After two long years, the new HTC headset is finally here. Say hello to the Vive Pro. Building on the success of the original Vive, the Pro promises to deliver unparalleled visuals with a revamped exterior design and improved fit and finish.
Featuring a maximum resolution of 2,880 × 1,600 — or 1,400 × 1,600 per eye — the Vive Pro dwarfs the original Vive’s resolution of 2,160 × 1,200 — or 1,080 × 1,200 per eye. That’s an increase of more than 50 percent, and HTC thinks the new display and revamped design are a winning combination that will change the landscape for high-end VR. Let’s see if they’re right.
Out of the box
If you’ve ever set up the HTC Vive you’ll be familiar with how to set up the Vive Pro. It’s identical. Just plug the link box into the computer, then the headset into the link box. Then place the lighthouse sensors somewhere appropriate for your setup, as they need to see the entire space you’ll be using for VR.
Once you plug the Vive Pro into the included link box and plug it into your computer, it’s just a matter of following the instructions on-screen. VR is still new for most people, and HTC knows that. You don’t need to be an expert to get one of these headsets up and running, which is a credit to HTC’s intuitive setup instructions – without them, setup would be much more difficult.
Taking headset quality to a new level
The Vive Pro — billed as “the professional grade VR headset” — is remarkably solid, beating even the Oculus Rift’s slick design. The first time you handle the Vive Pro, it’s clear this is an expensive piece of hardware. It’s weighty, but not heavy, and it feels made of quality materials.
The Vive Pro is an improvement in nearly every way imaginable.
The front-side is encased in thick, solid plastic housing, and rimmed with a soft-touch interior. The sturdy headband is lined with thick, soft padding. Anywhere it touches your skin is padded and designed for comfort. Like its predecessor, the Vive Pro features a thick strap running along the top of the headset, which is easily adjustable for the perfect fit. Further adjustments are made using a knob on the back of the head strap that tightens up or loosens the headset, much like a modern bike helmet.
Another small knob on the bottom right-hand side is used to adjust pupillary distance. When you turn the knob, a display pops up in VR to show the current position of the lenses. It’s helpful if you happen to know your exact pupillary distance, but if not, just think of it like focusing a camera lens. Turn it one way to see if edges get sharper, if text becomes more legible — and if not, turn it the other way until it does.
These are all features the original HTC Vive has — or can have if you invest in the Deluxe Audio Strap — but the Vive Pro improves on them by upping the quality of materials. The headstrap is thicker, it slides into place easier when you’re tightening it up, and the knob on the back is more pronounced, making it easier to find when you’re in VR. The Vive Pro display can also be pulled out a bit more, giving extra room to accommodate glasses.
The Vive Pro has built-in headphones nearly identical to the pair you’d get with the original Vive’s optional Deluxe Audio Strap. They’re easily adjustable up and down, forward and back, and they rest comfortably on your ears. They’re not as immersive as high-quality over-ear headphones, but they’re easily removable if you have a better pair of headphones you’d rather use.
The audio quality is nothing to write home about, and they’re a bit abrasive at higher volumes. Still, the sound is generally adequate. We’re disappointed that the headphones aren’t higher quality, though, given the Vive Pro’s price.
Comfy and snug
Compared to the original Vive, these are marked improvements. There’s no contest when the two are compared side-by-side. The Vive Pro is an improvement in nearly every way imaginable.
The displays seem to melt before your eyes, as if there’s no longer a barrier between you and virtual environments.
The padding on the original Vive gets the job done, but it’s minimal, and after you’ve been in VR for a while you’ll end up with impressions on your face where the headset rested. That’s not a problem with the Vive Pro. There’s a couple reasons for that. First, the padding is thicker, and more robust. There’s added padding on the front and back side of the headset. More importantly, the headset is more balanced. When it’s on your head the Vive Pro doesn’t feel face-heavy, but instead seems evenly distributed across your face.
As before, the headset plugs into a link box which requires external power. In an improvement over the earlier design, however, the HTC Vive Pro has a single thick cable that plugs into the link box. The original Vive featured a cable that was three cables bound together. Because it was flat, like a ribbon, it was easily twisted and tangled. The new cable doesn’t have that problem.
Still, the cable remains a limitation. The Vive’s headline feature is support for room-scale VR, effectively turning an entire room into a virtual space. It becomes a place to explore. Being tethered to a computer still undercuts that experience. If you don’t have someone managing the cable while you’re in VR, it’s very easy to get wrapped up in the cable, to accidentally move too far from the computer, or end up facing away from the lighthouse sensors.
These issues would both be remedied if the Vive Pro were wireless — and it can be if you have the Vive Wireless Adapter. That’s a separate product, however, and it will launch on its own later this year.
The display is awesome, but…
The original Vive featured two 1,080 × 1,200 displays — one for each eye — for a max resolution of 2,160 × 1,200. That was impressive when the Vive was the only VR headset on the market. However, because the internal lenses effectively zoom in on the twin displays, individual pixels were visible, creating a patchwork pattern – as if you were looking through a screen door. The Oculus Rift has the same resolution, so it has the same issue.
We’ve taken HTC to task for its pricing in a previous review, and the Vive Pro is no improvement.
The Vive Pro does what it can to minimize that by ramping up the resolution to a whopping 2,880 × 1,600 — or 1,400 × 1,600 per eye. Increasing resolution has the same effect as increasing the resolution for any PC game. Graphics look sharper and cleaner. The resolution bump also dramatically reduces the screen door effect. If you go hunting for them, you can still discern individual pixels, but it looks less like staring through a screen door than through a fine mesh. Even when reading text, the higher resolution keeps edges nice and smooth.
In-game, the displays seem to melt before your eyes. It’s like there is no longer a barrier between you and virtual environments. Details in games like The Mage’s Tale just envelop your field of view and more than any headset before.
The HTC Vive and Steam VR have both been out for a couple years. That means the platform is robust and mature when it comes to software selection. The Steam store contains more VR games and experiences than ever before, with quite a few free offerings to get you started. HTC’s Viveport store and subscription service offers up a similar selection, giving you a veritable buffet of VR games to choose from. Also, if you purchase the Vive Pro by June 3, 2018, you’ll receive six months of Viveport for free, giving you tons of VR games and experiences to enjoy.
The best part of the existing VR ecosystem is that it’s very diverse. You’ll find nearly as many small-scale conceptual experiences as you will richly detailed games, like Mage’s Tale. There’s something here for everyone, and that wasn’t necessarily true when the Vive first launched.
The HTC Vive Pro is covered by a 12-month warranty against manufacturer defects. It’s the same warranty you’d get for the original HTC Vive, so it’s par for the course, if underwhelming.Our Take
Virtual reality is an expensive hobby. Even if you have a relatively inexpensive gaming PC for virtual reality, a headset will run you at least $400, should you go with the Oculus Rift.
The HTC Vive Pro is an exceptionally expensive product. The headset alone is $800. If you don’t already have a Vive, you’ll have to add on an extra $300 for two controllers and two lighthouse sensors, available as part of a slightly discounted bundle. You’re looking at $1,100 all-in.
Is there a better alternative?
This is a tricky question. If you’re looking solely at the Vive Pro’s hardware, no — there isn’t a better alternative. The Vive Pro is the best VR headset on the market right now. Yet take that with a big ol’ handful of salt, because there are some serious caveats.
First, money exists. Ignoring the price of a device like this, when it’s priced so bizarrely, would be impossible. It’s an improvement on the original Vive, and beats the Oculus Rift in the resolution game, but the Vive Pro doesn’t do much else to differentiate itself from the competition. That’s a problem for the Vive Pro.
The original HTC Vive is now $500, and it includes everything you need to get started right in the box — the headset, two controllers, and two sensors. The same goes for the $400 Oculus Rift. It comes with two controllers, a sensor, and it’s ready to go from day one.
If you’re buying the Vive Pro, but didn’t already own the original Vive, you’re looking at $1,100 for the headset. That’s almost three times more than the Oculus Rift, and more than twice as expensive as the HTC Vive. So, while the HTC Vive Pro is very good, it’s not three times better than the Oculus Rift, or two times better than the original Vive.
How long will it last?
Looking at the original Oculus Rift and HTC Vive launches, it’s safe to say we’re going to see new high-end VR hardware about every two to three years. That means if you buy the Vive Pro right at launch, there probably won’t be a better headset coming out for a couple years. Oculus’ two upcoming headsets, Santa Cruz and Oculus Go are going a different route, stepping away from ultra-high-fidelity experiences, and toward more user-friendly, wireless experiences.
That means the Vive might not have as much competition in the next couple years, as Oculus moves toward a slightly different approach. It remains to be seen if Oculus’ new hardware will appeal to the same audience as the HTC Vive and Vive Pro.
Should you buy it?
This is the $1,100 question, isn’t it?
You should only buy the HTC Vive Pro if you already have a powerful gaming PC and want the absolute best home VR experience, or if you’re running a VR arcade and you want to provide the best experience possible for your customers. Think of it like a 50-inch 4K HDR TV. The movies you watch on that are going to be the same ones you watch on a decent 40-inch TV, but they’ll look a bit better on the more expensive hardware.
That said, if you’re new to VR or if you’re even a little bit unsure about the Vive Pro’s pricing, listen to your gut and don’t buy it. The Oculus Rift is still the best bang for your buck, and the original HTC Vive’s new price makes it even more compelling than before.
The Vive Pro is a good device, and a great VR headset, but its pricing is tough to handle. We have already taken HTC to task for its pricing in a previous review of its similarly expensive Vive Tracker accessories, and this seems to be another step down that road. The Vive Pro is good, but it’s not that good.