Mac Virtual Display is limited in Vision Pro – but there’s a plan B

Home » Mac Virtual Display is limited in Vision Pro – but there’s a plan B
Mac Virtual Display is limited in Vision Pro – but there's a plan B

Apple briefly touched on using Vision Pro as a Mac Virtual Display, which could be a first step toward a true Mac-equivalent spatial computer.

But it did this so briefly, and in such a low-key way, that many missed it. I’ve seen quite a few posts asking whether you can use Vision Pro as a virtual monitor for your Mac. The answer is “yes, but”…

Vision Pro Mac Virtual Display: Good & bad news

So yes, the good news is that you can. Setup is as simple as can be: Apple says that all you need to do to wirelessly connect to your Mac is look at it through your Vision Pro.

The bad news is that the feature is currently limited to a single 4K display.

Bring your Mac wirelessly into Vision Pro with Mac Virtual Display. You can place it anywhere in space and use Vision Pro as an enormous, private, portable 4K display.

So for those hoping that you could have a whole array of virtual monitors in your mixed-reality workspace, sadly that won’t be possible.

While it may be disappointing, it’s actually not surprising. The connection to the Mac is a wireless one, and one 4K monitor is about as much data as you can reliably push over a wireless connection. So this is a bandwidth limitation rather than an Apple one.

This may explain Apple’s limited interest in displays

Many have complained that Apple seems to have limited interest in displays.

Sure, there’s the $1,600 to $2,300 Studio Display, and it’s far more expensive big brother the Pro Display XDR “from” $5K. But while Apple is meeting the needs of those who want very high-res displays in, by today’s standards, modest sizes (27″ and 32″), there’s nothing for those of us who want to go bigger.

But perhaps that’s because Apple sees physical displays as old tech – due to be replaced by virtual ones, which can be literally any size we like? That’s the vision my colleague Zac Hall suggested, ahead of the launch of Vision Pro.

Will we be able to have multiple Mac displays later?

By the time Vision Pro launches, probably not. The Mac uses AirPlay 2 to send the data needed for the virtual display, and even if you do this to a 5K or 8K monitor today, you’ll only get a 4K window.

But just as AirPlay 2 improved on the capabilities of AirPlay, things won’t end there. Work is constantly being done on real-time data compression to make these sorts of applications more efficient, and thus more powerful.

So at some point down the road, we’re likely to see multiple display capabilities – just not on the first-gen Vision Pro, and not any time soon.

Workaround for multiple displays

There is, however, a way to work with your Mac while also using multiple displays.

While you can only push one display from your Mac, you can mix-and-match it with visionOS apps. So the practical way to achieve the equivalent of multiple Mac monitors will be to use your virtual Mac display for your power apps – Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro, and so on – while creating separate visionOS panes for things like Safari, Mail, Notes, Maps, and so on.

In that way, you’ll get something that is the next best thing to multiple Mac displays, and practically indistinguishable in use.

But a virtual Mac is the long-term goal

I’m not convinced that virtual monitors are the future, for the reasons I mentioned in my piece about why I won’t be rushing out to hand Apple my first born $4K (with lenses) come next year’s launch.

But it does seem like Apple is convinced that spatial computing is the future. That they will do something nobody has done in four decades: find a successor to the clamshell form factor for laptops, and to all form factors for desktops.

That we will one day buy a Vision Pro Mac.

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