[INTERVIEW] AMD’s Daryl Sartain: Virtual Reality Just Getting Started

[INTERVIEW] AMD’s Daryl Sartain: Virtual Reality Just Getting Started

(Article has been updated with a link to an interview that relates to comments made during this interview.)

In late April AMD Director of VR and chairman of the Virutal Reality Advisory Council Daryl Sartain came to Chicago for a speaking engagement. I was able to speak with him shortly after his arrival about Virtual Reality, a few hardware releases at the time and AMD’s strategy moving forward. And in case people are curious, Daryl is also a lurker on the XDA forums, having visited us many times for custom ROMs to flash on his previous device: a Samsung Galaxy S5.

Different Types of Virtual Reality Experiences

XDA: As you mentioned you handle Virtual Reality for AMD. I know you guys have been making a big push, especially over the past year. Matter of fact, during your 1st quarter results you announced that you had 80 percent of the market share?

Daryl: I think it was 83 percent, yes.

XDA: So what’s different about it this time versus other times that we have seen virtual reality introduced?

Daryl: I think what’s different is the immersion, the reality, perception when using the headsets is believable. Other generations may have had that as well but it was at a cost of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands. Now it’s believable and enjoyable at a enthusiast price point. And it will quickly go down to the average consumer price point.

XDA: So right now we have out there the HTC Vive, the Oculus Rift and for mobile mainly the Gear VR and Google Cardboard. I also know that Sulon Technologies in Toronto is working on the Sulon Q. Do you see any other players entering the market anytime soon?

Daryl: Depends on your definition of “soon.” I currently track 30 different VR headsets that are PC-based. When exactly they will make it to market is a good question. Many of them are not far; some are actually entering the market now. It’s also a regional thing in some cases. The market is very much maturing and maturing fast.

vrheadsetsXDA: Those headsets that you mentioned, are they of a similar design so far to what we see out there with the Vive and Rift?

Daryl: Yes. I also manage AR in addition to VR, of which those 30 headsets I mentioned do not include the AR headsets. AR goggles are typically quite different in comparison to VR and there’s a number of those as well. Those tend to be more professional or commercial in nature.

It’s difficult today to deliver the nirvana of VR, meaning the sunglasses equivalent of AR while still getting a good user experience. And this is the issue of reverse reality. Currently with the VR goggles you see out there right now you can offer an immersive experience. You may not look cool doing it but that’s not the goal – the goal is the immersion. With AR there’s a challenge of expectations, meaning that many expect AR to give that user experience while looking like Iron Man – that you’re going to look cool doing it. And that’s just not possible yet. Eventually it will be possible, but today that’s still a bit of a reach.

XDA: Going back to that 83% market share figure – is that just in the PC market? I know AMD also covers the consoles and so with PlayStation VR coming out are they included in these figures as well?

Daryl: All of those are what we consider compute devices. AMD currently dominates the console market – exclusive in the current generation systems – and they will play a large part in VR. As a result, our established base today of systems ready to go with VR, inclusive of those consoles, puts us at a very high percentage. And it’s important to note that the average PC, the average notebook will not suffice for VR. You need a system that either has dedicated graphics or, in the case of consoles, a separate graphics solution inside, for VR.

With what’s out in the market today, we dominate. Our goal moving forward is to maintain that.

XDA: When we look at content out for VR at the moment we see a clear distinction between what is out there for mobile versus what we see in the PC based experiences. Do you see that remaining a clear distinction or are there experiences that could run on either platform at the moment?

Daryl: While there are certainly solutions out there that may be available on both, it’s currently not possible to offer the exact same level of experience to a consumer on both – nor would a consumer really want it. The mobile field is great at doing certain things but also quite limited by its processing capabilities. That’s not to say it may be possible in the future either. But what we see right now is typically a thinning down of a PC based experience to make it enjoyable on a mobile platform, such as removing the interaction and making it into a video. And that will improve over time and experiences will only get better as developers fine tune how to best take advantages of the resources available on a mobile device. It’s most certainly a significant part of the VR market.

To my knowledge everything that is current available on a handset today is natively available on the high end systems. And that’s because what’s mainly available on handsets today are video based experiences, like a 360 degree video. And all you need on that is a player, which not only all smartphones have but also all PCs.

At this point I brought up the following video as an example because it stuck out in my mind, thanks to Daryl’s boss (Roy Taylor) sharing it earlier that month.

Page 2: VR Beyond Gaming, AMD Hardware & Looking Forward

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