In 2017 you'll finally have the chance to play virtual reality games on your Macbook or iMac. Here's how to get started with VR games on your Apple computer, including compatible headsets and games.
Apple took to the stage at its Worldwide Developer Conference 2017 to let the world know it would take the plunge into the immersive world of virtual reality. Yup, that means we'll soon be playing VR games and getting lost in VR experiences right there on our Mac computers.
So if you want to hook a VR headset up to your Apple machine and get lost in a virtual world, how do you do it? Read on to find out everything you need to know, intrepid VR explorer.
Can my Mac run VR games?
Apple announced at WWDC 2017 that the latest version of its macOS (nicknamed High Sierra) would come with the software smarts to support VR games. That means that anyone with the new High Sierra macOS update could, technically, get stuck into virtual reality. But, of course, the requirements go beyond the OS version your Mac computer is running.
One of the problems with VR, which has kept it from going mainstream for years, is the processing power needed to run virtual reality games and software. Apple, being as minimal and refined as it likes to be, has held off until now. This is a good sign that we’re now reaching a stage where VR is developed enough to run on less powerful machines, without putting as much strain on them.
The macOS High Sierra update will come with the latest required software, in the form of VR-friendly Metal, OpenCL and OpenGL. If that’s all another language to you, don’t worry; this is more of a back-end thing, which helps developers to craft virtual reality experiences.
Apple hasn’t announced the minimum power requirements for VR gaming on its Macbooks and iMacs yet. However, as virtual reality software tends to be graphically intensive, you’ll likely need a newer machine with a dedicated graphics card to be able to run videos and games in virtual reality. That rules out any of the standard Macbooks, which use integrated graphics, as well as older iMacs.
The current minimum requirements for using HTC Vive on a PC includes an Nvidia GeForce GTX970 or AMD Radeon R9 290 graphics card equivalent or better. That's on top of an Intel i5-4590 or AMD FX 8350 processor or higher, backed by 4GB of RAM. You'll also need an HDMI 1.4 or DisplayPort 1.2 connection (or newer) and USB 2.0 or greater to hit 90FPS at 2160 x 1200 resolution.
Is Mac VR available now?
At the moment, Apple is heavily pushing the External Graphic Development Kit. This is essentially a box with next-level graphical processing powers that can be plugged into a Mac, for developing virtual reality graphics.
That box is a powerhouse with an AMD Radeon RX 580 8GB graphics card and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, which should give most Macs enough clout to kick out VR experiences.
The problem is that this is for developers only, at the time of writing. In future perhaps this will be available for consumers, to allow anyone to add power to their machine to also enjoy VR. But you can be pretty sure that it won't hit stores in 2017, and certainly won't come cheap.
What virtual reality headsets work with Mac VR?
Apple has announced that the HTC Vive will be the partner headset for VR on Mac. That means you get the high-quality head tracking and latency of this well-developed headset. In other words, you should be able to avoid getting sick while still enjoying full-on VR gaming. Hopefully.
If you want to try out Vive for yourself, and you happen to live in or around London, you can test the VR experience for free right now.
What VR games and videos are compatible with Mac VR?
Another partnership announced by Apple was with SteamVR. That means we should start to see a whole host of Steam games optimised for VR coming to Mac in the near future. Since this is an already developed platform, that means plenty of mainstream games to enjoy in a timely fashion - not just novelty VR demo content.
For videos there will be YouTube, which already offers VR streams. But Apple has also shown off a demo with ILM and Epic that could mean we will see bespoke gaming and video content coming to Mac computers in the near future too.