Mobile VR has landed, so what's the point in the desktop?


I asked Unity Technologies CEO (and ex EA boss) John Riccitiello about the future of VR earlier this year. Naturally, he started talking about sex.

"People aren't put off by VR because they want to look silly," he said. "You look silly having sex for God's sake, but people still do it."

How about people having sex in VR? Off the silly-o-meter, probably.

But while the jury may be out on whether people look daft in a headset, it looks like Riccitiello was right about one thing: in the next two years we'll find out just what mobile VR is like, and what people want from it.

He said: "The reality is that VR will be done in 2016 on water-cooled, high-end PCs, but by 2017 it'll be mainstream devices - and no longer a rich person's game.

"Players will already have the portable that they want to plug their Oculus Rift or Vive or HoloLens into. That's the time we'll solve the problem of what's fun."

Mover and shaker

We now know Riccitiello is right because some of the portables that he alluded to have just been revealed, and they're hitting the shelves before 2016 comes around the corner.

Housing full-fat Nvidia GTX 980 GPUs, the monster machines from Asus, Aorus, MSI and Clevo apparently crank out just as much graphical grunt as desktop PCs for the first time. And according to Nvidia, they're a prime fit if you want to dive into VR.

This is fun. Right?

Capable of pumping out 450 million pixels per second - or 1,680 x 1,512 x 1,512 (the native resolution of HTC's Vive headset), the new laptops offer the convenience of a portable form factor while packing the power of a high-end desktop rig, according to Nvidia. And that's exciting.

We always take bragging from tech companies with a pinch of salt, but the 980 laptops have the endorsement of one particular company that wouldn't do itself any favours by raising and crushing our hopes.

It comes from Owen O'Brien, executive producer of CCP (the studio behind Eve Valkyrie), who said: "The GeForce GTX 980 notebook is a very impressive piece of hardware. EVE: Valkyrie runs super smooth on it with rock solid performance."

Valkyrie, which has been designed from the ground up for VR, is a stunning-looking game that's still in development. For me, the possibility of taking a laptop, strapping on an Oculus Rift and being able to dive into the game's vast and gorgeous space world anywhere at any time is an exciting one.

Stuck on five-hour train journey? Why not grab some nuts, a miniature bottle of wine (you're a sophisticated pilot) and dive into an intergalactic dogfight to pass the time. Sure you'll get some odd looks, but if you're prepared to take a massive laptop and an Oculus Rift on a train in the first place then you probably won't care.

It's all about the money, money

Riccitiello may have been on the money when he spoke about 2016 being the year that we're going all Lawnmower Man on each other, but the sheer cost of Nvidia's new VR-ready laptops means that gaming enthusiasts and people with deep pockets will be the first to shape the future of VR. Everybody else will likely have to wait until at least 2017.


The water-cooled Asus ROG GX700VO

We know that the Asus GX700VO, for example, is scheduled to land in the UK next year for a tear-inducing £4,000 (around $6,200). But then, it comes with a dockable water-cooling system that clamps on the back and houses a full desktop-grade K-series CPU plus the GTX 980 - so it's perhaps not the most representative of the six new systems when it comes to cost.

Still: there's a good reason Nvidia is aiming the new systems at the enthusiast crowd. They're powerful, expensive and supply more power than we've ever seen in a laptop. Plus you can overclock them like crazy, tamper with fan control settings and do other stuff that gamers who love to wield screwdrivers love to do.

The downsides, of course, lie around upgradability and price. But if you're looking to get into VR without having to splash out on the parts to build a miniature power station to sit in the corner of your room, going mobile is a tantalising prospect indeed.

Kane Fulton
Kane has been fascinated by the endless possibilities of computers since first getting his hands on an Amiga 500+ back in 1991. These days he mostly lives in realm of VR, where he's working his way into the world Paddleball rankings in Rec Room.