Tested: The physical effects of low-end VR hardware

This is what happens when a nerd consumes a gross amount of food and then uses VR on a low-end PC.

It’s widely believed that a satisfying VR experience requires a steady 90 frames per second, and that dropping even a single frame below that threshold could cause you to spew chunks.

To find out if that’s really true, I decided to test it. For my control, I first used an AVA Direct Exemplar 2 box. This PC doesn’t just meet the specs for VR, it exceeds it, with a GeForce GTX 1080, 64GB of DDR4, and an overclocked Core i7-6700K. Indeed, AVA Direct built this PC after consulting VR specialty site RoadToVR.com for guidance on achieving an optimal VR experience.

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The AVA Direct Exemplar 2 features a GeForce GTX 1080 and Core i7-6700K.

For the nausea-testing rig, I bypassed a min-spec system and went straight to a below-spec PC: an older Core i5-3570K, 8GB of DDR3, and a bone-stock GeForce GTX 960. The minimum GPU recommended for HTC’s VIVE is a GeForce GTX 970.

The game I used is Raw Data. It’s an awesome VR game that forces you to duck and move far more than most other VR games. You’re also forced to constantly check for enemies behind and above you. It’s a 360-degree VR environment shooter and those pans will kill you if you have any sensitivity to motion sickness.

To better understand the physical effects of VR, I talked to Kent Bye, who hosts RoadToVR.com’s Voices of VR podcast. He has a wealth of knowledge about what causes “simulation,” or VR, sickness.

According to Bye, not everyone has the same reaction, nor is it immediate. Often times, Bye said, players don’t get hit with sickness until after a VR session is finished.

That actually happened to a co-worker of mine who played Raw Data on our sub-spec machine for 20 minutes. He was fine during gameplay, but once he left and had lunch it hit him and he was on the couch for an hour in recovery.

But back to my test....To make things a little more interesting, we decided to stack the deck with an odious assortment of food that I would force feed myself until I could eat no more. (To this day, I still suspect that the shrimp I ate was well past it’s prime.)

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Voices of VR host Kent Bye said dropped frames in VR can indeed induce nausea but it rarely leads to a full hurl.

I was ready to go

There’s obviously no comparison between our sub-spec PC and the AVA Direct Exemplar 2 and its GeForce GTX 1080, where VR on high is simply beatifically, buttery smooth.

The sub-spec box was as laggy as you’d expect. While some, such as Bye, who says he is particularly sensitive to dropped frames, would surely rip off the head-mounted display in a matter of minutes, I pushed on for a good 45 minutes.

Granted, I have an adamantium constitution. I rarely get sea sick. I can read in the back of a moving car going down Highway 1, and I actually enjoy turbulence when flying. Did the sub-spec VR box do me in when paired with some gross foodstuffs?

No.

But I have to confess, I got pretty damn close to hurling and had to sit down after my VR session for a few minutes. I’m pretty sure I could not play for another hour on that sub-spec box without having to call an Uber to drive me home.

My reaction, Bye said, is actually pretty typical. While simulation sickness can truly make you nauseated, only extreme cases (which I tried to reach) might make one hurl.

The vast majority of people will be more like my co-worker who was knocked on his butt for an afternoon.

Either way, I think the basic lesson is to build a box that can run VR comfortably for most people. I certainly wouldn’t want to use our sub-spec box as a showcase for introducing VR to friends, lest I be blamed for wrecking their entire day, or worse—making them hurl.

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