Virtual Reality on a Mac is finally ready for prime time! 2019 saw an explosion of VR Ready PCs, Virtual Reality Headsets, and Windows-compatible VR Apps eagerly consumed by the early adopter market. Unfortunately, if you wanted to experience VR on a Mac, your options were fairly limited. Until the iMac Pro, hacking together a VR-capable Mac rig required connecting an eGPU (external graphics processing unit) and compatible high-end graphics card, installing a dicey EFI Booter, user-recoded beta graphics card drivers, and several “ify” tweaks to your Windows 10 Device Manager in Apple Boot Camp to resolve the dreaded Error 12. Today, with Apple’s long-awaited release of updated AMD Vega Boot Camp Software Graphics Drivers for Boot Camp, the iMac Pro offers a MUCH less complicated solution that that should encourage VR app developers to create more content for the so far neglected Mac community.
VR On An iMac Pro Running MacOS
VR on your iMac Pro running MacOS is possible today without any tweaks to your system. However, the only virtual reality headset recognized by MacOS is the HTC Vive and there is literally no Mac-compatible virtual reality software to experience once you don your headset. SteamVR beta will allow you to enter the virtual reality environment, a VR room from where you can launch virtual reality apps, but there are basically no apps to launch once you get there. In short, you can get your VR system up and running, but there is no content to experience. So, unless you are a developer or simply want to see what severely limited virtual reality looks like, running VR under MacOS is provides a lackluster experience at this time. The only way to achieve a truly high-end Virtual Reality experience on an iMac Pro right now is by using Apple Boot Camp to load Windows 10. Then, it’s awesome …
VR On An iMac Pro Running Windows 10 Using Apple Boot Camp
Awesome and relatively inexpensive VR on an iMac Pro is available right now … if you can suffer installing Apple Boot Camp and Windows 10 onto your clean MacOS partition. Fortunately, Mojave seems to have worked out all of the bugs that formerly plagued this process. So, if you are brave, and installing Windows 10 on your iMac Pro won’t make your face twitch, read our updated guide below.
To create a high-end Virtual Reality experience with an iMac Pro, you need:
1. Apple iMac Pro
There are several paths to achieving a high-end virtual reality experience on a Mac. At present, the easiest and most reliable Mac-based VR system is built upon the Apple iMac Pro. We have also set up an excellent Virtual Reality system using the 2017 15″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. However, that laptop does not possess an internal graphics card strong enough to power a high-end VR headset and will always require an eGPU. Conversely, with Apple’s recent release of updated AMD graphics card drivers for Boot Camp, the iMac Pro’s internal AMD Radeon Vega 56 or 64 is more than powerful enough to run all current virtual reality headsets effortlessly and does not require an eGPU. Therefore, if a simple but high-end Virtual Reality experience on a Mac is your goal, choose the Apple iMac Pro.
2. Virtual Reality Headset With Controllers
Virtual Reality Headsets are just starting to become popular and several excellent models have recently come to market. While the HTC Vive is by far the most popular at present, we chose the new Samsung HMD Odyssey Windows Mixed Reality Headset with 2 Wireless Controllers for our high-end iMac Pro Virtual Reality System. Although the Vive worked well and has, by far, the most available stable software via SteamVR, the Samsung HMD has higher resolution, sporting dual 3.5″ AMOLED (1440×1600) displays that provide for an absolutely gorgeous image. The advanced display also serves to greatly reduce the “screen door effect” common to all other VR headsets currently available. Also, the Samsung HMD has built in motion tracking sensors, precluding the need to screw hardwired cube sensors onto your walls as is required by the Vive. Finally, while maintaining a solid feel, the HMD is significantly lighter than the HTC Vive, thereby lending itself to longer periods of use without inflicting the dreaded purple forehead badge of VR courage. In short, the Samsung HMD Odyssey is the best Virtual Reality Headset currently available.
3. Apple Boot Camp Running Windows 10
Here comes the part we all hate … having to install Apple Boot Camp and running Windows 10. Yes, we know it is horrible to sully your pristine APFS partition with Microsoft Windows. However, until VR app developers feel compelled to port their content over to MacOS, this is the only way to get a high-end VR experience on your iMac Pro today. Fortunately, Boot Camp Assistant makes this VERY easy to do … complete instructions on how to install Boot Camp and Windows 10 can be found below. We recommend allocating at least 200GB to the Windows partition, 250GB is ideal. If you want awesome VR on a Mac today, just grit your teeth and start installing Boot Camp …
4. Windows Mixed Reality Portal and SteamVR
The next step is to install a virtual environment … which is a bit like your Mac desktop where you install and and interact with VR apps and games. At present, there are two available for the VR world and, for different reasons, you will want to install them both. First, you will install Microsoft’s own Windows Mixed Reality (WMR) Portal. It is by far the most stable and will serve as the primary means by which your Virtual Reality Headset is calibrated and controlled. This will provide you with your first taste of Virtual Reality when you appear inside your own customizable virtual house in the mountains. However, think of this location not as a virtual home, but rather as a 3 dimensional desktop from where you can shop for apps, stick them on your walls, and enter and return from various other downloadable virtual environments … in short, your base of virtual operations.
Once familiar with your Windows Mixed Reality Portal, you will install Steam and it’s corresponding SteamVR portal. SteamVR has loads of apps and games, but is still fairly buggy running in Boot Camp, whereas, the WMR Portal is quite stable but lacks the breadth of the Steam software library. You will want to explore Steam’s catalog of VR apps and games, but will use the Windows Mixed Reality Portal as your primary VR environment.
5. Virtual Reality Apps And Games
And, now you get to have some fun. There is a wide assortment of Virtual Reality apps and games available, but you might as well start at the top and get the biggest bang for your buck. The absolute best VR app to date is Google Earth VR … and it’s free. Fly around the virtual Earth and zoom down into a digitized 3 dimensional world that is truly breathtaking. Stop by your house, revisit favorite vacation locales, stroll through your college campus … it’s all there and it’s like being on a static Holodeck. You will be amazed!
And, what would Virtual Reality be without an arcade style first person shooter? Space Pirate Trainer is truly the best … easy to use and provides a huge VR “WOW” factor. It’s a small build with really only one level that gets more and more difficult as you progress, but its execution is excellent and this game shows what VR can do as you dodge incoming laser fire and blast alien attackers … Space Invaders all grown up. Extremely entertaining and probably the first VR game you will show your friends.
Also, we have thoroughly enjoyed watching movies on Plex in the virtual world as you can basically expand your VR screen a large as you want it. Download the Plex Media player and place it on the wall in theater in your Windows Mixed Reality Portal home. This is the future of media consumption, a gigantic flat screen TV wherever you want it … remarkable. Just beware of the giant round forehead bruise from extended use of your VR headset.
I Have Everything I Need … How Do I Get Virtual Reality Running On An iMac Pro?
Ok … now you know what you need to have an awesome VR experience on an iMac Pro. It’s time to install Boot Camp and Windows 10, plug in your VR Headset, install the Windows Mixed Reality Portal and SteamVR, and download Google Earth VR, Space Pirate Trainer, and Plex. Here are some tips and tricks to getting it all up and running on your iMac Pro:
Step 1: DISCONNECT EVERYTHING – It is best to start this process without anything plugged into your iMac Pro. Detach external drives, monitors and any other attached peripherals or the iMac Pro may get confused during the installation process.
Step 2: USE APPLE BOOT CAMP ASSISTANT TO INSTALL WINDOWS 10 – a) Download the 64-bit Windows 10 ISO from Microsoft to your MacOS desktop. It is a free download, but you will need to activate it with a license at some point in the future. b) Install Windows 10 on your iMac Pro using Apple’s Boot Camp Assistant located in your MacOS Utilities folder. Complete instructions for installing Windows 10 using Boot Camp Assistant can be found [here].
*NOTES – We recommend dedicating at least 128GB for the Windows Partition. The partitioning process can take a long time and may look like it is stuck … ours took ~20 minutes and appeared to freeze several times. Patience!
Step 3: BOOT YOUR IMAC PRO INTO WINDOWS 10 – a) Power up your iMac Pro while holding down the [option] key, b) choose the Windows partition, c) enter your Windows 10 password.
Step 4: INSTALL WINDOWS MIXED REALITY PORTAL – this is very easy and a complete guide can be found [here]. This app is free.
Step 6: INSTALL GOGGLE EARTH VR, SPACE PIRATE TRAINER, AND PLEX – a) download Google Earth VR from the Steam Store [here], b) download Space Pirate Trainer from the Microsoft Store [here], and c) download Plex Media Player from the Microsoft Store [here]
That’s it!!! You are now ready to enjoy high-end Virtual Reality on your iMac Pro. Venture on!
What Does The Future Hold For VR On An iMac Pro?
Now that you have experienced Virtual Reality on your iMac Pro, what do you think? Granted, it is not quite plug-n-play … yet. However, putting together a working high-end VR system on your Mac is MUCH easier than it was a few months ago … and, much more stable. Also, the ease of use will continue to increase as Apple releases OS X updates implementing drivers that preclude the need for the eGPU middle-man altogether. Here is what we expect to see for Virtual Reality on a Mac in the very near future:
1. NO EGPU: The Radeon Vega 56 and 64 GPUs in current iMac Pros are more than powerful enough to enjoy Virtual Reality to its fullest. Apple and/or AMD should be releasing updated drivers shortly that allow users to simply plug an HDMI dongle into a Thunderbolt 3 port on their iMac Pro and obviate the need for an external Graphics Processing Unit. We have tried this one and, while it will output a 4k feed to a TV, it doesn’t work with VR Headsets yet. We expect High Sierra driver updates to be released within the next few months and it will make this entire process much easier and much less expensive.
2. NO BOOT CAMP: Using Boot Camp and Windows 10 to experience VR is a gigantic PITA. Although Steam for OS X works well on a Mac, SteamVR for OS X is basically unusable at this point. We need Steam to step up development on its VR for OS X platform and do away with the need for Mac users to employ Boot Camp and Windows 10 to experience Steam’s VR offerings. This will be a game changer for our community and will finally bring VR to the Mac using masses. In the mean time, see above …
Colin is and editor at Wear Guide and writes about wearable technology On Your Head. With a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from SDSU, Colin presents a unique point of view in his articles, offering both technical expertise and extensive user experience with wearables. Colin also writes for our sister publication Electric.guide.
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