Mac OS High Sierra goes live, brings VR, HEVC, Metal 2, more
Apple has released macOS Sierra after spending the past several months in public beta. The update is free and brings with a raft of key under the hood changes that are set to make its Macs both faster and more reliable. The most notable of these changes is the replacement of the relatively ancient HFS+ files system with Apple’s APFS (Apple Files System). Other highlights include support for HEVC (High-efficiency Video Coding), Metal 2, Core ML and VR content creation support.
APFS is an all-new 64-bit storage architecture that has been designed to work with the latest high-capacity storage devices and delivers what Apple claims is a new level of security and responsiveness. Simple tasks like duplicating a file or finding the size of a file’s contents are now said to happen instantly. APFS also includes built-in encryption, crash safe protections and simplified data backup on the go.
HEVC is the industry standard replacement for H.264. The new H.265 standard compresses video up to 40 percent more than the one it replaces, which given the size of 4K files and the ability of its iPhones to shoot in 4K makes it a particularly significant upgrade. This also enables videos to stream more smoothly, while preserving the same visual clarity. HEVC will, however, only be supported on Macs running Intel’s 6th-gen Core-series chips or later.
Metal 2 replaces Metal as the low-level API for maximizing GPU performance on Apple’s Macs. New features include capabilities such as machine learning, enhanced support for VR content creation as well as bringing external GPU support to Macs over Thunderbolt 3 for the first time. Not only should pro creative apps run faster, but gaming should also get a boost.
In terms of VR support, Apple’s Macs now support Valve’s SteamVR and the HTC Vive VR headset. Support is now also available on the Mac for Epic’s Unreal 4 Editor and the Unity Editor. Final Cut Pro X will also be updated later in the year to add support for professional 360-degree VR workflows with the ability to import, edit and export 360-degree video.
CoreML is all about tapping into the power of machine learning on the Mac. It has been designed for developers to create new types of smarter applications. It leverages Metal 2 to enhance applications that focus on computer vision, natural language as well as convolutional and recurrent neural networks.
Built-in apps also get some useful upgrades in macOS Sierra. Photos gets the most love with UI improvements and the ability to take Live Photos shot on an iPhone and add effects like Loop, Bounce and Long Exposure to make them more interesting. Third-party editing support has also been baked in. Safari gets all new privacy tools, which eliminates trackers used by third-party cookies to track users across sites. Siri on the Mac gets a more natural sounding voice, the Touch Bar the MacBook Pro also gets new Control Strip options.
According to Apple, macOS Sierra supports all Macs introduced in late 2009 onwards, although there will be feature exceptions on some older models.
[Update] We reached out to Apple for some clarification around High Sierra support for VR. Apple advises us that eGPU support is not yet available, but will be in Autumn 2018. It also advises us that the only Mac that will support SteamVR and HTC Vive are the newest 5K Retina iMacs and the forthcoming iMac Pro. These will get this support on the availability of the iMac Pro later this year.