The PS4’s ‘VR Processing Box’ and Nintendo’s Patent are External Processing Adapters To Increase Graphical Horsepower To VR Capable Levels


Note: This opinion editorial assumes that PSVR will aim to run VR games at the same visual fidelity/polygon level/graphical intensity as current AAA titles. Running VR on the PS4's own hardware is theoretically possible by introducing re-projection/interpolation techniques - both of which will only work if graphical acuity is sacrificed to a significant degree. Nintendo's patent on the other hand, does appear to depict an external dGPU adapter, a link to which is given below.

A few days ago a patent filed by Nintendo demonstrating an “external computational device” popped up. While it was covered as an intriguing patent, to those in the hardware fold, the device was very clearly an external graphics adapter. More recently, Sony has revealed that it’s VR capabilities will require an additional ‘computational box’ which will apparently be as big as a Nintendo Wii in itself. So I thought, it was about time that I do a short editorial on this.

Games Game Developers ConferenceImage courtesy of Sony. @Sony, Public Domain

PS4 VR processing box and Nintendo's computational device' are external garphics processors

Most of the articles out there on both of these, will only list them as “additional computing” or “additional processing” devices. While that is a completely accurate way of putting it – we can just as safely go into more details, armed with the knowledge of what is in the realm of possibility. For example, Virtual Reality being run (at the same visual fidelity and graphical level as the current AAA titles)from the console's own APU is not within the realm of possibility, as I have pointed out on many an occasion. This is ofcourse, one of the few reason console manufactures would put a processing device outside the main box to power the VR – and could naturally house a GPU of some sort.

Let me give a brief overview of both devices first. A recent report by Polygon revealed that the retail version of the Playstation VR will include a “sizeable black box……. About the size of a Nintendo Wii” that will require to be connected to the PS4 for the VR headset to function. The Playstation VR, codenamed Project Morpheus launches next year and both the headset and the “processing box” are expected to ship together for a relatively hefty price tag. This processing box will ofcourse be a complete isolated system in its own right (one that could probably be more powerful than the PS4 itself) and will contain a powerful processor.

Whether this system comes in the form of a dedicated ASIC, an additional APU (CPU + GPU) combination or a separate dedicated graphic card and CPU combination remains to be seen. A dedicated graphic card also makes more sense because even the most powerful APU will barely add more than 2 TFlops of processing power to the PS4, whereas a dedicated card will easily be able to add any amount of TFlops the manufacturer desires and a whatever price point.

Similarly, the Nintendo NX patent lists a computational device that does not have any user interface or driver setup on its own – and will exist solely to compliment the hardware already present on the console . Sony has advertised a target framerate of 120 Hz with minimal latency (18ms). This is roughly double the framerate it is advertised to handle at 1080p 60fps. While the resolution has not been mentioned, the industry standard Occulus Rift is rated at resolution of 2160x1200 90fps. This is a graphical load which the current generation consoles can absolutely not handle right now – not unless you massively reduce the polygon count, kill the graphical settings, shrink textures and probably not even then. Take a look at the following numbers:

  • The PS4 GPU is rated at 1.84 TFlops
  • The Xbox One GPU is rated at 1.31 TFlops
  • The GTX 980 (Notebook) is rated at 4.6 TFlops
  • The recommended minimum requirement of the Occulus Rift is the GTX 970 which is rated at 3.5 TFlops at stock settings.

If any reader would take the time to crunch the numbers of pixels pushed, he would find that the graphical load of the Oculus Rift VR standard is 3.75 times higher than the 1080p30fps standard and 1.875 times higher than the 1080p 60fps standard. If you are aiming for the 120fps rating at the industry standard resolution (Occulus VR’s) than you are going to need even higher power. Hopefully, this should give an idea of how underpowered consoles are on their own (for VR purposes) and why the additional computational device is an absolute necessity for a decent VR experience.

It will be interesting to see how both console manufacturers handle the challenge. Since graphics are involved they would need to utilize a high bandwidth connector capable of pushing the frames at a reasonable frame rate.Interestingly, there are some comments which suggest that Sony has managed to remove the requirement for a separate powerbrick which would indicate a relatively low powered hardware – with TDP around 75W. On a concluding note, it seems that consoles are becoming more like PCs everyday - albeit PCs that are pre-built and cannot be opened or modified. The era of the console where the machine was a tiny box with a few controllers appears to be over. That said, our reports indicate that the next generation of consoles will be powerful enough to handle VR all on their own.