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What the Mac really needs to handle VR

The Mac has never been known for high-end gaming. It just doesn't seem to be a market Apple believes the company should compete in. That's likely why the Mac also isn't currently equipped to run high-end VR headsets like Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. That's now, though. What about the future?

Russell Holly, writing for VRHeads.com:

While it's a little rough that Apple fans are going to need a complete hardware upgrade to be VR-ready, it's not the only hurdle. Oculus and HTC have to support Mac OS separately, and for Oculus that could mean fragmenting their store into Mac and non-Mac VR games. We've already seen Valve do this with non-VR games on their Steam platform, so it's likely the Steam VR-powered HTC Vive would have a similar experience. It's unlikely Mac owners with VR hardware would be able to play all of the games current VR owners can play at least at first, so it's an uphill battle on multiple fronts for Apple fans.

My guess is this — if next-generation Macs can support current generation VR, it'll be coincidental. Apple won't be targeting VR specifically, but if the Macs get newer, more powerful chipsets that happen to be able to handle VR, then great.

In the meantime, if you don't want to wait, you can enter the VRHead's give-away for a full-on gaming PC and HTC Vive right now!

Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

24 Comments
  • Very shortsighted. There are so many more outlets for VR than gaming. Sounds like an excuse covering for Apple.
  • Yep. Apple only cares if their hardware can run their "play school" apps. They don't care about "real work" or other programs that need the latest hardware to perform as expected. This is why most "real work" software isn't even written for Mac. Devs aren't going to waste their time writing software for underpowered, outdated hardware. Not to mention the technical limitations of the operating system. Sent from the iMore App
  • What are the technical limitations of the operation system?
  • There many outlets for VR other than gaming but gaming is where VR will probably be the most mainstream. Sent from the iMore App
  • Great. What if we must develop software for VR today? Which Mac does Apple recommend for that job?
  • Probably a trashcan - one of the better ones that besides processing power also has an ample amount of graphics power.
  • They already have outdated internals. High spec computing and horsepower is not something Apple is known for. Form and style over function. Posted from my Nexus 6P
  • Apple is more concerned with computers with a cool design while having computers that are waaaaaaay too slow for real computing.
  • I have to agree with the other replies here. I'm a die hard Apple user but Apple need to get back into the power game. VR will be the future, it's games today, but UI tomorrow and if Apple don't have hardware that can be capable of running the VR OS of tomorrow they are in big trouble. VR is the game changer that the mouse was.
    Imagine if Apple, at the time the mouse became available, didn't have hardware that was powerful enough to use it.
  • sounds about right..I'm a Mac using graphic designer who's caught the animation then the game design bug and if Macs aren't for designers anymore then who are they for?
  • So, Apple has computer offerings... 'that are waaaaaaay too slow for real computing.'
    Like for instance this 15" rMBP with a 2.8GHz Quad-core i7, with turbo boost up to 4.0GHz?!?
    https://www.imore.com/e?link=https2F2Fc2F4...
    Okay, sure, whatever you say...
  • Their GPUs are outdated Posted from my Nexus 6P
  • And Apple charge way too much for it. Sent from the iMore App
  • The issue is not computing power but in fact the GPU power. As it is right now the minimum spec you need for VR is the GTX 970 but the current MBPR is sporting the AMD Radeon R9 M370X with 2GB GDDR5 and their lies the problem VR requires Nvidia over AMD and the memory on the M370X is well below what VR requires as well.
  • It wouldn't surprise me though with the possibility that as part of Apple's work on VR and any product or device that may come from said R&D, for Apple to implement some type of custom hardware, or their own custom silicon (maybe a special version of their A series chips with a focus on GPU processing, or some new type of processor series from them) to help facilitate with the powering of the VR of any future device of theirs.
  • you do know that the computer you linked to is not just one, but two generations old? Yay, a Haswell chipset from 2014! At FULL PRICE. If you buy that computer, you are being robbed by Apple. And I say that as a person who has only apple gear in his house, including multiple laptops, desktops, phones, 2 Apple TVs ... heck, even my wireless is all Apple. And that computer's got what was a relatively weak portable graphics processor, even for when it was released. Mobile graphics processors are 3x more powerful now, and desktop graphics are 5x. And people run multiple cards in SLI (which Apple doesn't even support, shame on them!) for top end games and VR stuff. And, because Apple are ludicrous, even though the Skylake processors appropriate for the Macbook Pro were released more than a month ago, Rene tells us not to expect any hardware for WWDC. The rMBP hasn't been updated in over a year, and even then, the 15" computers couldn't update their chipset because Broadwell took so long to get quad core laptop chips. So, like I said, the chips in the rMBP are more than 2 years old, but Apple still charges $2500 for the computer you just linked to, that is FAR, FAR too weak to ever run VR. So, yes, apple has compute offerings that are way too slow for "real" computing, if that computing requires a decent video card or a modern processor. !@#$@#$% Apple. I can buy a really nice laptop for $1000 less, with a Skylake proc and a nice, VR ready video card.
  • Well, as it is, VR just isn't ready for the masses. It looks as if one of those funny looking goggles on your head is enough but it's not. To make it worth your while you need half a holodeck with associated processing power to be able to use it. So would the average Macbook user be interested in a laptop that properly can support VR? No. Why? Because the amount of money needed to buy one is out of their league. Is VR the future? I don't know but if it is, it still has a long way to go in order to become mainstream. Should they concentrate on supporting VR? Not yet. The market for this kind of gear is negligible.
  • So what I'm curious is how big is the gulf between what's possible on PCs right now and what's possible on phones right now. The Vive is amazing and it's making me consider a gaming PC for the first time in ages, but I don't know how far it is ahead of GearVR? Is it 3 years ahead, 5, 10?
  • You cannot do VR with a ridiculous joystick. VR is not that... If joystick then I already do that on my computer screen, why would I wear the whole display assembly on my head? There's no VR unless you introduce your virtual self into the environment. This tech has been invented in the mid-90s at MIT Media Lab and game studios already use it to create games. They don't use any joystick for this, they use the whole body equipped with sensors. That is VR. A head mounted display attached to a joystick is not VR.
  • Forget about supporting MacOS. Just let us buy a Mac that will run VR in bootcamp FFS!
  • This is an issue I'm very curious about, and I honestly hope that iMore continues to cover it closely through WWDC and after. The lack of GPU power (no matter who manufactures the chipset) is actually a big barrier to me investing in a Macbook Pro (which would then allow me more leeway to upgrade my home desktop to a Mac as well.) It also reveals a disparity in a lot of the VR coverage that I've seen from major games and tech outlets. VR is often treated as something that's consumer-ready, but that opinion is always derived from a niche that has long-valued more powerful computer hardware. For the average consumer (and for Apple users with less powerful hardware), nothing could be further from the truth. The entry cost to an average VR experience with the HTC unit or Oculus is -way- too steep to be considered "consumer-ready," and I'd actually hate having to see Apple be forced to contend with the VR market before actual VR tech is in a decently affordable place.
  • The Mac CAN handle VR, just not very well. I use my Oculus DK2 on my Macbook Pro Mid 2012. As with anything you just have to turn the graphics down
  • This is what I heard too, DK2 works but not well on MacBook Pros. What I find interesting I recently met a teacher who had brought Oculus Rift from US and claimed he has not found fast enough computer in Shenzhen yet. "You really have to go after the pro gamers to find such a computer, so far nobody has had a fast enough computer on their desks".
  • Not only does Apple have outdated GPUs on their Macs, they cost a fortune and are not worth the price Apple charges. Sent from the iMore App