At Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference today, the company made a major shift in their embrace of virtual reality with several new VR announcements during the event’s opening keynote.
Though well loved, Apple’s computer lineup got somewhat left in the dust at the launch of the Rift and Vive, both of which had hardware requirements that exceeded what Apple had on offer. To that end, the company largely steered clear of talking about VR publicly.
Today marks a major shift in Apple’s public support for virtual reality. VR was a recurrent theme throughout the keynote today, highlighting their belief in the importance of the medium. Here’s an overview of everything they announced:
VR Ready Computers
Apple announced its first VR Ready computers today. The new 27-inch iMac will be the only computer in the new iMac lineup to be VR Ready, thanks to the inclusion of an AMD Radeon Pro 580 GPU. The 27-inch system can also be configured with less powerful Radeon Pro 570 and 575 GPUs, though it isn’t clear yet if these cards will offer enough performance to be considered VR Ready.
Apple also announced the brand new iMac Pro, a new ultra-high end version of the Mac which will offer more powerful processors and AMD’s latest Vega graphics. Apple says they’ve developed a new cooling system that’s much more efficient that the rest of the iMac lineup, allowing the device to offer much more power while keeping sound low.
Apple says the new high-end iMac and iMac Pro are “great platform[s] for VR content creation.”
External VR Ready Graphics for Macbook
In addition to adding VR Ready systems to their desktop lineup, Apple will be offering an external graphics enclosure with an AMD Radeon RX 580 GPU which will connect to Macbooks via Thunderbolt. Initially released as a development kit, Apple says the external graphics enclosure will allow developers to “tune [their] apps for high performance external graphics.” Following that, the company “will be rolling out support to all of our customers in the months to come.”
SteamVR and HTC Vive on Mac OS
While Steam has been Mac compatible for some time now, Apple announced that Valve will be bringing SteamVR to Mac too, allowing the HTC Vive to run VR games on Mac systems. Although SteamVR also supports the Rift on PC, it relies on elements of Oculus’ PC SDK which means it’s unlikely that we’ll see Rift on Mac until Oculus supports it officially.
Vive Demo on Stage
To show the audience the power of the company’s new VR Ready 27-inch iMac—and a taste of what it’s like to be in VR—Apple showed a demo running on the HTC Vive that was created by Industrial Light and Magic. Using Epic’s Unreal Engine VR Editor, they showed how developers could build VR content inside of VR itself, using Star Wars assets.
The demo was shot against a green screen so that it could be composited together with the virtual world, offering a mixed reality view for the audience.
Metal for VR
Apple’s newly updated Metal 2 graphics API is getting specially tuned for VR. Metal 2 can bring up to a 10x increase in draw call throughput over the original, the company says, and it will include a VR-optimized display pipeline.
Unity and Unreal VR SDK Support
Apple also says that both Unity and Unreal Engine—the leading VR content creation tools—will support their VR SDKs on Mac, allowing developers to create VR content on Apple’s machines.
VR Video Editing in Final Cut Pro X
Apple is updating their professional video editing application, Final Cut Pro X, to support 360 degree video editing. That means that video editing’s leading tools, Final Cut and Adobe’s Premiere Pro, now both offer 360 video editing capabilities, with Premiere having added support back in 2016.
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For the most part, all of these software updates are tied to Apple’s new version of Mac OS, ‘High Sierra’. The OS launched as a developer beta today. A public beta will follow in late June, followed by the final launch as a free upgrade on all systems that support the current ‘Sierra’ version.