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The Avatar VR desktop brings the power, but stuffs it in the wrong case

Hands-on with one company’s attempt to find out

What do you look for in a pre-built system that’s designed for VR?

"Ultimately, what drives VR is your frames per second," Travis Bortz, executive vice president of AVADirect, told Polygon. "The better the GPU, the more frames per second, the better and more immersive the experience is."

The company’s Avatar VR desktops are GPU-heavy, starting with the GeForce GTX 1060 and going up in power from there. The entry-level build starts at $1,519, and certainly destroys the minimum spec required for comfortable virtual reality.

"Virtual reality experiences are significantly more demanding than gaming on a regular monitor — most VR headsets have a resolution of 2160 by 1200 and render at 90 fps, so; if your PC isn’t up to the task, you’ll experience choppy and possibly dizzying performance," the official page states. "The Avatar is built to exceed the requirements of VR headsets and applications so that you get the best experience possible."

The case is also designed around how people are likely to use virtual reality, with an eye toward the living room.

"The ultimate goal of virtual reality in the marketplace is to bring it to everyone’s homes, and to allow people to have an immersive experience in their family room," Bortz said. "We look for a case that’s sleek, compact and elegant." The goal is a case that can work in an existing entertainment center without calling attention to itself.

So what's my beef?

This isn't a bad system, and it will certainly handle VR ably today and likely well into the future. The case is nice and compact, with a minimal presentation. It may even err a bit toward the bland, with a solid face only marred by two unused drive bays. It's also wide, with dimensions of 6.5 inches by 10.5 inches by 15 inches. This is a system that may not be tall, but it still features a large footprint.

This is fine; it's not like you need a disc to install or use either the Rift or the Vive. Both systems are installed using software you find online, and they play games purchased via Steam or Oculus Home. A system that's designed for VR doesn't have much use for optical drives.

But the case itself is covered in small annoyances that may not be deal-breakers, but are certainly a bit worrying in a system that begins at over $1,500. The power button is on top of the system and has a worrying amount of mechanical travel when you press it; my first review loaner unit had a power button that became stuck in the lower position. The system was promptly replaced, and I was told that the case had been used for reviews from other publications, but you'd expect a power button to last for years, even under the overenthusiastic fingers of tech reporters.

ava power button

Having a system that keeps all the USB ports on the top or rear of the system may also cause problems, depending on how your entertainment system is set up. The case's smooth front face hides a fan, with air flow happening around a hidden vent, and there's likewise a fan in the rear of the unit. This means that ventilation shouldn't be a problem even if the system is a snug vertical fit in your entertainment center ... but you're still going to have to be able to reach the top of the case to plug in accessories or to toggle the power.

There is a side window on the case, but it's a nightmare if you're used to builds with hidden or minimized cables; the first thing you're likely to notice is a series of cables running to the edge of the motherboard. It's an aesthetic issue more than a performance-based issue but, again, it's not the thing you're expecting to see in a system aimed at power users.

ava internal

The company's name is also etched onto the side of the window, and there's no option to either have it removed or replace with a graphic of your choosing. It's one thing to put your logo on the case in an understated way, but this is a bit much.

There's no cruft installed when you order the system and, as I've said, these details seem like picking nits. But this is an expensive system aimed at early adopters of VR. I want a rig that offers something above and beyond what I could put together myself, and there's not much of that on display here.

Earlier builds of the system carried the EVGA GeForce GTC 980 Ti VR Edition, which moved the HDMI and two USB ports to the front of the system with a proprietary breakout box, but since AVADirect has moved to Nvidia's latest-generation GPUs, and rightly so, that aspect of the system has been removed. What's left is a solid VR system in a case that doesn't do the internals justice.

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