Can Apple build the perfect VR headset? The turtlenecks are certainly trying

VR headset
Apple's headset will reportedly be even pricier than the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite (Image credit: HTC)

Apple is plotting an entry into VR tech with its own headset, powered by Apple chips and sporting ultra high resolution displays. So says a report by Bloomberg, which claims the new headset is codenamed ‘N301’ and currently in the late prototype stage.

Apple’s take on VR hardware is said to be far more expensive than existing products from the likes of Oculus, Valve and HTC, including the HTC Vive Cosmos Elite and Valve Index,  in part because it’s designed to be a stand-alone device that does not depend on external computing power. 

Instead, the device is said to be powered by Apple’s own integrated silicon with performance capabilities said to be beyond that of the new M1 chip in the latest Macbook Pro, Macbook Air and Mac Mini computers. Such is the scale of computing power on offer, the headset is said to be actively cooled with a fan.

The report says the Apple VR headset will integrate much higher resolution displays than those so far seen in existing VR headsets, but doesn’t get into specifics. HTC’s high-end Vive Cosmos Elite, by way of example, has a total resolution of 2,880 by 1,700 pixels, the Valve Index 2,880 by 1,600.

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By broad consensus, Apple’s in-house chips are thought to deliver more performance per watt by far than any existing PC processor. So the idea of a VR headset powered by Apple silicon makes a lot of sense from a hardware perspective. The problem, as ever, would be software support. It would seem unlikely that existing PC games would run on the Apple headset, for instance. 

Anyway, the headset apparently won’t cater for users who wear glasses. In a move designed to reduce the size of the device, no space is provided for glasses within the headset. Instead, those who require eyesight correction would use custom prescription lenses fitted to the headset itself. The exterior of the device is also reportedly made of fabric in order to save further weight.

Bloomberg reckons the ultimate end game for this line of products from Apple will actually be advanced augmented reality (AR) glasses rather than VR technology. So, more Microsoft HoloLens than Oculus Rift et al. But that is thought to be a tougher technological nut to crack, leading to the two step strategy in which a VR headset is brought to market first. 

In the meantime, Apple entering the VR arena would certainly be interesting. If you’re a fan of VR, the participation of a huge beast like Apple can only be a good thing in terms of re-igniting interest and investment in the technology.

Jeremy Laird
Hardware writer

Jeremy has been writing about technology and PCs since the 90nm Netburst era (Google it!) and enjoys nothing more than a serious dissertation on the finer points of monitor input lag and overshoot followed by a forensic examination of advanced lithography. Or maybe he just likes machines that go “ping!” He also has a thing for tennis and cars.