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This company is going to profit hugely from VR, but not by making a headset

At Computec, attendees checked out virtual reality at the Nvidia GeForce VR ExperienceAt Computec, attendees checked out virtual reality at the Nvidia GeForce VR Experience
At Computec, attendees checked out virtual reality at the Nvidia GeForce VR ExperienceNvidia

One of the reasons that the PC business has slowed down these last few years, according to Unity CEO John Riccitiello, is that there’s been no incentive for consumers to purchase the latest graphics card to play the best new video game.

But that all changes with the launch of PC virtual reality headsets like the HTC Vive this fall and the Oculus Rift in Q1 2016. Those devices will require not only new PCs, but also the latest graphics cards from companies like Nvidia.

According to Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster, only 20 percent of all PCs on the market today have the power to run a VR headset. And half of all PC gamers will need to upgrade either their system or graphics card to jump on the VR bandwagon. That’s good news for Intel, Nvidia, and AMD, which provide graphics cards designed for high-end PC gaming and virtual reality experiences.

Nvidia (NVDA), which has been quietly leading the VR PC game technology business all year, used E3 to make a statement and showcase its technology. Every Oculus Rift VR demo on the E3 2015 show floor was powered by an Nvidia GeForce graphics card, including the behind-closed-doors Oculus Touch demo and games like Lucky’s Tale and Chronos. Starbreeze Studios’ new virtual reality technology, StarVR, also used Nvidia products for its new The Walking Dead VR game. And at the Game Developers Conference back in March, Nvidia technology powered the HTC Vive game demos running on Valve’s Steam VR platform.

Jason Paul, general manager at Nvidia, believes VR will be a big trend in computing this year and moving forward. Virtual reality will require the fastest high-performance GPUs (graphics processing unit) on the market for rendering dual images in high-resolution to bring virtual worlds to life.

“One of the distinguishing factors inside the Maxwell GPU is multi-projection, which renders an image closer to what gets displayed on a VR screen instead of a PC monitor,” Paul says. “It’s no easy feat to drive stereo gaming on a high-resolution 2160×1200 display at 90Hz, with near-zero tolerance for latency or stutter.”

In addition to making graphics cards vital to running VR technology, Nvidia also launched GameWorks VR, a software development kit for game makers who want to explore virtual reality across any and all of the current emerging platforms.

Plus, Nvidia will extend its GeForce Experience program, which automatically optimizes PC games based on a gamer’s PC specifications and system, to virtual reality games for HTC Vive and Oculus Rift with the GeForce VR Experience. Paul says dozens of VR games for PC will be added to this program, which will help make VR gaming on PC even more of a plug-and-play experience.

Microsoft is working directly with Valve and Oculus to provide seamless Windows 10 access, as well. Ultimately, the goal is to make VR gaming on PC as easy as using a Sony Morpheus or Samsung Gear VR, headsets which are aimed at consoles and mobile devices.

With VR expected to become a $30 billion business by 2020, according to Digi-Capital, Nvidia has a lot to gain from consumers needing to upgrade cards and entire PCs to play the first generation of VR games.