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AMD Doubles-Down on VR With New GPU, Headset

SAN FRANCISCO – AMD is best known for its affordable computer graphics cards, but the company wants to expand beyond its gaming rig roots. The company has taken an enormous interest in virtual reality technology, from an open source program that makes the most of DirectX 12, to a full-featured headset known as the Sulon Q. Dubbing its new initiative "Capsaicin," AMD hopes that the program will generate as much excitement as the spicy chemical for which it's named.

AMD held a press conference at the Game Developers' Conference 2016 to discuss its new technology which, for the most part, were refinements of existing products rather than anything drastically new. Rather than siding with one particular VR headset, AMD has worked with a variety of partners, including not only the Sulon Q, but the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive as well.

MORE: VR Headset Mega Guide: Features and Release Dates

A plethora of developers came to speak about how AMD cards and DirectX 12 can have a profound impact on their games. AMD has worked together with Ubisoft, Square Enix, Creative Assembly and other favorite game-makers in order to assure that GPU and gaming technology go hand-in-hand.

To simplify a complex matter, DirectX 11 – as good as it often looks – relies on a process known as asynchronous computing. This processes separate tasks, such as computing and rendering, one at a time. A good GPU can do it quickly, but always runs the risk of slowdown. With DirectX 12 and high-end AMD cards, a game can render and compute simultaneously, making slowdown or tearing in games highly unlikely.

For all-purpose PC gaming, be it traditional or VR, AMD unveiled its Radeon Pro Duo: a graphics card capable of up to 16 teraflops of processing power. AMD representatives dubbed it a "prosumer" graphics card: more than capable of rendering demanding games, but equal to the challenges of developing them as well.

As for the Sulon Q, it's a standalone headset. The device does not require a PC, but is fully capable of rendering DirectX 12 games and applications on an AMD GPU. The company hopes that this technology will make VR more accessible. At present, VR presents great opportunities not only for gaming, but for education, healthcare and journalism as well, but less than one percent of the world's population has the proper resources to access it.

It's hard to say whether AMD's technology will have its desired effect, but at the very least, the company has much greater ambitions than providing gamers with pretty good graphics cards. Neither the Radeon Duo Pro nor the Sulon Q have hard prices or release dates, but they do have the potential to shake things up once they come out.

Marshall Honorof

Marshall Honorof is an editor for Tom's Guide, covering gaming hardware, security and streaming video. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.