The countdown has begun for the virtual reality market's big retail debut, with giant players like Oculus and HTC/Valve, revving up their respective engines. But unlike VR headsets like the Google Cardboard, Samsung Gear VR, or LG 360 VR, an Oculus Rift or an HTC Vive isn't just some accessory you buy and put on your head and hope that things magically work. You'll need to make sure that your PC is ready in the first place. And to help with that, Valve has released a SteamVR Performance Test app ahead of the start of the Vive's pre-order period.
For all the magical experience that VR promises, it will need a pretty beefy PC to make it happen. While those who build their own or have pretty recent gaming rigs might be in the clear, those just jumping in now might not be so lucky. You may not need the most up to date pieces, but recommended configurations include at least a 5th gen Intel Core i7 or 6th gen Core i5, 8 GB of RAM, and a more or less recent NVIDIA (or AMD) GPU.
Still, as many in the PC game dev business will tell you, PC setups can vary wildly and some might be more capable than others. If you're not sure if your current rig has enough muscle, Valve is here to save the day, and perhaps your wallet as well. The Steam app pretty much acts like a benchmarking tool but concentrates on testing the rendering prowess of your PC. Because, after all, that is what matters most in VR. It runs a 2-minute sequence from Valve's Aperture Robot Repair VR demo and then analyzes whether your PC can smoothly run VR content at 90 fps.
In case it does fail the test, all hope is not lost because the app will also reveal where the bottleneck is, in case you are of the mind to upgrade those pieces in time for the HTC Vive launch in April. And yes, the test is meant specifically for the HTC Vive headset, though it could perhaps also be used as a generic litmus test for others like the Oculus Rift as well.
And yes, the app has to be installed via the Steam PC software, which is kind of a given. If you're a PC gamer or in anyway interested in the HTC Vive, you might have that installed already anyway.