High PC hardware requirements are one reason why VR’s initial buy-in cost is often cited around $1,500, but as GPUs get more powerful and cheaper over time, more people are ending up with ‘VR Ready’ hardware, perhaps without even meaning to. Today an estimated 25 million Steam users already have one of the most expensive parts of the VR Ready equation: a powerful GPU that meets the VR industry’s recommended specifications.

In The Beginning…

At the end of 2016, just a few months before the first consumer VR headsets would launch in early 2016, NVIDIA estimated that roughly 13 million VR Ready PCs existed in the market. At the time, only mid to high-end enthusiast GPUs—starting at $330 and going upwards of $650—met the de facto VR Ready spec which asked for a minimum of an AMD Radeon R9 290 or an Nvidia GTX 970.

NVIDIA’s GTX 970 is currently the most popular VR Ready GPU on Steam with a market share of 4.23%. The newer GTX 1060 is quickly gaining ground, presently with a 3.79% share. | Photo courtesy NVIDIA

VR Ready GPUs Today

Since then, a new wave of GPUs has launched from both AMD and Nvidia, bringing more power at lower costs, while at the same time expanding the pool of people with VR Ready graphics cards by making lower-cost cards powerful enough to handle VR. For instance, AMD’s VR Ready RX 480 GPU launched for $200, while Nvidia’s GTX 1060 tier card at $250 offered enough power to be VR Ready whereas gamers would need the GTX 970 tier card of the previous generation to be VR Ready.

Advancements in NVIDIA’s latest laptop GPUs also mean that a much larger number of VR Ready laptops exist today than did prior to the company’s latest 10-series GPU launch.

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In the last few months I’ve spoken with a number of gamers who had no idea their new low and mid-range cards could handle VR.

25 Million Strong

The impact of this lower cost and more powerful hardware appears to be quite dramatic. Today, we estimate more than 25 million Steam users have PCs equipped with VR Ready GPUs. How do we figure? Glad you asked.

The Radeon RX 480 is the most popular VR Ready GPU from AMD among Steam users with a 0.83% share | Photo courtesy AMD

Steam handily makes available a nice set of regularly update stats breaking down the hardware specs of their usership. The GPU section tells us that 19.32% of DirectX 12 capable GPUs are those which are VR Ready, which is 14.57% of all GPUs used by Steam users, according to the stats. So we’ve got a percentage, and now we need a number.

Back at the beginning of 2015, Valve announced that it had a whopping 125 million active users. Around that same time the gaming service had recently peaked around 8.9 million concurrent users. Though the company doesn’t make their active user count available, they do make their concurrent user count available, which is now hitting an average peak of around 12 million users. That means we can use a proportion to scale the last known active user figure of 125 million against the concurrent users of the time and the concurrent users of today. That equation brings us to an estimate of 168.5 million active users.

And from there the rest is easy: 14.57% of 168.5 million is 24.6 million VR Ready GPUs.

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That’s a far greater number than the current combined estimates of Vive and Rift sales, which are often cited between 750,000 and 1.75 million. But this is certainly good news for Oculus and HTC, as it means the pre-existing install base to sell VR headsets into has greatly expanded in a short time; and while the high price of the systems is still a major roadblock, both companies might stand to benefit just by educating consumers that their hardware may already be capable of running high-end VR experiences.

Further Discussion and Considerations

In the interest of thoroughness, here’s a few notes you should know about our approach to this estimate and a few things worth thinking about.

First, we only looked into the GPUs that met the de facto VR Ready ‘Recommended Spec’. In addition to the Recommended Spec, Oculus has its own slightly lower ‘Minimum Spec’ that relies on ASW technology to offer a smooth VR experience on less powerful hardware. If we were to also consider Oculus’ Minimum Spec cards, that would mean the inclusion of the GTX 960, GTX 1050 Ti, and the Radeon RX 470, which would significantly increase the total pool of VR-capable GPUs on Steam to 33.7 million

Second, a number of VR Ready GPUs are not represented in the Steam stats, especially ‘Pro’ cards like Nvidia’s Quadro and AMD’s Radeon Pro and W-series cards. Some very high end cards, like the 1080 Ti and Titan are also not seen in the stats. Our guess is that a combination of small sample size and small market share of those cards may render them insignificant in the stats, and/or they have been lumped into the ‘Other’ figure.

Third, a system is not completely VR Ready by the GPU alone; the CPU also needs to meet a certain bar, and there’s a few specifics surrounding USB versions, port count, HDMI versions, and operating system. Based on the stats available, there’s no way for us to combine the CPU and GPU stats to identify individual systems which contain both a VR Ready GPU and a VR Ready CPU.

Forth, this estimate only addresses Steam users, not the entire ‘universe’ of PC gamers, though it can be reasonably argued that a great majority of PC gamers with the sort of hardware we’re talking about are also Steam users, so we don’t expect the disparity of this estimate to be great in that regard. Also, the Steam Hardware Survey results come only from folks who opt-in to have their hardware information collected; if people that are likely to opt-in are significantly more or less likely to own a VR Ready GPU, that could skew the results.

And finally, firth, the same cards that were considered VR Ready at the launch of the Rift and Vive in early 2016 are still considered VR Ready today in mid 2017, despite the latest wave of cards bringing improvements in performance. That means that in addition to VR Ready GPUs simply being more prominent, part of the expansion in the number of people with such GPUs is being driven by the fact that the Recommended Spec has been expanding in breadth. At some point, when it gets a little too wide, it’s likely that we’ll see the Recommended Spec drop a few of the older cards off the roster, but most likely not until the next generation of VR headsets.

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