This is how Apple is bringing VR to the Mac.

Apple's many, many hardware announcements during WWDC made one thing abundantly clear — 2018 will be the year VR comes to the Mac and AR comes to the iPhone. To help prepare for the coming storm, VR developer kits are now available with graphics cards capable of driving the most intense experiences on any modern Mac. Here's what we've learned after spending a few days with one!

Apple's VR Dev Kit consists of a USB hub to convert a Type-C port to several Type A ports, the Sonnos eGPU Breakaway Box, a Radeon RX 580 GPU with 8GB of RAM, and instructions to connect to a Thunderbolt 3 port. We're using the Late 2016 MacBook Pro model A1708, complete with an Intel Core i5 clocked at 2.3GHz and 8GB of RAM onboard. While it's possible to buy these parts separately right now, you'll be paying a bit more than Apple is charging for the $599 kit due largely to how difficult it now is to source the exact graphics card Apple is using for this kit.

Setting this kit up couldn't be more simple. Put the graphics card in the Sonnos enclosure with a simple press-in and snap, secure it with the included screws, connect power and USB-C cable, and turn it all on.

This MacBook was already running the High Sierra beta, so the card was detected immediately. macOS asked to log out of the current profile to accept the new graphics card, and when I logged back in, the card was visible in the system profile. Success! Now all I need to do is everything else.

Connecting the HTC Vive to this machine means using the only other available USB-C port as a hub for USB-A ports, which concerned me initially since that port was already being used to power the laptop. I disconnected the power cable to connect the hub Apple provided and realized the Sonnos eGPU Breakaway Box was now also acting as the power source for this MacBook thanks to the 350W power supply included in its box! I connected the Vive HDMI cable to the Breakaway Box and the Vive USB-A cable to the hub, and the Vive lit up to confirm it was connected.

Even as it is right now, this kit puts relatively little on the user to figure out in order to properly function.

The last step here was software. Steam for Mac already has SteamVR in Beta for macOS 10.11.6, but with the 10.13 beta, the Vive behaves more like it currently does on PCs. As soon as SteamVR was enabled, the headset and controllers were immediately detected and I was ready to set up my virtual space. All of this worked exactly as expected, from the perspective of someone who has been using a Vive for the last year. The instructions are all the same, and when the setup was complete, I put the headset on and saw the same endless white room with grey lines I'd seen thousands of times before. The controllers tracked flawlessly in front of me as expected, and I felt ready to jump into a game.

There are, obviously, no games in SteamVR waiting for me to play right now. The whole point of this developer kit is to give developers the tools needed to bring new and existing VR experiences to SteamVR so they can be enjoyed when macOS High Sierra is officially here. There are already plenty of examples of developers hard at work to deliver quality VR experiences through this setup, but even as a developer kit, there's a lot about this experience to be impressed with.

Even as it is right now, this kit puts relatively little on the user to figure out in order to properly function. Knowing Apple, this eGPU setup will simplify even further before it is available in early 2018. As great as the whole "bring your own GPU" setup is for a lot of things, it's not hard to imagine Apple opting for something a little more plug-and-play for people who just want to turn their MacBook into a killer VR machine when they are at home.

Russell Holly
06-19-2017 10:15 AM

3495 I have the VR Kit from Apple all set up and ready to go on this MacBook Pro! So far everything works exactly the same as it does on the PC, and the Vive itself is just as smooth on this setup as anywhere else. What would you like to know?

Reply

Our tests with this setup are not going to stop here! You surely have questions, and we're here to answer them. Feel free to drop a line here in the comments, or head over to the VR Heads forum where we'll be walking through developer demos as they become available and learning everything we can about how VR for Mac is going to work!