Imagine for a moment that you’re playing Paranormal Activity VR. Thanks to your virtual reality headset, you’re completely immersed in the game world, and your heart is racing as you reach a dimly lit hallway. The hair on the back of your neck stands on end as you hear a noise behind you. You quickly turn your head only to find...that the game stutters as your system struggles to keep up with your sudden movements, completely ruining the illusion that the game worked so hard to create.
Horrific scenarios like these aren’t just fantasies: as virtual reality becomes more commonplace, the potential for such immersion breaking issues will only become greater. Thankfully, NVIDIA’s latest iteration of its powerful frame capture analysis tool, or FCAT, adds support for virtual reality hardware. This means developers and consumers now have an advanced tool that offers superior insight into VR performance over existing tools like FRAPS.
The FCAT’s Meow
So how does FCAT VR work? Once it’s installed on your system, you can turn it on while a VR game or application is running to gauge your hardware’s VR performance. FCAT VR accomplishes this by measuring four discrete metrics: frametime, dropped frames, runtime warped dropped frames, and asynchronous space warp (ASW).
Let’s quickly run through each term so you can better understand what FCAT VR is doing. Frametime refers to the time it takes your system to generate a frame and is measured in milliseconds. Dropped frames refer to instances when a frame isn’t generated and/or delivered correctly to the headset. If FCAT VR detects a high frametime or frequently dropped frames, it can be an indication that a system isn’t capable of rendering a smooth VR experience. This results in a jarring experience like the Paranormal Activity VR example we noted above.
FCAT Got Your Tongue
Runtime warped dropped frames is a newer issue that’s directly tied into how a VR system works. The runtime is a special piece of software that handles VR specific factors like the curvature of the headset’s lenses and your head movements to ensure the game or application is correctly displayed. It can sometimes miss a frame as well, causing yet another potential hiccup in the experience. Luckily, FCAT VR will alert you if this occurs on your system.
Finally, there’s asynchronous space warp, or ASW. FCAT VR measures this to see how many ‘synthesized frames’ are created by your system. Synthesized frames are created by looking at existing frames and predicting what is likely going to come next; it can save on processing overhead, but the quality of a synthesized frame isn’t as good as an actual new frame. Also, if FCAT VR’s analysis shows that your system relies on ASW too often, it’s a likely sign that it’s struggling to keep up.
The FCAT’s Out Of The Bag
Now that FCAT VR is freely available to the community—and we do mean free, as NVIDIA isn’t charging anyone to download and use it—VR users should start to see more and more useful information about VR performance in the coming days. For example, users who are looking to buy a VR headset can look up their existing system’s specs to see how it might perform. If their CPU and GPU haven’t tested well, they can integrate the appropriate upgrades into their budgeting.
Developers creating games for virtual reality systems can also use FCAT VR to iron out bugs, smooth over troublespots, and make better recommendations for minimum and optimal hardware specs. As you can see, FCAT VR will make it easier for everyone involved in the VR revolution to make informed choices and avoid the technical hiccups that can ruin the terrifying fun.
VR users who want to gain a better understanding of their system’s performance can go here to download and try FCAT VR for free. You can also check out NVIDIA’s comprehensive FCAT VR user guide if you need a little help getting started.