Oculus to develop Rift for Windows only, suspends Mac, Linux work

The virtual reality headset won't work on most laptops, according to specs provided by Oculus

oculus rift headset

A man uses the Oculus Rift virtual reality headset at the 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo, known as E3.

Credit: Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

Sorry, Mac and Linux fans: Facebook-owned Oculus Rift, the headset that perhaps more than any other device has ignited public interest in virtual reality, will run almost exclusively on well-appointed Windows PCs, at least in the near future.

The process that most laptops use to output video doesn't work with the Rift, and  Oculus has temporarily halted development for hardware running Apple and Linux. That's the takeaway from the spec information Oculus published Friday detailing what type of computer would be compatible with its headset.

Graphics cards need to be equivalent to or more powerful than the AMD Radeon R9 290 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 970, while the processor needs to match or exceed an Intel i5-4590 chip, the virtual-reality headset maker said in a blog post. Systems need at least 8GB of RAM, two USB 3.0 ports and must be able to handle HDMI 1.3 video output. They also need to be running at least Windows 7 with Service Pack 1.

Having common specs will simplify the development process and allow programmers to create apps and games that offer a consistent experience, said Oculus chief architect Atman Binstock in a blog post. This is important, since hardware that isn't up to par will deliver a negative experience, he said.

The specs will stay consistent, but in theory, the cost of components that support the technology will decrease over time, allowing a broader range of PCs to work with the Rift, Binstock said.

Laptop owners who hoped to use the Rift are out of luck, at least for now. Many laptops have external video outputs connected to an integrated GPU (graphic processing units), said Binstock said. However, in those scenarios the video output is handled by "hardware and software mechanisms that can't support the Rift," he added.

Reviewing a laptop's spec would not reveal this information, and Oculus is working on a method "to identify the right systems," Binstock said.

Most laptops don't support the recommended GPU specs. However, Binstock noted that future laptops may use graphics processors that are up to the task.

For now, Oculus is focusing its development efforts solely on Windows machines. Development for Apple's OS X and Linux has been "paused" and will resume, although there's isn't a timeline for when that will happen, Binstock said.

Also on Friday, Oculus released a beta SDK (software development kit) for developing Rift applications on PCs.

Last week, Oculus revealed that the highly anticipated Rift will go on sale in the first quarter of 2016, but did not specify pricing. The Rift began as a crowdfunding campaign in 2012 and development units began shipping the following year. Last March, Facebook purchased the company for $2 billion.

Fred O'Connor writes about IT careers and health IT for The IDG News Service. Follow Fred on Twitter at @fredjoconnor. Fred's e-mail address is fred_o'connor@idg.com

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