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What Does SteamVR Consider Resolution?

Interesting announcement from Valve, though we are left with more questions than answers.

There are two ways to enhance the perceived image quality of your VR experience.  The first is to get your computer to deliver the native resolution of your HMD.  Depending on your platform, it currently starts at about 2160 X 1200 pixels and goes up from there.  While an increase in hardware pixels combined with an equal amount of rendered pixels is the ideal option, it's limited to the number of physical pixels on the display and your computers ability to drive them.

The second method is to use a supersampling technique whereby your computer sends extra pixels and smooths things out even though your hardware has a physical limit on what it can display.  It's expensive from a processing point of view, but it delivers a significant improvement if your graphics hardware can handle it.

Through their SteamVR platform, Valve is going to offer an automatic mechanism that will dynamically adjust the resolution of the content according to what your GPU is capable of.  The hope is that users will automatically get the best experience without needing an intimate knowledge of their hardware.

The catch is that Valve was very vague with their announcement.  They say that the resolution will not be lower than that of an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive, but it doesn't speak to what would happen with higher resolution options like the Windows Mixed Reality headsets or the future generations of the Vive and others.  With lower-end graphics cards, will they just upscale an image like a 720P film being shown on a 1080P television, or is it 100% supersampling where the native resolution isn't changed, and they are only referring to a processing enhancement?

We reached out to Valve directly, and have yet to hear back.  We THINK this is limited to supersampling adjustments versus the native resolution of the HMD, but time will tell.  It's currently available as an option feature in the SteamVR beta.  Check it out and see what you think!

AHAH!  Speak of the devil.  Valve updated their page with more details:
  • This feature takes the setting previously known as supersampling, and automatically adjusts it on startup based on the performance of your GPU with your headset.
  • This setting does not dynamically adjust per application or during application use.
  • If your GPU can't make native resolution on Vive Pro or Windows MR headset, it will scale down and bottom out at the equivalent megapixels per second as a first generation Vive or Rift.
  • If your GPU can't make native resolution on a first generation Vive or Rift, it will not automatically be set below native resolution (and it will perform the same as it did before this update).