"VR is a fad" was the pull-quote which propagated through the internet when Warren Spector made the comment last year, reinforcing it at ECGC a few days ago. The veteran designer indicated a belief that virtual reality could generate "interest among hardcore gamers," but remained cautious to grant too much early praise given personal experience with earlier VR attempts. Spector's decades-long industry experience grants weight to the statement, and made us curious what some long-time colleagues of Spector's might believe. Richard Garriott is one of those – friend and former employer of Spector – and has previously spoken to us about a history of effectively inventing MMOs, new graphics techniques, and more.

Richard Garriott joined us at PAX East 2016 for an impromptu discussion on the viability of virtual reality. The conversation started as small talk – "what do you think of VR?" – but evolved into an in-depth look at the challenges faced by the emergent technology. We rolled with it; you can find the video and some of the transcript below:

We've not been shy in our fierce criticisms of VR from a gaming perspective, but the maturation of development has yielded increasingly more mechanically-focused titles targeted at gamers. Mars 2030 aims to be more than a “VR Experience,” as most titles are, and we had the opportunity to get hands-on with the new game at GTC 2016.

Mars 2030 is developed by Fusion and was first shown at the GTC keynote, the Mars rover helmed by industry icon Steve Wozniak. The open-world game takes place on the surface of Mars and deploys unique techniques to match surface color, heights, and physical interaction with terrain. It's playable on non-VR displays as well (and it does look good on 21:9 aspect ratios, based on the keynote), but hopes to stake its flag into the VR market with an agnostic disposition toward the Vive and Rift. Mars 2030 will work on both major devices.

Our hands-on impressions with Mars 2030 left us reasonably impressed with the early demonstration of Fusion's attempt to cast players as astronauts.

NVidia's Graphics Technology Conference (GTC 2016) kicked-off with a keynote from CEO Jen-Hsun Huang, who frontloaded the event with topics on AI, software development kits, self-driving cars, machine-learning, and VR. Of what we've seen so far, the most interesting has been the new “Mars 2030” VR demo, which used photogrammetry to rebuild Mars using satellite flybys. The Mars 2030 VR demo was helmed by computer industry icon Steve Wozniak, whom Huang selected for the Woz's recently vocalized wishes to fly one-way to Mars. Wozniak, providing the most candid form of stage presence, declared “wow! I'm getting dizzy! I'm gonna fall out of this chair.”

Huang: “... Well, Woz, that was not a helpful comment.”

But the exchange sums-up the presentation well – somewhat playful, experimental with technology, and entertaining.

Our initial GTC keynote coverage consists primarily of VR and SDK talking points, with a focus on the Mars 2030 demo.

Steam today launched the pre-order for their collaboration project with HTC -- the HTC Vive for SteamVR. Those who pre-order get the whole kit-and-caboodle -- the headset, sensors, and controllers -- and a few extra throw-in games. We’ve covered Valve’s VR multiple times, going so far as to explain the “how it works” in-depth here, and we’ve talked about our opinion of the whole thing.

For years now, VR has seemed to be right around the corner, but consumer VR is (finally) becoming a reality with the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift soon hitting retailers. Unfortunately, the system requirements for VR – to the woe of my wallet – are fairly demanding.

The Oculus Rift officially recommends an nVidia 970 or AMD 290, an i5-4590, and 8GB+ of RAM. In comparison, the Vive has the same recommended specs with the exception of memory, where the Vive recommends only 4GB.

The last week's worth of computer hardware news contained a few disappointments – the removal of non-K overclocking from some boards, for one – and a few upshots. One of those upshots is on the front of VR, headed-up by Epic Games in a publicly released video reel of unique implementations. Virtual reality's use cases also expanded this week, as developers Epic Games have learned new means to utilize the technology (something we think needs to happen).

Our weekly hardware news recap is below, though the script has been appended for the readers out there. Topics for this week's round-up include Intel's crack-down on non-K overclocking, editing games within VR, AMD's Wraith, a Sony SSD, and some new peripherals.

Ivan Sutherland's “Sword of Domacles” head-mounted display lurched above its user as a spider above its prey; the contraption, as most technology of its era, was room-sized. The Sword of Domacles wasn't meant to be a user-accessible VR solution. It produced primitive wireframes of a room's interior and was strictly observational, demonstrated in awkward photos with the wearer's hands neatly clasped behind his back. This was Ground Zero for VR.

Sutherland later joined David Evans to build the University of Utah's Computer Science and Computer Graphics divisions, responsible for students who'd later create the world's first computer-animated 3D graphics. Through Sutherland and Evans – and their students – the foundation for Adobe, Pixar, and Silicon Graphics (SGI) was set, later producing companies like the modern nVidia. All this history of VR is recapped more thoroughly in our “History of Virtual Reality” article.

Oculus VR and Valve are makers of the modern-day HMD incarnates. Billions of dollars are backing these new ventures and, for the first time in history, viable VR solutions don't cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. They're also not military-owned, another common theme of previous virtual reality attempts.

Our team has spent a considerable amount of time in virtual reality demos. The technology is an impressive fusion of display advancements, frametime pacing optimization, input latency management, and IR scanning. Just the display tech alone is nearly unrivaled, the Rift packing 2160x1200 pixels into a space smaller than a phone screen. Screen Door Effect issues have been largely resolved or circumvented on each of the major two VR solutions, and timewarp has been navigated with clever GPU processing techniques by both AMD and nVidia. Everything's lining-up to be a serious push into virtual reality and, this time, there's enough money behind the concept that it's not another “3D glasses” fad. Probably, anyway.

But I don't think VR is ready for day-one adoption by the general gaming audience. Impressive – yes; here to stay – yes. But not ready for gamers. The Vive and Rift both experience similar versions of the same problems: Hardware requirements and prices that rival more affordable displays, logistical and use case limitations, and the industry's myopic understanding of game design.

HTC's Vive and Oculus VR's Rift are the two big players that we're focusing on today.

Oculus Rift CEO Palmer Luckey took fire all throughout last week's CES, a show we covered extensively, thanks to his company's near-doubled Oculus Rift pricing over the initial $350 estimate. The company claims it's selling the Rift at “almost cost” with its $600 price-point, and has definitely tempered its financial hit with the inclusion of a free Xbox controller.

For Australians, the pricing is significantly worse. Residents of Australia are currently paying $130 just to ship the $600 Rift, which sees what appears to be a US tax add that raises price to $685; after this, Australians are paying an additional GST (Goods & Services Tax) of ~10%. The price exceeds 1000AUD thanks to the massive shipping charge, which is triggering additional consumer taxes for the import.

Intel has plenty of floor presence at CES – building-sized booths, et al. – but the most interesting thing they brought to CES may have been in a separate demo suite. The suite was loaded with the latest laptops from each of the industry's most prolific manufacturers, one of which – a GT72 from MSI (we’ve reviewed them a few times) – hung mounted to a mobile VR rig. We’ll get to that in a moment.

We were first introduced to the new Razer Blade Stealth, an impressively light and thin laptop with a 1440p display and a USB type C port. The type C port can be used as a charging port for the laptop or as a Thunderbolt 3 connection. Intel used the USB C port as a Thunderbolt link to connect to the Razer Core, an external graphics card enclosure (we’ve looked at these before, too). The device inside the Razer Core was an AMD graphics card and the connection was announced by the software each time we removed or replaced the cable. Just for kicks, we also flipped the USB C connector because that's still fun to do that.

The latest HTC Vive demo plants players within the photorealistic outcroppings of Mount Everest, an atmosphere which serves more as an “experience” than an outright “game.” Mechanics are effectively boiled-down to look at stuff and move the sticks, with the full bore of virtual reality graphics processing stealing the spotlight. Developers Solfar Studios stitched together tens of thousands of frames from the real mountain, accurately height-mapped the mountain, and firmly represent Everest’s actual crevices, ravines, and spine-like ridgelines to the Vive wearer.

This is the final iteration of the HTC Vive. We previously published a deep-dive on the headset’s technological inner-workings, but substantial changes have been made in just the few months following. Core concepts and objectives remain largely unchanged, yet execution and design have received additional development focus thanks to delays from initial Xmas ’15 launch targets. The Vive isn’t the first HMD to push back launch into 2016, either; Oculus VR’s Rift will post its public pre-order page on Wednesday, 1/6, finally nearing its own launch target of 2Q16.

The VR juggernauts are going head-to-head, then, with launch dates fully aligning and graphics vendors supporting all viable technologies. Our initial user impressions are above, GN’s Patrick Stone joining for a different perspective. Carry on for the split-author impressions editorial.

Patrick Stone covers all Oculus Rift sections (demarcated with parenthetical notation); Steve Burke covers the HTC Vive.

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