AMD Gets Serious About Virtual Reality


For years at the Game Developer’s Conference, AMD’s event looked like a visit to your poor relatives.  In the midst of huge presentations by AMD’s competitors they’d typically have a small, dingy room where they could show their wares.   Well this year was massively different, AMD came to play and they are clearly excited about riding the VR wave. With a host of who’s who supporters on stage, AMD is moving to be the player expected to cause a massive game revolution. 

This was also the first time I was able to play with the final version of Oculus Rift. It has improved massively since last I saw it, but I’m going to suggest folks may want to wait to get one until the Oculus Rift controllers come out.  

AMD – Capsaicin

This was the theme of the event and apparently the word “Capsaicin” is related, in this instance, to the perfect balance of happiness, alcohol and spicy food consumption, and productivity.  It has been a long time since a tech company appeared to bless drinking on the job but, you know, the Silicon Valley was largely founded on the concept of bear busts (weekly group events with beer and food) so many of us raised a glass to this activity.  

So unlike earlier events this was a big tent event and the AMD CEO Lisa Su set a tone of high energy and excitement.  Here are some of the take aways:

2017 Ramp:  This agrees with most of the analysis I’ve seen.  2016 is foundational because this year the elements start to come together allowing for 2017 to be the year buyers actually have complete solutions (including lots of content to buy). 

Resolution:  This is one of the issues with VR glasses and products like the Oculus RIFT and HTC Vive. We finally have product coming to market that good enough for people to feel like they are in the game, but resolutions will increase dramatically from here. Google is evidently talking about 16K glasses, which should be sharp enough to be indistinguishable from glass. We are at least two stages from what AMD was calling “Full Presence”.  Good enough but resolution will have to double twice to get to a level where what we see is indistinguishable from looking through regular glasses.  They seemed to place the initial time frame for this level of performance toward to the first part of next decade. 

HDR Displays:  They had a demonstration of HDR (High Dynamic Range) HD displays showing games and video – the differences were striking.   I thought the HDR displays were 4K displays they were so obviously better than standard HD.  You combine HRD with 4K and the results should be amazing. 

Companies Engaged:  The list of companies AMD is working with to make this happen is impressive.  They include HP, Microsoft, Oculus, Ubisoft, The Smithsonian, HTC, Crytek, Stardock, The AP, Magic Leap, FOX, Square Enix, Rebellion, GE, Creative Assembly, and USC.  A nice mix of tech firms, education, and gaming. 

Eagle Flight:  One of the games demonstrated showcases there could be an entirely new class of games created.  Eagle Fight (you can get a sense of this game here) takes place in a future where humans have all died out and you are basically an Eagle and you guide your new body by angling your head.  No guns or obvious battles it, just gives you a sense of what it would be like to be an Eagle flying through the ruins of civilization. 

Battlezone:  Apparently there is a remake of Battlezone coming for VR.  They didn’t show a preview (but you can see one here) unfortunately, but this was one of my favorite arcade games and one of the first FPS games in the market originally.  Of the game announcements this was the one I personally was most excited about. 

Sulon:  The most amazing hardware at the show was Sulon Q VR headset.  This was a full on standalone VR/AR/Spatial Computing headset.  It is going after the same opportunities as Microsoft’s Hololens but with a twist – Hololens overlays images onto the real world by scanning the world and then molding a projection to it. Sulon Q also scans the real world but renders it so the virtual image is seamlessness added to the image.   The Microsoft approach uses less power but the Virtual image looks more like a ghost because you can often see through it.  Sulon Q doesn’t have the ghosting but appears to have a much higher power and performance requirement.  Interesting contrast. 

Assassin’s Creed VR Experience: One of the most interesting things coming is a VR Experience, but not a game, surrounding the coming Assassin’s Creed movie by FOX.   Apparently this will be a joint release with the movie and allow fans to do things with the movie content never before attempted.  Mathew Lewis, the VR Director, indicated they were actually creating the tools on the fly that make this all work.   I was thinking, imagine in Lord of the Rings if you could actually explore some of the fantasy worlds from a VR perspective and movie resolutions.  That would have been kind of cool. 

War of The VR Headsets:  There are several hundred VR headsets coming to market and my guess is a lot of them will be junk (so be careful what you buy).  Two of the best are the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.  Right now it looks like Oculus has the edge, they had the best gaming experience with their controllers but those controllers won’t be ready until after the headset launches and the full bundle with controllers and two cameras won’t be out for some time.  After playing with this system for some time I think it is worth waiting for the full bundle, but still think these would be better with some kind of VR glove rather than a controller because it would feel more natural.  Oh, and the Oculus shooting game was awesome.   Could have played it for hours. 

Wrapping Up:  We are really getting close.  If you want to buy into VR early look for the brand VR-Ready Premium and see if you can buy a bundle of stuff to make sure it all works together.   They will likely be pretty rare this year but also the only way to assure everything works like you’d want it to work.  You need a lot of performance to get a good experience.   For most of you it’ll likely be 2017 before you can see how amazing some of this stuff is, but one thing for sure, AMD is in it to win it and they are pulling out all the stops to become a major player in the VR space.   

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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