Developer ‘Survios’ Details Process of Porting VR Title to iMac Pro, Says Apple Has ‘A Lot of Passion’ for VR

When Apple launched the iMac Pro last December, virtual reality applications and content creation were headlining features for the high-end computer. Prior to that, the company focused on Metal 2 and VR-based content as major additions to macOS High Sierra during WWDC 2017, also announcing multiple game studios putting their support behind Mac-based VR experiences, like Valve and Epic using the HTC Vive headset.

Today, another VR studio backing Apple's efforts in this space has become the focus of a new report by Ars Technica. The studio, called "Survios," was approached by Apple to port its new software "Electronauts" to macOS, part of many VR apps aimed at showcasing the iMac Pro's top-of-the-line capabilities.


In the new interview, Survios studio head Mike McTyre and software engineer Jason Meisel discussed the "nearly painless" porting process, what working with Apple was like, and the important distinction between Apple's focus on AR vs VR.

According to Meisel, Apple focused on ease of portability and ensured that early VR Mac developers wouldn't hit roadblocks during the porting process. Right now on Mac, VR experiences are supported using an optimized version of Valve's SteamVR platform and Survios developed Electronauts in the Unity game engine, which "can build directly to a multitude of platforms" spanning macOS and Windows.
"Essentially, what they've done really well is that they've been working with Unity and with Valve to make that whole process of porting a game that already exists using Unity and just get it running on the iMac," Meisel added.
Speaking on the topic of the small install base of an iMac Pro-only VR title, McTyre said that the studio noticed "a lot of passion" from Apple, and it's clear that the Cupertino company is planning "a lot more growth" in VR moving forward.
We're seeing a lot of resources on their end, a lot of effort, a lot of passion. They want to focus on this and work on this. So that might be true now, but that's just the starting point. It starts here, and let's see what they add on to that next... I truly believe that they're going to put a lot more growth into that going forward beyond this. This is just a starting point.
To expand the support of VR on Mac computers, McTyre said that in a few years he hopes to see Macs launch with integrated GPUs that sport minimum spec requirements for VR. Right now, even the iMac Pro development kit includes an external GPU enclosure, and support for eGPUs will launch wide in macOS High Sierra 10.13.4. McTyre hopes this is just a stopgap solution for graphics-heavy apps like VR: "I do think we are not that far off from the built-in GPUs just being good enough to just, out of the box, play VR."

Photo of the Survios offices in Culver City, California by Samuel Axon via Ars Technica

McTyre also touched upon the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality, the latter of which has been more of a focus for Apple in recent years thanks to ARKit in iOS. Apple has been tied to potential future products that could use either AR or VR, but Survios is specifically focused on VR and McTyre said AR is just "not as far along yet as VR."
The concept that AR is a version of VR but better, in my mind, is not true. It's a different experience. Televisions did not make movies obsolete. Movies did not make books obsolete. Mobile gaming did not making console gaming obsolete, and console gaming did not make PC gaming obsolete. It's all nonsense. We've been through this a million times over the last century. It's a new medium, and AR and VR are different. Is there overlap, just like TV and movies have overlap? But they're not the same thing.
For more details on Apple's relationship with VR developers, be sure to visit Ars Technica and read the full interview with Survios.

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Apple Joins Group Investment in OLED Microdisplay Company eMagin Amid Ongoing AR/VR Efforts

Apple has joined a group of companies investing in OLED microdisplay maker eMagin, believed to be part of Apple's overall virtual and augmented reality hardware strategy. LG, Valve, Immerex, and Stillwater Holdings have all joined in on the investment with Apple, which is said to be worth up to a total of $10.6 million (via TechCrunch).

eMagin confirmed the investment, stating that it will use the money for "working capital and general corporate purposes." The company created "a new kind of display" to use in VR headsets that allows for sharper images, which it believes will help fuel the "next generation" of AR and VR devices.

eMagin’s technology is notable in that it has created a new kind of display that can be used in VR headsets, which provides a sharper image by using a denser layout of lines (versus the pixels commonly used in existing products). This helps reduces the so-called “screen door” effect on the display and makes what you see up close through the headset much sharper.

“We believe that our direct patterning technology is a key differentiator for enabling next generation AR/VR hardware for the consumer and enterprise segments because of the brightness and the pixel density afforded by the technology,” the company notes.
For Apple, the last few years have seen a ramp up in the hiring of talent and acquisitions of companies that all revolve around its AR/VR efforts. Since 2015, Apple has purchased several companies in this area, but some acquisitions date back even further. A few of these AR/VR acquisitions made by Apple include companies like Metaio, Faceshift, Emotient, Flyby Media, RealFace, and VRvana.

Apple has already put the technology behind Faceshift to use with Animoji in iPhone X, but outside of software the company's plans for a hardware product in the AR/VR space remain unclear. Right now, plans for a pair of "smart glasses" or VR headset are believed to be in prototype stages, so if they do ever launch it will still be a few years down the road. More recently, a report suggested that Apple is ramping up development on an AR headset running a new operating system called "rOS."

Apple CEO Tim Cook has said that any AR/VR hardware from Apple is a few years away because "the technology itself doesn't exist to do that in a quality way." At the time, Cook said that one of the biggest challenges for building such an AR headset today would be the display technology required to make it work, suggesting the new eMagin investment could be helping Apple in this area. One of the last major reports regarding Apple's interest in AR hardware was the company's meeting with potential AR glasses suppliers, said to have happened at CES last month.


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