Video games have certainly come a long way from the pixelated platform games of the eighties and nineties, but the dawn of virtual reality promises to taking gaming to an entirely new level. Slated for release in 2016, the much-hyped Oculus Rift and competing HTC Vive will completely redefine immersive gaming in a way that has long been relegated to the realm of science fiction.
Although VR gaming might take some time to catch on, not least because of the cost involved and the fact that the technology is still fairly young, it should certainly deliver some impressive experiences to early adopters. However, you're going to need to take a few steps to prepare your computer and your gaming space to get the most out of the technology.
As is the case with today's PC gaming, some VR games will require more processing power than others, but the minimum requirements are already very steep. The Oculus Rift uses two 1080x1200 displays with one display for each eye for a total resolution of 2160x2400. Additionally, it has a refresh rate of 90 Hz, which means your hardware will need to be capable of rendering all games in 90 frames per second at the aforementioned resolution. Any less than 90 fps, and your first VR experience will likely leave you with a splitting headache and a complete loss of faith in this demanding new technology.
Oculus VR recommends a quad-core Intel i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and an nVidia GTX 970 or AMD Radeon 290 graphics card at minimum. You'll also need two USB 3.0 ports and an HDMI 1.3 video port as well as Windows 7 or later. You can currently build such a computer for under $1,000, but keep in mind that these are the minimum requirements. If you're hoping to dial up the in-game settings to their maximum, you'll likely need a whole lot more graphics-processing power. In fact, Valve has stated that you'll need an nVidia GTX 980 to be able to enjoy the HTC Valve (also known as SteamVR).
While VR is certainly going to be very demanding on your hardware, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. For a start, most of the graphics cards released in the last few years are compatible with the DirectX 12 API that launched with Windows 10. DirectX 12 provides a number of enhancements and refinements for games that support virtual reality, but there likely won't be many games that can use it to its fullest potential until the second half of 2016. Should VR technology become mainstream in a year or so after its release, game developers will no doubt optimize their games for the new experience in order to make it more accessible to the masses.
If you're planning to upgrade your gaming rig any time soon, you'll probably want to take virtual reality, as well as ultra-high-definition gaming into account, particularly if you have a fairly generous budget at your disposal. Additionally, Oculus recently teamed up with a number of manufacturers, such as Dell Alienware, to promote Oculus-ready PCs for under $1,000. Nonetheless, this price does not factor in the cost of the headset itself, which is expected to retail for between $200 and $400.
It will likely cost no less than $1,500 to enjoy the full virtual reality experience, which is far beyond the budgets of most gamers, but those upgrading an existing mid- to high-end gaming PC will have more options at their disposal. However, in the quite possible event that VR doesn't make it into the mainstream in the near future, it's unlikely that many games will be properly optimized for it, leading to a sub-par experience overall. On the other hand, video games themselves are still getting more demanding and screen resolutions are getting higher, so it's never a bad time to invest in some high-end, future-proof components.