Oculus VR CEO Brendan Iribe believes virtual reality should ignite a new race to increase computing power, much like the rapid iteration of CPUs in the '90s. Speaking to me a few hours before yesterday's announcement of a VR headset from Sony (opens in new tab) code named Project Morpheus, Iribe expressed positive feelings about the then-rumored competitor, but was predictably concerned that the consoles' fixed hardware can't match virtual reality's rapid rate of advancement.
"It's not that consoles aren't good enough for VR," says Iribe, "but it's that consoles are fixed right now, and we're going to be stuck with that compute for the next five to seven years ... we're at the very beginning of VR and it's going to ramp very fast. You see Dev Kit 1 and Dev Kit 2, it's a huge jump. Consumer version one, a huge jump, and the next jump and the next jump. And a lot of that is going to demand a lot of compute."
That demand for computing power should mean good business for PC hardware manufacturers, according to Iribe, who feels they'll otherwise struggle to find a market for high-end consumer CPUs and GPUs.
"Intel and Nvidia and AMD better get pretty excited about this," he says. "Because if it's not virtual reality, I don't know what will save them. What is going to drive the demand for higher-end compute if it's not virtual reality? I asked them recently, they didn't know. Bitcoin mining? I mean, why do you need a better computer? Dota? League of Legends?"
Iribe considers 4K monitors to be a small incremental improvement, not big enough to be the catalyst for a surge in demand for better PC hardware. "The race is kind of over," he says after describing consumers who can't tell the difference between a Core i5 and a Core i7. "It's plateaued and people care more about battery life and other things, because the demand on the content side isn't there ... VR really is going to reignite this."
It will do that, says Iribe, because when vision is fully replaced with a synthetic world, the brain wishes it "worked the same way" as the real world. For that to be possible, we need both better VR goggles and better computers and broadband speeds. "My brain should believe you're really right in front of me and we're making eye contact, and I see your mouth, and I see you doing this stuff. And to get there, we're going to need higher-end compute."
If Iribe is right, enthusiasm for VR—not 4K monitors or better 2D graphics and simulation—and a desire to see its potential realized will be what shapes the next generation of high-end gaming tech.
"I put [the Oculus Rift] on, and for the first time I'm looking around going, 'I want this to be way better. I wish this was a hundred times better," says Iribe. "And we're now realizing that this race for higher-end compute for VR is about to get started, I think as soon as we ship the consumer version. It's going to be incredibly exciting. It has a long way to go—it's not going to plateau for a long way."
The consumer version of the Oculus Rift doesn't have a release date, but Oculus says it's better than Development Kit 2, which went on sale this morning . We spent some time with the new dev kit yesterday—here are Sam's impressions of the demonstrations .