Just before the launch of the SteamVR-powered HTC Vive in 2016, Valve released a hardware testing tool to establish a minimum GPU power baseline for virtual reality. Now, with the impending release of the higher-resolution Vive Pro, Valve is updating SteamVR to ensure that higher-end headsets will work well at a variety of GPU power levels.
The auto-resolution scaling system, as described in a Steam Community announcement today, measures "how many 'VR megapixels per second' we believe your GPU is safely capable of for the majority of applications available." That number is then used to calculate the appropriate native resolution for the VR app being run, regardless of the display resolution of the attached VR headset.
That means systems with high-end GPUs will automatically see VR apps "up-res'ed" to "fully utilize" the power of the graphics card, Valve writes. The effect of that change will be most apparent on high-end headsets like the upcoming Vive Pro (which includes two 1400×1600 resolution displays) and certain Windows Mixed Reality headsets, but this kind of native "supersampling" can improve the clarity of VR apps even on years-old, "low-end" headsets like the Vive and Oculus Rift (which both have dual 1080×1200 displays).