A look at the numbers behind putting the reality into virtual reality

VR hardware needs to be ‘200 times more powerful’ to achieve photorealism

Despite the promise of photorealism in games, it could be a long wait before it is ever achieved in virtual reality hardware, says AMD’s chief gaming scientist Richard Huddy.

“Virtual reality is a staggeringly exciting field,” he told Develop as part of our in-depth feature on the future of game graphics.

“But hardware companies need to produce something 100 or 200 times more powerful than current hardware if we’re going to get to the stage where we have complete photorealism in virtual reality headsets. It starts with the facts that, for a person with 20:20 vision, they will need a screen with a resolution of about 8k-by-6k to enjoy photorealism.”

In other words, the human visual system needs about 48 million pixels in the field of view to obscure the fact there are any pixels at all. A typical 1080p set-up today offers around two million pixels, meaning a factor of 24 increase in horsepower is already needed on a flat screen.

For VR, of course, both eyes need their own image. There are enough tricks with square images to pull not to need 48 million pixels for both images. Huddy predicts about 35 million pixels per eye should suffice for VR photorealism. That’s still 75 million pixels, taking us to a 35-fold increase compared to a contemporary 1080p monitor.

But photorealism in VR would also need vast improvements in framerate and latency that multiply that factor of 35 by three, clearing the aforementioned hundred-fold increase in horsepower required.

What’s more, says Huddy, if you consider the other advances needed to compliment such a leap forward in display and visual technology, it might be more sensible to ponder a 400x-to-1000x increase in horsepower to engender true, convincing VR photorealism that is indistinguishable from the real world.

Graphics hardware companies, then, have plenty to keep them busy in the years ahead. But VR developers will have a wait on their hands if they want to deliver photorealistic games.

For more on the journey to photorealism check out our feature on the future of game graphics.

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