HTC Vive Pro
VR (Virtual Reality) Headset
$1199 (HMD Only) or $1999 for Full Kit
One of the biggest tech stories of recent years has been the arrival or re-appearance of Virtual Reality - with vastly improved performance and quality than what was seen way back in the 1990s. Specifically, in the classic James Bond adventure The Lawnmower Man. In terms of gaming the prospect of being transported into a world where no matter where you look you begin to feel more immersed is for many, a dream come true. And in many ways VR is one of those pieces of technology that instantly makes you feel like “this is the future!” when demoed alongside the right game or application.
The original HTC Vive, developed by HTC with help from Valve, launched alongside SteamVR. Where the focus on room-scale technology and motion-tracking and intuitive controls and great application support led to what many consider to be the gold standard when it comes to modern-day VR. Which brings us to the HTC Vive Pro, a new HMD (or Head Mounted Display) that refreshes the Vive hardware to improve image quality and integrate audio. With controllers and new and improved room-scale support sold separately.
The original HTV Vive featured a per-eye resolution of 1080×1200 pixels, bringing the total resolution of the VR presentation to 2160×1200. To maintain the 90Hz refresh rate, a variable resolution was implemented at the software level - with higher-end GPUs required to make the most of the technology. Where over the past year, NVIDIA’s 10 series of GPUs and AMD’s Vega line proved to be a perfect match for the HTC Vive. In comparison, the more mass-market PlayStation VR features a per-eye pixel count of 960x1080. In terms of straight-up numbers the HTC Vive Pro ups the per-eye resolution to 1440 x 1600 pixels, bringing the total res to 2880 x 1600. The highest for any of the major VR devices currently available.
And when coupled with the new AMOLED displays, the result is a noticeably sharper image than the core HTV Vive - with a wider perceived contrast ratio and deeper blacks. The difference isn’t monumental though and coming two years after the debut of the HTC Vive the Pro represents more of a refined presentation as opposed to a vastly superior HTC Vive 2.0 leap in quality. One feature that leans into the idea of refinement comes with the new single cable approach for connecting the HTC Vive Pro to the PC interface – a definite improvement. But still, a long way from the wireless ideal that many VR enthusiasts are waiting for.
Screen: Dual AMOLED 3.5" diagonal
Resolution: 1440 x 1600 pixels per eye (2880 x 1600 pixels combined)
Refresh rate: 90 Hz
Field of view: 110 degrees
Audio: Hi-Res certificate headset, Hi-Res certificate headphone (removable), High impedance headphone support
Input: Integrated microphones
Connections: USB-C 3.0, DP 1.2, Bluetooth
Sensors: SteamVR Tracking, G-sensor, gyroscope, proximity, IPD sensor
Ergonomics: Eye relief with lens distance adjustment, Adjustable IPD, Adjustable headphone, Adjustable headstrap
Outside of the improved display the other major update comes in the form of the new integrated audio that takes on the form of in-built headphones, which in turn makes the HTC Vive Pro more versatile than the base version. The only real issue here is that the audio quality isn’t that great, with bass response being poor and the overall lack of spatial surround and proper channel separation noticeable. Which is a problem when you factor in the high overall cost of the HTC Vive Pro, and that little thing where VR is supposed to feel immersive.
Design and Comfort
At first glance the new blue colour scheme of the HTC Vive Pro is enough to separate it from its predecessor, but the HMD has also been given a redesign to improve comfort and weight distribution. The new head-strap and easy to adjust design is reminiscent of PlayStation VR which is a definite step in the right direction - with the ability to adjust screen distance for those that VR with glasses on and then fine-tune focus and eye distance for the right look and feel. The HTC Vive Pro is heavier and larger than the core HTC Vive, so regardless of the new comfortable design it still falls into the same trap as other headsets where weight becomes an issue after extended use.
But with the room-scale design of Valve’s SteamVR and the touch controllers, the HTC Vive Pro (and the Vive for that matter) is still the most intuitive VR solution for truly impressive virtual experiences.
When it comes to VR the various options and hardware choices mirror how the console market works - where different boxes offer different interfaces and exclusive or optimised games. The feather in the HTC Vive Pro cap comes with the seamless SteamVR integration, the relatively easy and hassle-free room-scale setup, and the ability to navigate through libraries and options all from the comfort of a virtual lounge-room – as seen in SteamVR Home. HTC’s own VivePort application and subscription service that provides access to five VR-titles each month is also surprisingly robust and immersive, offering a mix of throwaway spectacle like releases with more in-depth and rewarding VR journeys.
With SteamVR support for the HTC Vive being as widespread and abundant as it is, several wonderful VR games were tested for this review. Including the intense and genuinely impressive DOOM VFR from id Software, Eagle Flight from Ubisoft, the transcendent Rez Infinite, the wonderful first-person puzzle adventure FORM, and Valve’s own SteamVR Labs. Two years on from the initial release of the HTC Vive the Vive Pro benefits from this additional time - with more quality VR experiences than ever before. Many of which are excellent, but also many that are quite limited in both appeal and design. And being Steam, there’s plenty of cheap looking VR games too.
The ability to pair the HTC Vive Pro with high-end hardware, in this case our own AMD Ryzen and NVIDIA GeForce-powered gaming rig, is all but required to take advantage of the increased resolution and image quality. DOOM VFR looks and plays better than ever, and Rez Infinite takes full advantage of the AMOLED technology to create a vibrant and impressive light-show. As proved by the core HTC Vive, VR really comes into its own with room-scale support and the ability to freely move within a small enclosed space – of which the Vive Pro is best in show.
So then, the appeal of the HTC Vive Pro is certainly there but there are some definite drawbacks outside of the high price tag. First, you’ll need a high-end PC to take full advantage of the increased resolution, and the space to properly set all the room-scale stuff up. Outside of those installation and circumstantial requirements, the new HMD itself is larger and heavier than the original HTC Vive. The in-built headphones aren’t anything special, and the image quality improvements aren’t the major leap we were hoping they might be. That being said, the HTC Vive Pro represents the best that consumer VR has to offer – thanks in part to the excellent SteamVR and VivePort services.