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Oculus wants your PC to be a VR console, and that's great news

Oculus has announced the official recommended specs for a system that's going to run the retail version of its VR headset, the Rift.

You can read about those specs if you're curious, but it's also important to put this news into a bit of context.

The first thing we need to do is calm down a bit: It's silly to upgrade your PC right now if your aim is to be ready for the Oculus Rift. The hardware will be released to the public in the first quarter of 2016, which means, at best, it's seven months away. Ten months at the maximum if there are no delays.

If you're already comfortable with the performance of your gaming PC, wait until the last second to upgrade; the prices on these components will come down substantially in half a year. These specs may seem on the higher end of things now, but in 2016 you'll be able to pick up that GPU and CPU for a song.

It's silly to upgrade your PC right now if your aim is to be ready for the Oculus Rift

It's also worth pointing out that these specs are going to allow for some amazing virtual reality experiences. If you've ever played some of the better games on the Gear VR you know how good VR developers are getting at optimization, and that's a piece of hardware with the power of a modern smartphone. This hypothetical VR system is an order of magnitude more powerful.

These specs are going to allow for high-end graphics, even on an experience that needs to run at 90 frames-per-second at an effective 2160 by 1200 resolution.

Oculus could have easily kept the specs lower and asked developers to scale back what they can do with the hardware, but by keeping the numbers high and promising developers and players that these specs are locked down for the forseeable future it means both camps can buy hardware and develop with confidence while delivering more ambitious games. Everyone wins.

The enthusiasts and early adopters will be able to pick up reasonably priced components to meet these specs by next year, and by the end of 2016 or the middle of 2017 when we start seeing Oculus Rift price drops or more mainstream adoption this is going to sound like a low-end gaming PC. The time frame is just about perfect if you're looking toward a multi-year timeline, and of course that's Oculus' plan.

Once you have a system that can do VR well you won't have to worry about upgrades for years. They're trying to turn your PC into a VR console, and that's a healthy step towards gaining the trust of players who don't want to be running obsolete hardware in six months.

rift retail 2

If Valve wanted to make every VR dev on the planet happy the company would announce a very similar recommended spec for the upcoming HTC Vive that's been announced for the end of the year. Being able to develop for both platforms at the same time would mean more and better-running games on both pieces of VR hardware, which is a good thing for everyone.

There's another question people are asking, though...

What does this mean for Project Morpheus?

The latest version of Project Morpheus shown at GDC this year featured an OLED display that runs at a resolution of "1920 by RGB by 1080," where all pixels have red, green and blue sub-pixels. The OLED screen allows for low-persistence, and it will run at 120Hz, taking advantage of new software from Sony that will allow them to "fake" 120 frames-per-second for a smooth experience even if the PlayStation 4 is only pumping out 60fps.

The Oculus specs aren't a requirement for virtual reality

Which is all well and good, but the specs for the Oculus Rift are massively more powerful than the PlayStation 4. What's going to happen?

The short answer is ... nothing. The Oculus specs aren't a requirement for virtual reality, remember that the Gear VR delivers amazing and effective virtual reality running from a phone. The PlayStation 4 offers much more power than the the Note 4 or S6 smartphones, so there's nothing keeping Project Morpheus from delivering a great experience.

On the other hand, virtual reality requires so much power up front to maintain that framerate for both eyes that you have to get rid of the idea that Project Morpheus will be able to play games that look exactly like what you're used to from standard PS4 experiences. Games will need to be built from the ground up with the power consumption of VR kept in mind at all time, and optimization is going to be incredibly important.

Sony has already shown us a number of beautiful, highly detailed VR experiences, but many of them take place in a single room, or a locked down environment. Developers and designers are going to have to get really creative when it comes to offering an experience that delivers the kind of graphical fidelity we want from a PS4 game while also offering the smooth experience that keeps you from being sick in VR.

Project Morpheus GDC 2015 prototype

You can expect character models with fewer details, smaller environments, or other graphical compromises. It's as much of an artistic challenge as a technical one, and these limitations have often led to interesting, beautiful experiences in the virtual world.

But creating VR well when power is this constrained is a skill, and it's going to take time for developers to get up to speed. Luckily, we know many already have Project Morpheus development kits and are cranking away.

That's the long answer. The short answer is Project Morpheus will be fine, and it will likely be the most user-friendly and accessible form of high-quality VR when it's launched.

If you don't want to worry about upgrading your system? Go the PlayStation 4 route, you know that the hardware will provide an optimal experience when plugged in, which is the value of a closed system. This is the advantage Oculus is trying to emulate with these locked-down specs, and ironically by releasing the specs early and keeping the power high they've given both VR fans and developers much more flexibility when planning for the future.

More of this, please.

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