Up until now, if you wanted VR compatibility on a Mac, you needed to install Windows and have a Mac Pro from 2011 to upgrade – which makes me shudder. even if you do decide to go that route you make have trouble getting a Mac with a graphics card that actually supports VR. The problem is, VR is very graphics card intensive, so you need a pretty powerful one to handle it.
Now, at the last WWDC or world wide developers conference in Sandiego, Apple mentioned VR on multiple occasions. Their new iMac is positioned as a VR development computer (but make sure you get the correct model) and they even announced the iMac Pro that will be out by the end of the year if you really want some high-end stuff (up to 18 cores with crazy AMD Vega graphics cards. More teraflops than Xbox One X. Really.)
So it seems that Apple is really getting into the spirit of VR. During the announcement, they mentioned the HTC Vive as a compatible VR device, and the SteamVR service is apparently going to be coming to the Mac too. Unfortunately, a lot of the VR functionality won’t be available until MacOS High Sierra comes out, with Metal 2.
What is Metal?
well, Apple has this to say:
Metal 2. A graphics game changer.
Today’s Mac experience relies more than ever on the graphics processor (GPU) in your computer. And GPUs are becoming more and more powerful. Metal is a technology built into macOS that allows apps to unleash the full power of the GPU. Now Metal 2 not only takes the visual experience to the next level, but also adds capabilities like machine learning, virtual reality, and external GPU support for entertainment and professional creative apps. Whether you play games, create content, or develop software, Metal 2 provides the power to bring your imagination to life.
But you could think of it as Direct X if you are familiar with the PC. It is a way to tap into the raw power of the graphics card without having to go through the main processor first, it generally speeds up everything when you start tapping into it.
So, what do Apple say about VR?
Virtual reality for Mac.
It’s a whole new world.
macOS High Sierra lets developers create interactive virtual reality experiences on Mac for the first time, using the new iMac with Retina 5K display, the new iMac Pro coming in late 2017, or any supported Mac paired with an external GPU.3 Along with optimized support for Valve’s SteamVR and the HTC Vive VR headset, and content creation apps like Final Cut Pro X, Epic Unreal 4 Editor, and Unity Editor, developers will have everything they need to create immersive new worlds for you to explore.
Why is this REALLY exciting for VR on Mac? External graphics cards!
Since the introduction of Thunderbolt, I have been dreaming of the introduction of external graphics card chassis. Why? Well, Macs are notoriously non-upgradable, bar the old Mac Pro, unfortunately even that was superseded by the small, black, sleek “trash can” Mac Pro, and with the introduction, it also lost the ability to upgrade graphics cards internally. But it did come with quite a few Thunderbolt ports. Sure it had some server-grade processors and workstation-class graphics cards, so you may not need to upgrade it, but other Macs don’t have quite as powerful internals.
Take the lower end Macbook Pro line or 21-inch iMac with a 4K display. Quite a few don’t have a discrete graphics card to call their own, relying on Intel’s on-chip graphics processing. Imagine buying a low-end iMac and being able to buy a new graphics card for it if you need to – and impossible task on the non-upgradable machine without and external box. Well, now Sonnet has introduced an external graphics card box that connects via Thunderbolt. And if you are worried that Apple will put something in place to stop them working, fear not, as they have been shipping them to developers along with an AMD Radeon RX580 and $100 credit towards an HTC Vive, for those devs that want to start to dabble with VR and AR.
eGPU Support built into MacOS
In fact, Apple has built support for eGPU’s (external Graphics Processing Units) into the newest MacOS, which means over time, manufacturers will start to create different types of enclosures and more types of Mac compatible cards. Which is excellent news!
External Graphics Development Kit
If you are an Apple developer or want to be, then sign up to their developer’s program and then buy the external graphics dev kit direct from them.
Apps that use Metal, OpenCL, and OpenGL can now take advantage of the increased performance that external graphics processors can bring. The External Graphics Development Kit includes everything you need to start optimizing advanced VR and 3D apps on external graphics processors with macOS High Sierra.1
599 USD or in local currency3