Virtual reality

AMD looks to be a leader in virtual reality technology

Posted March 17th, 2016

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. is demonstrating this week that it can deliver dazzling graphics performance that gives it an early lead in the promising market for “immersive” virtual reality hardware.  

The chipmaker, which has substantial operations in Austin, took the stage at the Game Developer’s Conference in San Francisco to show off its blazing fast graphics card, which is aimed at the makers of virtual reality content, including games.  

AMD’s Radeon Pro Duo card delivers an impressive 16 trillion operations per second of graphics processing power, which is the kind of performance that software developers say they need to create advanced VR games. The card is not yet on the market.  

AMD also pointed to market research that shows its chips power 83 percent of the market for VR-capable game consoles and VR headsets.  

In addition, AMD demonstrated a prototype version of its next-generation Polaris family of graphics chips, which are expected to deliver more than twice the performance of the current generation.  

“AMD continues to be a driving force in virtual reality,” said Raja Koduri, the company’s senior vice president and chief architect for its Radeon Graphics Technologies Group. He said the company is working actively with the VR ecosystem, which includes virtual reality “cafes” in China, makers of headsets such as the Oculus Rift and the HTC Vive, as well as content partners involved in gaming, entertainment, education, science, medicine, journalism and other fields.  

Game developers participating in the event included Rebellion and Ubisoft. They and other companies are using AMD’s VR platform, which includes high-end graphics processing as well as its enablishing LiquidVR software. Analysts say AMD has gotten the early jump on rival Nvidia Corp. in the new market. Nvidia leads the broader graphics chip market.  

“AMD has gotten way out ahead on VR,” said analyst Kathleen Maher with Jon Peddie. “They have been the first to smooth out the VR experience.”  

AMD’s formal headquarters are in Sunnyvale, Calif., but Austin is where most of its senior executives live and much of its engineering is done. The company, one of the world’s largest chipmakers, has about 1,600 employees in Central Texas.  

AMD has been the underdog in both of its biggest markets, graphics chips and computer processors, where it battles industry leader Intel Corp.  

“They have Nvidia on one side and Intel on the other,” Maher said. “Their strategy has been to pick their fights very carefully on where to invest. They identified VR and that is where they put their effort and their money.”  

Analyst Nathan Brookwood with Insight 64 said AMD chose the virtual reality market to invest in, because VR content demands high-end graphics performance to operate correctly.  

“AMD doesn’t often have these opportunities where they really leave their competitor in the dust. And they are doing a pretty decent job of marketing it,” Brookwood said.  

Virtual reality content demands very strong graphics processing capability, the analyst said, because even slight imperfections with moving VR images can confuse users’ brains and make them nauseous. Global sales of VR headsets are estimated to approach the $1 billion market this year with continued rapid growth over the next several years, according to CCS Insight, which tracks the market for smart wearable products.  

AMD, which has reported disappointing financial performances in the past few years, could use whatever boost it can get from a leadership position in advanced graphics. The company reported about $4 billion in revenue, in 2015, down 27 percent from the year before. Its net loss for the year totaled $660 million.  

While AMD is making strides in graphics, it also is pushing ahead with development of its next generation Zen computer processor, which is expected to be introduced before the end of this year.