Nvidia GTC is a GPU conference that takes place in the heart of Silicon Valley. In addition to the usual enterprise-level supercomputers and AI deep learning platforms, this year's show focused heavily on virtual reality, including new gaming announcements for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Here are a few of the highlights. This year's GTC has been pretty light on gaming tech — there's been no new enthusiast-level graphics card announcements like last year's Titan X, for example. Still, if you're into VR there was plenty to get excited about. Here are a handful of highlights to whet your appetite.
With the possible exception of self-driving F1 racecars, the hero product of GTC 2016 was Nvidia VRworks; a virtual-reality addition to the Nvidia SDK. As its name implies, this is a suite of APIs, sample code and libraries for VR developers working on Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. It boasts an integrator for the Epic, Max Play and Unity game engines and could potentially be used to develop all-new VR headsets.
As proof of concept, Nvidia demonstrated two new VR demos on HTC Vive: Everest VR and Mars 2030. The latter was controlled by none other than Steve Wozniak via a live video stream during the keynote. (Hilariously, Steve complained that the virtual environment was making him dizzy, which Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang quipped was "not a helpful comment".)
During the demonstration, we watched the Woz trundle about in a three-dimensional Mars landscape dotted with spacecraft and other astronauts. Apparently, the environment uses scientifically accurate satellite imagery and data from NASA. To an outside observer, it just looked like a current-gen first-person video game. This is one of the problems with VR demonstrations, as Jen-Hsun freely admitted: "We can show it on screen, but it won't come close to the grandeur you will experience."
It's a different story from inside the headset, as anyone who has tried VR will tell you. You can read one of my own experiences with the Capcom-produced horror VR demo The Kitchen here.
Everst VR, meanwhile, is a painstaking reconstruction of the world's tallest mountain simulated in full HD using 108 billion pixels. The result is an astonishingly photo-realistic virtual environment complete with weather effects that behave like the real thing. We'll be experiencing this demo first-hand on the HTC Vive later today, so stay tuned for a hands-on.
The company also unveiled Iray VR — a virtual-reality version of Nvidia's physically-based renderer for design professionals. Iray VR will allow developers to create pre-rendered light probes in regions of interest, rasterize depth for optimal headset eye position and reconstruct images for new viewpoints quickly and efficiently from within the platform.
From June, there will also be a consumer version available dubbed Iray VR Lite. This will work on Android devices using a range of available headsets including Google cardboard.
Much like with smartphones, we're getting to the point where VR input devices are becoming lightweight and user-friendly enough to entice the majority of consumers. According to Nvidia, the commercial possibilities are set to explode in the months ahead. It's a pretty good time to be a gamer.
Lifehacker travelled to GTC 2016 in San Jose, California as a guest of Nvidia.