One tried-and-true tactic I often use to figure out what a company is investing in is to check out that company's job boards. If a company has multiple positions open for an area of expertise, then the odds are good that the company thinks that area is important to its business today, or is likely to be important to it in the near to medium term.
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Chipmaker Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) has talked quite a lot about virtual reality, and the company even goes so far as to put "For a Great VR Experience" on its gaming/enthusiast-oriented desktop personal computer processor boxes.
While fast CPUs are certainly going to be helpful in creating immersive virtual reality experiences, virtual reality is inherently very graphically demanding.
Intel builds graphics technology today that it integrates alongside its CPUs aimed at laptops and mainstream desktop personal computers, but this graphics technology is neither very good nor is it particularly powerful.
I've long believed that if Intel is serious about investing in virtual reality, it's going to need to invest in building better graphics technology (both hardware and software).
A recent job listing on Intel's website seems to indicate that Intel is serious about virtual reality and that to try to participate effectively in that market, it is making some incremental graphics investments.
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Parsing the listing
Intel is hiring for a "VR Gfx SW Engineer," or -- if the acronyms are proving to be just a bit much -- a "Virtual Reality Graphics Software Engineer."
The company says in this listing that the individual that it ultimately hires to fill this position will "drive the definition and execution of advanced technologies for Virtual Reality based on Intel Gen graphics platforms."
Per the listing, this individual will have to handle the development of "multiple aspects of graphics software, display driver development and simulation environment development."
Said individual will also be tasked with working with "various partners to enhance and improve graphics performance on upcoming processor graphics devices by analyzing performance issues in software drivers and applications, implementing software performance improvements, and recommending future [hardware-software] improvements."
The bottom line is that Intel is seemingly taking virtual reality use cases very seriously, so much so that virtual reality will help shape the development of the company's future graphics processor technologies.
When will we see "VR capable" Intel graphics?
Given the relatively lengthy chip development times, coupled with the fact that virtual reality as a relevant use case is a relatively new development, I think it'll be a while before we see Intel release chips with graphics processors that are passable for mainstream virtual reality applications (e.g. virtual reality games).
Intel's product line this year is expected to use the same graphics technology that Intel first introduced back in 2015 and a truly new Intel graphics architecture isn't expected to debut across the company's product stack until its Ice Lake family of processors arrive either in late 2018 or at some point in 2019.
We might see some virtual reality-specific technologies make their way into Intel's Ice Lake processor lineup, but I wouldn't be surprised if consumers didn't see the real fruits of Intel's virtual reality efforts until the company's 2020/2021 chip designs arrive.
Intel certainly won't be first to the virtual reality party, but at least we know that -- as of now -- Intel cares enough about this emerging use case to invest money and manpower into it.
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