technology, led by implementations like Facebook’s Oculus Rift, is expected to redefine how we play games, are trained and even how we communicate with each other.  Right at the opening of the show, NVIDIA fired the first salvo in what is likely to be a major battle between a wide variety of vendors to lead this next huge technology wave.

What makes the announcement important is it has set a baseline for the minimum PC technology needed for fully functional VR.  

Virtual Reality (VR) vs. Augmented Reality vs. Holography

There are actually three somewhat competing technologies all coming to market this year - though Holography will mostly be in early testing.   Virtual Reality is where you obscure the vision of the user so they only see the computer generated world.  Augmented Reality is where you project computer-generated images over the real world and Holography is where these projections look real and obstruct the view of the reality they overlay. 

More simply, Virtual Reality requires you to be isolated from the things around you that you will not see, while Augmented Reality enhances real objects by providing additional information or showing semi-transparent images on or around them. Holography is still the most interesting because it potentially makes it impossible to tell the difference between what is real and what is computer generated.  

Virtual Reality is showcased by products like Oculus Rift which takes a smartphone display and puts it in front of your eyes so that is all you see.  It can be used in conjunction with 2D treadmills for example, so you can more naturally move around in the virtual environment. 

Augmented Reality is showcased by products like Google Glass which project an image into your eye (or eyes) so you can see ads attached to stores you pass or heads-up displays for instruments or GPS navigation. There is also virtual X-Ray vision where you can peak into walls (but it is clear that what you are seeing is computer generated and not real). 

Holography, as I mentioned, is the newest, and it is showcased by Microsoft’s Hololens, which places a display over your eyes that is also see through and has allowed scientists working from their offices to explore Mars by way of the Mars Rover as if they were standing on the planet.

Cameras in the device allow real world objects and virtual objects to co-exist so you can work or play without the need for a 2D treadmill or other device because you can continue to operate around real objects. 

Virtual Reality is best used for simulation and was first used by pilots and the military for training.  Augmented Reality was initially focused on entertainment but appears to have taken a hard turn to things like navigation, remote support and training.  Holography is currently mostly used for exploration but is being adopted by large business for sales, training, and support.  

NVIDIA’s Announcement

NVIDIA is currently just focused on Virtual Reality and its announcement sets a minimum configuration standard for anyone currently expecting to use this technology with their PC in the future.  Machines with adequate hardware configurations will come with the badge ‘GTX VR Ready’ so you will not have to memorize what follows.  The specification incudes a base graphics capability of a GTX 970 or GTX 980 for graphics.   This means that most notebooks likely won’t have enough punch for VR according to NVIDIA.  In addition, the user will need a head mounted display, 2 USB 3.0 ports, at least an Intel Core i5-4590 or equivalent, 8GB or more RAM, HDMI 1.3 or better, and Windows 7 or newer. 

This configuration is short of an expensive gamer configuration however and it will require at least a reasonably well configured mid-range desktop PC and a premium range laptop to meet this specification.  Since most truly compelling gaming VR setups will need some kind of 2D treadmill and a significant amount of free space, this will likely be best for desktop machines anyway because once this is all set up you are likely not going to want to mess with it. 

Wrapping Up:  The Birth of Magic

What we are really witnessing is the birth of magic, or the beginning of the ability to create worlds and experiences that significantly shift away from the restrictions of the natural laws that define our world today.  With a click of a key, voice command, controller, or mouse we’ll be able to instantly travel to new amazing worlds and interact with the creatures in them in both interesting and very destructive ways.  This is just the beginning, within 10 years we should be able to use this technology to take virtual trips including simulated teleportation to meetings and may never have to get on a plane ever again (something particularly attractive to me at the moment given my flight to CES was just cancelled due to weather). 

This is magic nearly by definition, but who knows - maybe for the next generation attending classes at Hogwarts is in their future.  

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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