The number of Mac compatible VR headsets is still very limited but we’ve taken a look at the best VR headset for Mac of 2021.
The market for virtual reality equipment is already worth over $10 billion worldwide and experts predict that this will increase at least 20% annually until 2027.
Unfortunately Macs are still behind the curve when it comes to VR and popular VR helmets like the Oculus Rift are not compatible with Macs.
Mac users also can’t use VR headsets with popular online communities like VR Chat on Mac.
However, the introduction of Mac compatible eGPUs is slowly changing that and opening up a while new world of VR headset compatibility to Mac users.
With the new generation of M1 Macs, Apple is also rumored to be releasing it’s own VR headset next year.
But in 2021, there are still very few headsets that officially work on a Mac.
Note however that the more advanced version of the HTC Vive the HTC Vive Pro does not work on a Mac.
How To Setup VR on a Mac
Before you buy a VR headset for your Mac, here’s what you’ll need to make sure your Mac is setup to handle one.
- An eGPU
An eGPU (External Graphics Unit) is an external graphics card which is essential for your Mac to handle the demands of VR games and apps.
If you’ve already got a Mac Pro (not to be confused with the MacBook Pro) then you don’t need an eGPU as the Mac Pro is VR ready out of the box.
For all other Macs, you’ll need a Mac compatible eGPU first so that your Mac can handle VR.
This is essential to use a VR headset with a Mac because the processing power required by VR/AR games and apps is just too much for your MacBook or iMac to handle on its own.
Note that at the moment, eGPUs do not work with the latest M1 chip Macs and there are no VR headsets compatible with M1 Macs.
You’ll need a Mac with an Intel processor running macOS High Sierra 10.13.4 or later and a Thunderbolt 3 port to use an eGPU in macOS.
The bottom line is, as long as your Mac is from 2015 onwards, you should be good to go.
- Install Windows on Your Mac
Although this is not essential, if you want to play any major VR games on your Mac you’ll need to install Windows on your Mac.
The reason for this is there are still virtually no native VR games or apps for Mac available.
To make matters worse, one of the biggest gaming companies in the world Valve recently announced it was discontinuing SteamVR on Mac meaning there will be no new VR games released on Steam for Mac users.
The good news however is that you can install Windows on a Mac for free with Boot Camp and enjoy all the VR games that PC users can on Steam and other platforms.
For parents, this means that your kids can even use a VR headset to play Roblox in VR.
Note that using a virtual environment like Parallels to run Windows on your Mac and connect an eGPU will not work because virtual environments cannot connect to eGPUs yet.
By installing Windows on your Mac using Boot Camp, you can then connect an eGPU to your Mac as if it were a PC and eliminate some of the barriers that currently prevent Mac users enjoying VR games.
Is There An Apple VR Headset For Mac?
Apple is currently working on two VR projects – Apple Glasses and Apple VR.
Apple Glasses are due to be released in 2022 and will be part of Apple’s Augmented Reality project that will work with hundreds of VR and AI apps on the iOS and Mac app store.
These apps use LiDAR technology in the latest iPhones which can remotely scan distance and depth and “understand” it’s surroundings.
Apple VR which is also due for release in 2022 is Apple’s project to build a VR headset which will be more like a traditional VR helmet for gaming and other VR enabled apps.
It’s rumored that the Apple VR headset will use 8K lenses with eye tracking technology and will cost in the region of an eye watering $3000.
Very little is known about Apple’s mixed reality VR headset project still but The Information claims to have seen a mockup of how it will look.
Does Virtual Desktop Work on Mac?
Virtual Desktop does support macOS Mojave or later and allows you to stream and interact virtually with a Mac using an Oculus Quest, Oculus Go and GearVR.
This means you can see your Mac desktop in VR as long as you have the Virtual Desktop app on your headset along with the Virtual Desktop app installed on your Mac.
Unfortunately however Virtual Desktop does not work with the HTC Vive which is the only officially Mac compatible VR headset available.
VR Games Available For Mac
Apart from the hardware, the other major requirement to enjoy VR games on Mac is of course gaming developers or platforms that are willing to support it on macOS.
The bad news is that at the moment, there are very few.
There simply haven’t been many VR manufacturers or software developers focusing on Macs, mainly because of the lack of VR software and hardware support in macOS.
It hasn’t helped that Apple dropped 32-bit gaming support with the release of macOS Catalina and it also hasn’t adopted standards like OpenGL and Vulcan popularly used in gaming.
Until recently, the one stand out exception was Valve’s Steam platform and specifically SteamVR.
Steam is one of the biggest distribution platforms for games on both Mac and PC and is the only major gaming platform officially supporting VR gaming on macOS.
Unfortunately, in May 2020 Steam announced that it had dropped support for SteamVR on Mac which means Mac users need to install Windows on their Mac to enjoy the full catalog of VR games on Steam.
Best VR Headset For Mac: The HTC Vive
After much research, we chose the HTC Vive as the best VR headset for Mac in 2021 because it’s the only VR headset that is officially compatible with Macs and offers the best performance on macOS.
The HTC Vive is the best VR headset for Mac because it’s the only VR headset that officially supports macOS natively.
The HTC Vive was first released in 2016 and Apple first announced at the WWDC 2018 that macOS 10.14 Mojave would be HTC Vive compatible.
Support for the HTC Vive has continued to improve in every version of macOS including Big Sur making it the only officially Mac compatible VR headset on the market.
If you opt for a VR headset such as the Oculus Rift or Oculus Quest 2 on the other hand, they will only work with Windows installed on your Mac as Oculus VR headsets do not work on Macs.
With the HTC Vive, you’re guaranteed both Mac compatibility, better stability and far more game support than buying any other headset.
However, there’s one big problem for Mac users that want to get the HTC Vive. Even though the product is still available via sites such as Amazon, the HTC Vive is now officially discontinued by HTC.
Normally, we would recommend getting the HTC Vive Pro instead because the VR experience is far better than with the basic HTC Vive.
Unfortunately however even in 2021 the HTC Vive Pro is not yet compatible with Macs.
The HTC Vive Pro was released in 2018 and is a massive improvement on the basic HTC Vive Pro.
Most notably the HTC Vive Pro has:
- Dual Lens: The HTC Vive Pro has an extra lens which provides far more tracking capabilities. For example, the HTC Vive Pro can track hand gestures whereas the basic HTC Vive can’t.
- Built-in headphones: There’s no need to add your own headphones like with the standard HTC Vive as it’s built in to the Pro version. The difference is sound is incredible and really enhanced the reality of games and apps.
- Higher Resolution: The HTC Vive Pro supports stunning 2K images with 1440 x 1600 pixels per eye versus 1080 x 1200 in the basic HTC Vive.
But until HTC release a Mac compatible version of the HTC Vive Pro, it’s not an option for Apple users.
- 100% Mac and macOS compatible
- Stunning visuals and sound quality
- Lots of accessories
- Solid build quality
- Not as good as the HTC Vive Pro
- SteamVR no longer supported on Mac
- Requires an eGPU on your Mac first
- Availability depends on your region
Alternatives To The HTC Vive For Mac
In view of the lack of VR headsets available for Mac you may also want to consider a few other alternatives.
One option is to get Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2 VR headset as an alternative to the HTC Vive for Mac.
The Oculus Quest 2 (which succeeds the now discontinued Oculus Quest) is a standalone VR headset so you don’t need to connect it to you Mac in order to enjoy games and apps on it.
You don’t need a Mac, PC or indeed anything else to use the Oculus Quest 2 but you do need to connect it a Facebook account in order to use it.
It is possible to connect the Oculus Quest 2 to a Mac but because it’s not officially supported, it’s quite tricky to setup and not recommended.
Alternatively, there’s also the HTC Vive Cosmos.
The Cosmos is more compact for living room use and relies on 6 internal cameras for 310 degree tracking.
The HTC Cosmos will work with Windows installed on your Mac but it is not compatible with macOS.
However, as we’re about to explain, if you want to play any VR games you’ll need Windows installed on your Mac anyway as there are virtually no VR games for Mac available.
- 6 TRACKING CAMERAS - Get expansive movement coverage with a wide tracking field-of-view
- SUPERIOR VISUAL FIDELITY - 2880 x 1700 combined-resolution, 90Hz refresh rate & adjustable interpupillary distance (IPD) dial for visual comfort and quality
- CONVENIENT FLIP-UP DESIGN - Snap back to reality with a simple push of your display and headphones
- STEAM & VIVEPORT LIBRARY ACCESS - Play your favorite VR games & apps straight from VR's top content stores
- VIVE REALITY SYSTEM (VRS) - Be more immersed, beginning to end, with a reimagined user interface for VR
The State Of VR For Mac In 2021
The good news is the long term outlook for VR gaming and applications on Mac in 2021 looks bright.
VR apps are set to boom on macOS, helped by the long-awaited announcement by Apple back in 2017 that macOS 10.13 High Sierra would support VR technologies and hardware like eGPU boxes.
At the 2018 WWDC Apple announced that macOS 10.14 Mojave would officially support the latest HTC Vive head mounted display and this support has improved even more in macOS 10.15 Catalina and Big Sur.
This has really opened the flood gates to VR on Mac and once setup, you can use video editing software such as Final Cut Pro X, Epic Unreal 4 Editor, and Unity Editor to create 360° video and VR 3D content.
It also promises to take simulations to another level, especially for things such as for flight simulators on Mac.
The more recent news that Apple is set to release it’s own Apple Glasses and VR headset in 2022 is also surely good news for Mac users, although they certainly won’t be cheap.
The situation with VR gaming on Mac however is another story entirely and it will be quite a few years before there are many Virtual Reality games or Augmented Reality apps available on macOS.
At the moment, the HTC Vive is still the only game in town for Mac users as it’s the only one to officially supports Macs including macOS Big Sur.
As VR starts getting traction on macOS and more Mac users get eGPUs, there will surely be more VR headsets released throughout the year that are compatible with Macs even though Valve has dropped support for SteamVR on macOS.
And if rumors are to be believed, Apple will also release its own VR headset next year to go along with it’s new generation of new ARM M1 chip equipped Macs.
In the meantime, you can get a taster of what it’s like to use an HTC Vive below playing the game Contagion VR Outbreak.
You can also watch a setup of an iMac using an HTC Vive natively for VR gaming here: