HTC’s new Vive Pro takes the award-winning original and turns everything up to eleven, boosting both the audio and visual capabilities of the world’s best VR headset. While the original Vive will still be sold as HTC’s entry-level headset, the Vive Pro is meant for gamers, developers, and anyone who wants the best VR experience money can buy.
The original Vive, though not without its problems, is currently our pick for the best premium VR headset on the market. We went hands-on with the Vive Pro to see if the upgrade is significant enough to take virtual reality to the next level.
HTC fulfills its New Year’s resolution
With the Vive Pro, HTC has clearly heard the complaints of its fans. When your eyes are an inch away from the screen, resolution matters. A lot. According to HTC, 89 percent of VR headset owners, and potential owners, say higher resolution matters to them — and they’re getting it here.
The resolution has gone up to 2,880 x 1,600 pixels, which is a solid increase over the original. These are dual-OLED displays with a 78 percent increase in pixel count, bringing it up from 448 to 615 pixels per inch. Does the jump in resolution matter in overall experience?
Oh my god, yes.
Trying on the headsets side by side, the Vive Pro is clearly a big leap forward. Everything looks crisp and clear — not unlike seeing an HD television for the first time. When it comes to high-end VR, HTC has pushed the Vive Pro to the forefront, leaving competitors like the Oculus Rift in the dust. You might want to stay away from the Pro if you aren’t prepared to buy it, because it’s hard to go back to a “normal” Vive. We tried a number of VR experiences, ranging from fast-paced shoot-em-ups to training simulations — and they all benefit from the increase in resolution.
If you want the best VR experience, this is it.
However, we’re not convinced that resolution is the only thing holding people back from wanting to take the deep dive with virtual reality. In the same way that HDTVs probably didn’t convince anyone who didn’t own a TV to buy one, the Vive Pro still feels a bit niche. And while we don’t yet know the price, we doubt it’ll be affordable. The Vive Pro won’t bring many new gamers into the fold, but it will make VR enthusiasts happy.
The Vive Pro also throws in dual microphones and cameras, though we didn’t get to test either of them out. These are meant to improve the Pro’s ability to pick up voice, as well as its perception of the area its used in.
The one area the Vive Pro hasn’t expanded is its field of view (FOV), or how wide your window into the world is. At 110 degrees, it’s still in line with the Oculus Rift and original Vive, but compared to something like the 200 degrees of the Pimax VR headset, it now feels a little lacking. The human eye has a natural, horizontal FOV of over 210 degrees, making your vision in the Vive Pro still feel a bit like looking through a box.
The Vive Pro doesn’t just try to impress your eyes. This time around, the headset comes with built-in earphones, which use an in-line amplifier to boost the quality. The output was respectable, and did a good job of blocking out sound in the loud conference room we were in. In addition, the headphones feature “3D sound,” which is said to give developers a wider range of spatial audio to work with. According to HTC, an SDK is in the works to let developers go back and update their old games with 3D sound.
What we like best, though, is how easy they are to use. Each earphone can be quickly clicked out, to get them away from your ear – similar to the Vive’s Deluxe Audio Strap, but more streamlined. It’s convenient to be able to quickly pull the earphone away for a second to hear someone talk.
On the other hand, the decision to include earphones is a bit of an odd one. Most people who are serious about VR gaming probably have a decent pair of headphones — and probably ones they’d prefer to use. HTC will allow you to remove these, but enthusiasts will still be paying for hardware they don’t necessarily need.
More comfortable than ever, but results still vary
The Vive Pro headset doesn’t vary much different from the original Vive. It has a slick new blue exterior, and of course includes the new built-in earphones and headstrap. With all those attachments, the Vive Pro could have become a bit of a mess of a design, but HTC has kept it clean and simple. Importantly, the Vive Pro didn’t get any heavier, and it feels more balanced than before.
The fit is more comfortable — and more snug.
We quickly strapped it on, and noticed the fit felt comfortable, but snug. The newly-designed head strap is to thank for that. It loops around the back of your head, with a dial in the back giving you quick access to adjustments. That, once again, is like the HTC Vive’s Deluxe Audio Strap. HTC has worked to improve comfort for those with glasses — and it really shows. Through new adjustment buttons featured on the bottom of the headset, you can quickly pull the display out a bit to get a snug fit with just about any style of glasses.
You’ll still end up getting sweat all over the thing when you use it for more than 30 seconds at a time, but overall, it’s a comfortable and lightweight headset that doesn’t impede the VR experience in the slightest. The Oculus Rift still looks and feels more coherent, but it’s now quite far behind in technical capability.
The Vive Pro becomes even better when paired with the new Vive Wireless Adapter. This new adapter, which also works with the original Vive, offers a new sense of freedom. It plugs in at the top of the headset and, powered by a USB battery pack, transformed the Vive Pro into a completely wireless VR headset. In our experience playing DoomVR, there wasn’t a hint of interference or lag, thanks to the use of Intel’s WiGig connection.
Viveport keeps getting better
Virtual reality is still a long way away from having its killer-app. A newer, better headset isn’t going to change that. However, HTC is doing quite a bit to provide a platform for more high-quality VR content. Through its own Viveport platform, you can find a bunch of different things to try out, both paid and free. As of the announcement of the Vive Pro, HTC also completely revamped Viveport to make getting through menus quicker — and more fun.
Now you can discover new apps and get previews of the experiences without ever removing the headset. HTC also offers an enticing subscription service model, ala Netflix or Spotify. For $7 a month, you get access to five titles that you can download and use. Considering that many games and are priced over $20, it’s not a bad deal.
But either way, the HTC Vive right now offers the most complete and thriving ecosystem for VR content, especially when you add in its support for SteamVR. It’s still got a long way to go, but it’s certainly on the right path.
HTC is holding pricing and shipping information off until later this year. You can count on one thing for sure, though: Expect this one to be more expensive than the $600 HTC Vive. You’re going to have to pay if you want the best.