Although consumer grade virtual reality is pretty amazing, there is still a long way to go until we have true-to-life pixel densities on the displays that power it all. In the meantime though, there is one change you can make that has a dramatic effect on how crisp and detailed the VR visuals are: super sampling.
Super sampling, more commonly abbreviated to SSAA, is a spatial anti-aliasing method for improving the visuals of a game. In essence, it renders the game at a higher resolution and then down-samples the produced image to the native resolution of the screen(s) it’s displaying on. It’s something that you might have seen in the advanced options of a number of AAA games in recent years.
However it turns out that this is something you can implement in virtual reality on the HTC Vive too, and it can really smooth out edges and improve clarity of menus, text, and distant objects quite dramatically.
Discovered by contributor “illuzian” on the Elite dangerous forums, this method requires you to open your Steam folder, find the config folder, and open up the “SteamVR” settings file. From there, find the line referencing the background image used for the VR landing area and add the following line under it:
Initially this won’t change much, because the “renderTargetMultiplier” figure you’ve selected is the base, 1.0, which should equate to the same visuals you have always had. Setting that figure to 1.1 though, will increase it, likewise 1.2, 1.3 and so on. 1.5 seems to be the sweet spot for many gamers, who say that from there you can see a dramatic increase in visual fidelity.
We have tried it up 2.0 ourselves and can say that it really crisps up the visuals. In the SteamVR landing area you can begin to see the details in the snow-capped mountains in the distance and when booting up titles like Audioshield, the visual sweet spot even seems a little larger because of how much easier the text is to read.
However all of this does come at a cost. Rendering at higher resolutions means working your graphics card that much harder, so you will need hardware that is more powerful than the basic specifications for VR (Core i5 -4590 and R9 290 or GTX 970) if you really want to take advantage of this feature.
Those with GTX 970s have been able to play some games at the 1.5 setting, but that may not be the case with every title out there. Even with a Fury X on board and an overclocked 4,690K, we suffered frame rate drops when using the 2.0 quality setting. Some VR experimenters on Reddit have been able to achieve good frame rates and quality settings with 2.5 when using the new GTX 1080, but that card is far from common at the moment.
If you play around with the quality settings yourself, let us know what you achieve, as we found the difference to be night and day.