If you want to dive into the world of Virtual Reality on your Mac, we’ve taken a look at the best virtual reality headsets for Mac in 2021.
We chose the HTC Vive Pro as the best VR headset for Mac although as we’re about to explain, there are some very important limitations to be aware of before you buy.
- Get an eGPU to use a VR Headset on a Mac
- Install Windows on Your Mac
- HTC Vive Pro: Why It’s The Best VR Headset For Mac
- How To Get An HTC Vive Pro For Your Mac
- Hardware Requirements To Use A VR Headset On A Mac
- Is There An Apple VR Headset For Mac?
- VR Games Available For Mac
- The State Of VR For Mac In 2021
Get an eGPU to use a VR Headset on a Mac
Firstly, unless you’ve got one of the very latest desktop Mac Pros, it’s essential to get an eGPU for your Mac before you can even start thinking about a VR headset.
An eGPU (External Graphics Unit) connects to your Mac via a Thunderbolt cable and supercharges its graphics capabilities.
This is essential to use a VR headset with a Mac because the processing power required by VR games and apps is just too much for your MacBook or iMac to handle on its own.
The other big thing to know is that you need to install Windows on your Mac using Boot Camp if you want to play any major VR games on your Mac.
The reason for this is there are still virtually no VR games for Mac available and very few headsets that are Mac compatible.
Even the most popular VR headset on the market the Oculus Rift does not support Macs.
To make matters worse, Valve recently announced it was discontinuing the SteamVR gaming platform on Mac meaning there will be no new VR games released on Steam for Mac users.
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Install Windows on Your Mac
However, the good news is that Mac users can run Windows on a Mac and enjoy all the VR games that PC users can on Steam and other platforms.
Using a virtual environment like Parallels to run Windows on your Mac will not work because Parallels will not be able to connect your eGPU in order for your VR headset to work.
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 all the barriers that currently prevent Mac users enjoying VR on macOS.
This also means that you can use any Windows compatible VR headset on your Mac including the Oculus Rift.
HTC Vive Pro: Why It’s The Best VR Headset For Mac
We strongly recommend the HTC Vive Pro as the best VR headset for Mac because the HTC Vive Pro is the only VR headset that officially supports macOS natively.
This means that when more VR games eventually become available on Mac, you can get rid of your Windows installation and use your HTC Pro VR helmet natively with macOS.
The Oculus Rift or Oculus Quest on the other hand, will only work with Windows installed on your Mac.
With the HTC Vive Pro, you’re guaranteed both Mac compatibility, better stability and far more game support than buying any other headset.
Note that on the HTC site, it still says that the HTC Vive Pro is not compatible with Macs.
However, we can confirm that the HTC Vive Pro definitely does work with Macs and Apple also announced at the WWDC 2018 that the macOS 10.14 Mojave is HTC Vive Pro compatible and support has improved in macOS Catalina.
The confusion may be because initially, there were problems with the HTC Vive on Mac until NVIDIA released updated GeForce graphics drivers.
There is a difference however between the basic HTC Vive and the HTC Vive Pro.
We strongly recommend the HTC Vive Pro over the basic HTC Vive because the VR experience is far better than with the basic HTC Vive.
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.
How To Get An HTC Vive Pro For Your Mac
You have two options when buying the HTC Vive Pro.
You can either just buy the HTC Vive Pro headset only which retails for around $700.
However, for this, you only get the HTC Vive Pro headset HMD (head mounted display) – nothing else.
Alternatively, you can buy the HTC Vive Pro System which includes everything and retails for around $1,100.
For the extra $400, we definitely recommend going for the entire HTC Vive Pro System as it includes not only the headset, but also the all important version 2.0 controllers and base station which are essential to experience VR on a Mac in all its glory.
You can check the latest price and availability of the HTC Vive Pro System here.
- 100% Mac and macOS compatible
- Stunning visuals and sound quality
- Amazing 2K display
- Lots of accessories
- Solid build quality
- SteamVR no longer supported on Mac
- Requires an eGPU on your Mac first
- Availability depends on your region
If you want to buy direct from HTC, the situation is more complicated depending on which country you live in.
In the USA, the HTC Vive Pro McClaren Edition is the only HTC Pro currently available from HTC.
In the UK and Europe, the standard HTC Pro Headset and Full Kit are also available.
The reason for the limited availability of the the HTC Vive Pro in the USA is because HTC is focusing its efforts on promoting the HTC Cosmos.
However, although the HTC Cosmos will work with Windows installed on your Mac, it is not compatible with macOS so you won’t be able to use it natively with your Mac at a later date, if you decide to get delete your Windows installation.
The main difference between the HTC Vive Pro and Cosmos is that the Vive Pro relies on external sensors for 360 degree tracking whereas the Cosmos is more compact for living room use and relies on 6 internal cameras for 310 degree tracking.
Hardware Requirements To Use A VR Headset On A Mac
It’s important to understand that VR requires a few things in order to work on Mac.
A High End Internal Graphics Card
Although a VR helmet will just about work with your Mac’s internal graphics card, it’s not going to work well without an external graphics unit.
A powerful graphics card is required by VR headsets in order to deliver the rapid frame rate that VR requires.
VR requires a minimum of 90 frames per second in order to deliver anything that’s not going to make you feel a bit nauseous while playing.
Most iMacs and MacBook Pros from 2015 onwards already have pretty powerful internal graphics cards.
The HTC Vive Pro requires a minimum of an Intel Core i5 processor or higher which MacBook Pros from early 2015 and iMacs from mid 2015 have or above in more recent models.
In terms of power, the latest iMacs are the best Macs for VR with Radeon Pro 555 or 560 processors and up to 4GB VRAM in the 21.5 inch 4K iMac.
The 27 inch iMacs have even higher spec Radeon Pro 570, 575 and 580 processors with up to 8GB VRAM.
Apple’s most powerful Mac, the iMac Pro is more than capable of handling VR but it will set you back almost $5,000.
So if you have anything older than a 2015 Mac, you’ll definitely need an external graphics cards in an eGPU Enclosure and even if you’ve got a newer Mac, an eGPU will make the whole experience much smoother.
An eGPU Enclosure
An external graphics unit enclosure is basically a big box to plug in an external graphic card.The problem until High Sierra was that eGPU units were incompatible with macOS 10.12 Sierra and below.
Although it is possible to get eGPUs to work with older versions of macOS, it requires technical hacks which are complicated, messy and not always reliable.
However, the good news is that at the 2017 World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple announced that High Sierra would finally support eGPU enclosures in any Mac with a Thunderbolt 3 connection thanks to an upgrade to the Metal 2 framework.
You’ll also need a Thunderbolt 3 Port on your Mac to connect to the enclosure.
MacBook Pros built in 2016 or later and certain models of iMacs from 2017 onwards already have Thunderbolt 3 ports built in but it is however possible to use a Thunderbolt 3 adapter on older Macs that only have Thunderbolt 2 ports.
At the moment, Apple is only selling its External Graphics Processors Development Kit to registered Mac developers that want to create and develop VR games on Mac.
The kit costs $599 and includes a Sonnet eGPU, Radeon graphics card and Thunderbolt 2 to 3 adapter.
The truth however is that any cheaper eGPU unit with a Mac compatible graphics card and Thunderbolt 3 connection will do.
For a comprehensive look at what’s available, check out our reviews of the best eGPUs for Mac.
An External Graphics Card
To place inside the external graphics unit, you’ll also of course need a graphics card.
The problem is that not all graphics cards are supported by macOS but safe bets such as the Sapphire Radeon Nitro definitely are.
It’s important to check before you buy both the unit and graphics card that they are Mac compatible.
You can find a list of external graphics cards that play well with macOS in our reviews of eGPU units for Mac.
A VR Headset
Finally of course, you’ll need the really fun bit which is the VR glasses for your Mac.
Although there are many models of VR headset out there, as we’ve seen there’s only one that officially works on Mac including macOS Catalina and that’s the HTC Vive Pro.
In late April 2018 a rumor emerged that Apple is working on it’s own wireless VR headset or Apple Glasses set for release in 2021 although nothing has been confirmed by the company (see more on this below).
It’s certainly highly likely considering that Apple has already ditched Intel chips in favor of it’s own ARM chips, due partly by the need to deliver the blistering speeds required for AR and VR technology.
At the 2018 WWDC Apple announced that the latest version of macOS Mojave would officially support the HTC Vive Pro.
The HTC Vive Pro offers better resolution of 615 PPI and two front facing cameras compared to the normal HTC Vive and delivers a far more realistic VR viewing and sound experience.
Is There An Apple VR Headset For Mac?
For a long time there have been rumors that Apple is developing a VR Headset for Mac and iOS users.
CNET first reported that Apple is working on a VR/AR headset which will utilize its new processing chips and will be released sometime in 2020.
The project is codenamed “T288” although Apple has declined to comment on the plans.
In May 2020, it was also revealed that Apple is working on Augmented Reality (AR) glasses to be named Apple Glass.
More details have now emerged about Apple Glass with a predicted launch in 2021 or 2022 and retailing for around $499.
The big advantage over the HTC Vive would be that an Apple VR headset for Macs or Apple Glasses wouldn’t require special base stations in the room to detect your position or location.
Everything would be built into the headset or glasses (although the new HTC Cosmos also offers this but it’s not Mac compatible).
By using Apple’s own chips, the performance should also be far better and optimized for Macs.
Apple has definitely been working behind the scenes to acquire AR/VR related startups and associated executives so it’s clearly making moves in the industry.
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 Mac, 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.
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 technology is set to boom on macOS, helped by the long-awaited announcement by Apple 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 Pro head mounted display and this support has improved even more in macOS 10.15 Catalina.
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 situation with VR gaming on Mac however is another story entirely as we’ve already covered.
As we’ve seen, things will only get better for Virtual Reality on Mac in 2021.
At the moment, the HTC Vive Pro is still the only game in town for Mac users as it’s the only one to officially supports Macs including macOS Catalina.
However, as long as you install Windows on your Mac, you can use any VR headset out there including the Oculus Rift.
As VR starts getting traction on macOS, 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 helmet for Mac users this year to go along with it’s new generation of new ARM 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:
If you have any questions or thoughts about using a VR headset on your Mac, let us know in the comments below.