VR Is PC Gaming’s Next Crysis Moment: Alienware Boss

Dell recently revealed its Dell G Series of gaming laptops that poised to take over from its entry-level Inspiron Gaming series. In addition to this, the company also announced the latest revisions to its Alienware 15 and 17 laptops sporting 8th generation Intel Core processors and Nvidia Max-Q designed chips. And while most gamers have shied away from purchasing pre-built PCs, preferring the flexibility of customised, assembled rigs, that’s not exactly an option these days because of Bitcoin miners, whose demand for GPUs has driven prices way too high.

In this environment, considering a pre-built, branded machine is the sole feasible option, be it a desktop or a laptop — unless you’re willing to consider the PS4, Xbox One, or Nintendo Switch. Gadgets 360 travelled to the Dell headquarters in Austin, Texas to catch up with Joe Olmsted, Director, Dell Gaming and Alienware, who tells us that despite the perceived uncertainty in the PC gaming space, it’s actually in a very healthy state.

In the history of PC gaming, one of its standout moments revolves around the once popular first-person shooter, Crysis. Released in 2007 by EA and developed by Crytek, it was a game that looked good enough for many to consider upgrading their PCs or buying new ones outright. We wondered if we’d ever see PC gaming’s Crysis moment again. According to Olmsted, it’s already happening courtesy of virtual reality (VR) and soon enough, high dynamic range (HDR).

“We just had that moment with VR, driving momentum around that upgradeability on all the 10-series GPUs from Nvidia. Now HDR games are coming out, which shares high res requirements, meaning big GPUs. We’re going to see HDR become widely adopted and more games will be written for it forcing another moment like we saw with VR,” Olmsted says.

 

Furthermore, Olmsted reveals that 50 percent of all Inspiron Gaming laptops sold in the US have the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 GPU. And while you’d think it would be a lot less when you take international sales into account, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

“In China and the US we’ve seen about a 40 percent attachment rate to the 1060. We know that’s partially driven on our desktop side. For example, the entire desktop market has been declining except gaming,” he says. “And we can attribute that to VR which requires you to have a 1060 minimum configuration. Given its popularity, people want to purchase a system the will support VR.”

VR appears to be a big driver, but Olmsted also mentions HDR as being the next big thing. At the moment, while HDR displays are present on high-end XPS laptops, Dell doesn’t have any Alienware or Inspiron gaming laptops with HDR screens.

“At Dell we focus first and foremost on the front of screen visual experience. It’s a prized tenet for XPS, Alienware, and Dell Gaming. The second I can get an HDR IT driven LCD [essentially, an HDR monitor instead of an HDR TV panel, which has to be of higher standard], and IT versus TV from the LCD company perspective, as they still think IT versus TV [in terms of consumption and use case], we’ll be first to market with it,” hopes Olmsted.

On the topic of displays, it appears that users aren’t too fussy pairing their GTX 1060 GPUs with resolutions higher than what it’s specced out to achieve.

“All Alienware 15 inch notebook screens are G-sync capable whether it’s a FHD, QHD, or UHD and the QHD is 120Hz. Alienware systems with the GTX 1080 can also drive those higher solutions. While we also offer UHD and FD on our 15 inch Dell G notebooks, the 1060 will decrease your gaming experience at that high of a resolution. Most people are going to downspec the game to play on a UHD because they want UHD anyway,” he reveals.

 

With that in mind, Olmsted explains what features make it into an Alienware laptop, which are far removed from what most manufacturers keep in mind for audiences looking at laptops for say, productivity or media consumption.

“When don’t want Alienware customers to have to buy a port replicator or a dock. We want them to be able to do Gysnc with a mini display port, HDR streaming which requires HDMI 2.0, plug in a USB C or Thunderbolt, and use a mouse, keyboard and headset without a dongle. And most of all, we’re not giving up on LAN and will always have a NIC [Network Interface Controller] in our notebooks. Those are the requirements.” he tells us.

And while saying no to the dongle life is the order of the day for Alienware, we had to ask if Dell had plans to bring back its small form factor (SFF) range of gaming desktops. Previously the company had released the Alienware X51 and Alienware Alpha which were console-sized PCs. The latter was a part of Valve’s recently deprecated Steam Machines program. Could they make a return?

“We still sell our Alpha but given industry challenges small form factor products have not been overwhelmingly successful. We’re still looking at concepts in the two/ four/ six litre range but with upgradeable graphics. If you remember the X51, it was 10 litres, the size of an Xbox 360, but limited by the graphics you could put in,” he says.

Disclosure: Dell sponsored the correspondent’s flights and hotel for the trip to Dell’s HQ in Austin.

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