Two of the major players in the world of VR tech are the HTC Vive and the Oculus Rift. These two VR headsets may take slightly different approaches to creating immersive VR, but they both approach the 3D aspect of it in very similar ways, and have nearly identical system requirements. The system requirements themselves are quite steep, especially when it comes to the chip in the PC used to process graphics.
In the last month, the two major graphics chip makers have released new graphics cards for PCs that help make VR slightly more affordable. At the end of June, AMD released the $200 (US) Radeon RX 480 graphics card, and in mid-July Nvidia released the $249 (US) Geforce GTX 1060.
What makes these cards so important to VR is the price. Prior to the launch of these cards, the cheapest video card that met the requirements of the Vive and Rift would typically have cost the consumer well over $300. Reducing the "cost of entry" to any technology by $50 to $200 is a great step. In March, one site priced out a system that met the minimum system requirements for VR, and it totaled $939. The video card used in that build was $309, and there are now Radeon RX480 cards priced at $199. That drops the total PC build price by nearly 12%!
Recent rumours point to the Nvidia GTX 1060 making its way into laptops, mostly unchanged from the chip in the desktop video cards. In the past, Nvidia has launched "M" (mobile) versions of their graphics chips that were significantly different from their desktop parts. Laptops based on Nvidia's past x60 graphics chips could often be found for sale in the $1000 to $1200 range. The prices on laptops using Nvidia's previous generation of chips (the GTX 960) can be found quite a bit lower right now. That is a good sign that laptops using the new generation chips will likely be available soon. If the rumours about the mobile GTX 1060 are true, it is possible that fully VR capable laptops may be available for under $1200 in the very near future.
Unfortunately, one of the biggest barriers to VR headsets being mainstream is the cost of the headsets themselves. The Oculus Rift is $600 (US), while the Vive is an even heftier $800. When considering this as part of the total VR system, a price drop of $200 won't help get VR into the mainstream. That's OK for now. Perhaps by the time the headsets see a significant price drop, there will actually be apps, content, and games available that make it worth using VR.
Or maybe VR is the next 3D TV; a lot of hype that just fizzles out.