The Oculus Rift is one of the most popular virtual reality headsets in the world at the moment, with the company, arguably, being responsible for the virtual reality boom that we’re witnessing at the moment. Oculus founder Palmer Luckey created the prototype Oculus Rift in his parent’s garage back in 2011 when he was only 18 years old, and when it hit Kickstarter, he got $2.5 million in funding.
Since then, a number of other virtual reality headsets have been appearing, from the more budget (Homido VR headset) to the more extravagant (HTC Vive). Oculus even got bought by Facebook for an eye-watering $2bn, which should give you some idea of how important virtual reality is, and not just in the gaming world. But with the Oculus Rift now readily available in the UK, the question is – can you use Oculus Rift with your Mac? Here is where we explain all you need to know about Oculus Rift Mac support.
Update (03/03/2017): Updated to include a recent interview with the co-founder of Oculus suggesting that Rift macOS support is on the cards.
Can you use Oculus Rift with Mac? Oculus puts a hold on Mac support
While for a while, it was assumed that the Oculus Rift would work with Mac just as it was intended to work with Windows, but back in May 2015, the company cleared up the confusion in a blog post. Sadly, it wasn’t the news that VR fans with a Mac were waiting for – in fact, the blog post informed users that development for both OS X and Linux had been paused to concentrate efforts on the PC release in the coming months of 2016.
Atman Binstock of Oculus wrote: “Our development for OS X and Linux has been paused in order to focus on delivering a high-quality consumer-level VR experience at launch across hardware, software, and content on Windows. We want to get back to development for OS X and Linux but we don't have a timeline.”
Now, admittedly, the selection of games available for Mac users is nowhere near as big as what’s available on Windows, but it seems that it may not be a lack of games that forced Oculus’ hand on suspending OS X support – in fact, it seems to be more about spec than anything else.
Read next: The best games available on Mac
Can you use Oculus Rift with Mac? Macs aren’t powerful enough
In the same blog post, Atman Binstock went on to explain that the graphical power required to power a full VR experience just isn’t available on any Mac or laptop (apart from one or two, maybe). “almost no current laptops have the GPU performance for the recommended spec, though upcoming mobile GPUs may be able to support this level of performance” Binstock noted. This is definitely true of the Mac mini, MacBook Air and the 13in MacBook Pro as they all feature Intel integrated graphics cards, which doesn’t even come close to being able to power the Rift.
Even the more powerful 15in MacBook Pro and iMacs use mobile graphic processors that can’t compete with their gaming PC counterparts – not even the AMD Radeon R9 M290X in the Retina iMac is good enough to power the Oculus Rift. In fact, the only Mac currently available that could, in theory, support the Oculus Rift is the Mac Pro. The Mac Pro boasts dual AMD FirePro cards, although these aren’t optimised for gaming and without the software support to go along with the hardware, it couldn’t power the Rift anyway.
The full recommended spec for the Oculus Rift as is follows:
- Nvidia GTX 970 or AMD 290 equivalent or better
- Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater
- At least 8GB RAM
- 2x USB 3 ports
- Windows 7 SP1 or newer
- HDMI 1.3 video output supporting a 297MHz clock via a direct output architecture
During an IGN Live interview with Luckey Palmer, CEO of Oculus, back at E3 2015, he suggested that it may not work with Macs anytime soon. During the interview, Palmer said, "It's not going to work on any MacBook that exists or is known to exist in the near future.” He followed up the remark with "One of the things that we actually announced is that we're putting Mac support on hold for launch, and focusing on Windows. People have said, 'Why don't you support Macs? So many people have Macs.’ It's true. A lot of people have Apple hardware, especially in the laptop space. But the GPUs in those, they're not even close to what we're pushing for our recommended spec."
The Oculus CEO backed up his comments a second time, suggesting that Mac development is on hold until Apple releases a "good computer". Speaking to ShackNews, Luckey was asked about Mac support for the hugely popular Oculus Rift when he commented on the quality of existing Macs "That is up to Apple and if they ever release a good computer we will do it". While many would agree that Macs are 'good' computers, Luckey felt the need to clarify: "It just boils down to the fact that Apple doesn’t prioritize high-end GPUs. You can buy a $6,000 Mac Pro with the top of the line AMD FirePro D700, and it still doesn’t match our recommended spec".
"If they prioritise higher-end GPUs like they used to for a while back in the day, we’d love to support Mac," Luckey continued to explain. "But right now, there’s just not a single machine out there that supports it. So even if we can support it on the software side, there's just no audience of people that can run the vast majority of software out there."
Update (03/03/2017): However, a recent TechCrunch interview with Nate Mitchell, head of Rift at Oculus and co-founder of the company, suggests that the anti-Mac stance might be changing. After seeing a MacBook Pro in the corner of the room, the interviewer asked about Mac support for the Oculus Rift. To everybody's surprise, Mitchell claims that it's something near and dear to his heart, but that the company is "not quite there yet".
Does that mean it'll be coming in 2017? Mitchell knew his comments would cause speculation, so decided to clarify: "We do want to do OS X (macOS) support for Rift, it’s not something that’s currently on the roadmap for – I can even say – the next six months. We will continue to revisit it, the real challenge for us is just how much we invest into that space because it does require a lot of our time and energy to get it right and to deliver a great experience".
So, it seems that for now, at least, Mac users aren’t able to use the Oculus Rift. Will this change in future? Quite possibly, but probably not anytime soon. Although with this being said, we’ll update this article with new information as soon as we receive it, so check back periodically for updates on Oculus Rift Mac support.
If you still want to experience VR without buying a PC, you might like to find out a little more about Sony's PlayStation VR. The headset works on any of the existing 41 million PS4 systems, and you can find out more from our counterparts at PC Advisor: Everything we know about PlayStation VR
Can you use Oculus Rift with Mac? Nvidia announces GeForce Now for Mac, could enable VR for Mac users
Let's be honest, Apple isn't likely to ship the next round of Mac desktops (and certainly not the laptops) with the latest Nvidia GeForce GTX 10 series graphics cards - and they probably won't feature the 9 series, either. While that seemed to be the final nail in the coffin for Mac-based VR fans, the latest announcement from Nvidia at CES 2017 might change all that.
Speaking at the Las Vegas-based Consumer Electronics Show, Nvidia announced GeForce Now for PC and Mac. The service aims to deliver a "high-performance Nvidia Pascal gaming PC from the cloud to millions of PC and Mac computers" - but what does this mean to the average Joe? Essentially, Nvidia will run the games remotely via cloud-based GTX 10 series-powered PCs, and will stream the game to you in real-time, negating the need for a high-end gaming PC. It effectively turns a low-end PC, or any Mac, into a system capable of running the latest AAA games. It connects to Steam, GOG, Origin and other online stores, allowing you to install your entire game library remotely.
While this is great news for Mac gamers, what about VR? While Oculus will still need to add Mac-focused drivers for the Oculus Rift, Nvidia claims that it can also power VR experiences. This means that Mac VR enthusiasts (in theory) need not worry about a high-end gaming setup, as all the processing is being done by a cloud-based PC. The service is set to launch in the US in March with a full release due in Spring 2017, so we don't have that long until we find out. To find out more about GeForce Now for Mac, take a look at our explainer: How to use GeForce Now on Mac, plus GeForce Now explained