Jen-Hsun Huang, Nvidia CEO, talks about the future of VR as a new platform (Photo credit: Anshel Sag)
Nvidia has been one of the leaders in GPU technologies for as long as I can remember. They have always traded punches with Advanced Micro Devices in terms of GPU technologies and creating bleeding edge technology. Nvidia was first to market with technologies like 3D Vision, and even though 3D fizzled off, they still had a very compelling and high quality solution. When it came to Virtual Reality (VR), Nvidia started out their story with the launch of the Maxwell-based GTX 980 in the fall of 2014, back when I was still a journalist. However, after their talk about VR with the new Maxwell architecture with Facebook’s Oculus, Nvidia went almost entirely quiet on VR as a major driving technology. Sure, they had a VR showing at Computex 2015, but Nvidia was mostly pretty absent from the VR discussion until this year. Something, be it competition or strategic planning, has finally lit a fire under them and 2016 is showing that Nvidia is really taking VR seriously.
In 2016, Nvidia started the year focused mostly on cars at CES, but there were some good VR demos for press and analysts to try out. Nvidia also started to sponsor big independent VR events like VRLA and got even more involved at GDC. I even got a chance to try out the Star Wars: Trials on Tatooine VR experience from ILM’s XLab at their booth. Nvidia is also the marquis sponsor of this year’s Silicon Valley VR Expo 2016 (SVVR) in San Jose.
Following GDC and the massive presence and demos Nvidia had there, Nvidia held their own GPU Technology Conference (GTC 2016) where they went all out on VR with a Virtual Reality Track, VR Village and VR Showcase. Nvidia’s CEO Jen-Hsun Huang even said that Virtual Reality is not just a new gadget, it is the start of a new platform. That statement alone gives you an idea of how seriously Nvidia is taking VR and how much they are ready to invest in it. VR was front and center during Nvidia’s keynote with the Iray VR announcement and Mars VR experience with Steve Wozniak co-founder of Apple, which VR hadn’t really been in the past.
At GTC 2016 Nvidia showed that they already have professional applications of VR with their Iray VR announcement for professional photorealistic visualization. Partners like Audi and BMW showed off VR applications that help them sell cars in the showroom. And as the video describes, Nvidia is already working with NASA to develop a hyper-realistic Mars experience as well as an ISS experience.
Nvidia is starting to show what their approach to VR will be. It is starting with professional applications and scientific applications like the ISS and Mars and will move towards consumer. This makes a lot of sense when you think about Nvidia’s GPU technologies, because they generally release their professional compute cards like the new Pascal P100 and then launch their GeForce gaming cards later on to gamers’ and the press’ excitement. Nvidia is also starting to show their relationships in VR are getting stronger with their partnerships in creating the Everest experience and working with CCP games on EVE Valkyrie and Project Arena.
Nvidia has already deployed their user-friendly VR-ready program with the help of their computer OEMs like Dell, HP Inc., Lenovo and others to help de-mystify the buying process for consumers, so that they can confidently buy a VR-capable PC. From my own experiences, Nvidia has been a very close partner with Facebook’s Oculus and HTC in helping those companies launch their headsets and demonstrating them, which included the VR Developer Showcase in Seattle this February. Nvidia, along with Advanced Micro Devices are a pivotal part of their OEMs’ programs to deliver Oculus Ready and Vive Optimized certified systems.
Nvidia is serious about VR and is laying the groundwork for a broad portfolio of technologies to enable this new era of computing to flourish. Thanks to companies like Nvidia getting very serious about VR, the entire industry is going to benefit from accelerated investment, performance and collaboration. I personally cannot wait to see what else Nvidia will announce for all types of VR in 2016.