For the longest time, the HTC Vive was the crème de la crème of the VR world. It was the big, great, innovative high-end headset that everyone wanted. But that advantage had slipped in recent months with the improvements to the Oculus Rift and its ecosystem.
And then CES 2018 came around. HTC announced the Vive Pro, a new high-end headset in its lineup. It's not exactly the Vive 2 – more Vive 1.5 – but it is a step forward for HTC's larger virtual reality platform.
Hands on: HTC Vive Pro review
So what exactly is it? Is the 3K headset as amazing as it sounds? When the heck can you splash out your hard-earned cash? You'll find the answers to all these questions and more, right here in our guide.
What is it?
The Vive Pro is HTC's big upgrade to the Vive, though it's probably not as a big of a leap as you might have expected. Instead of 4K (as was speculated ahead of the reveal), you've got 3K with a resolution of 2880 x 1600, which gives it a 78% increase over the vanilla Vive's 2160 x 1200 resolution.
That resolution also puts the Vive Pro on par with the Samsung Odyssey, a part of the Windows Mixed Reality family. Plus, it puts the Vive Pro ahead of the Rift's 2160 x 1200 resolution as well as the PSVR's 1920 x 1080.
As for the outside, you'll notice that the Vive Pro comes with a new blue shell. Elsewhere, you'll see there are built-in headphones that deliver 3D spatial audio; dual cameras on the front of the headset which will open new tools to developers; and a brand new headstrap, which looks a bit like the Vive Deluxe Audio strap.
Who is it for?
The Vive Pro obviously comes with a brand new name, attaching a "Pro" right there at the end, but what does that actually mean? Is it for VR professionals? Well, partly.
As mentioned, the Vive Pro comes with two cameras on the front, up from the one on the regular Vive. That's there to help "empower developer creativity", which is a vague way to say that developers can figure out how to use it for themselves. However when we pressed HTC on this, it wouldn't give us any specifics, such as whether it could ever open up a passthrough camera.
But the Vive Pro isn't a developer-only system either, as HTC says the system is for "VR enthusiasts." Seeing as the original Vive was already seen as the number one choice for VR enthusiasts, it's clear HTC wants to make sure its playground is the one where anyone who is intensely interested in VR is located.
Who the Vive isn't for is anyone who has a passing interest in VR, or who doesn't have money to really invest in a high-end virtual reality system. If you fall into those categories, you might be better off with something like a mobile headset, a Windows Mixed Reality headset or an Oculus Rift.
How good is it?
We went hands-on with the Vive Pro at CES 2018, and in our early estimation it's a notable step ahead of the "regular" Vive. This isn't some giant leap ahead, but the crisper resolution will make hardcore VR enthusiasts happy.
The new 3K resolution did a good job of minimising the screen door effect, which is where the lines in between the pixels are visible. This was something that bothered us on the original Vive, but the new resolution does a good job of making it much less noticeable.
The new strap also better distributes the weight of the headset across your head, so you may be more comfortable and, therefore, be able to wear the headset for longer.
As for the built-in audio, we found that the audio quality was quite good. However, the best part of having built-in headphones is that they make the Vive Pro feel more complete. You don't need to put on an extra set of headphones, thus making getting into VR feel more quicker than ever before.
One thing that's still not good enough though is the field of view, which is still the same as the Vive's 110-degrees. So even though the resolution is improved, it still feels like you're wearing a pair of goggles that harm your immersion.
The Vive Pro is an upgrade over the current Vive, but right now we're not sure it's a must-have upgrade over the original. At least for most people – if you're an obsessive this is going to be a solid upgrade for you. In a way, it's exactly like the difference between the PS4 and PS4 Pro.
What about those accessories?
Alongside the announcement of the Vive Pro, HTC also revealed the Vive Wireless Adapter, which uses Intel's WiGig technology to give you a wireless VR experience. In our short time with the adapter, we found it to be incredibly freeing.
The Vive Wireless Adapter isn't exclusive to the Vive Pro either – regular Vive owners can also pick it up for their systems. So don't worry about being locked out of a game-changing feature like wireless with the Vive Pro.
In fact, HTC doesn't want to fragment its user base. So you can also expect the brand new and updated tracking base stations to work with both the Vive Pro and regular Vive when they launch later this year.
Those base stations, by the way, will apparently be smaller, more reliable and cover a larger distance than the original stations. You can also use up to four of them at a time, up from the two you can use now, which have a recommended maximum distance of 5 metres between them.
How much and when?
HTC kept us in the dark for a while, but we now know that the Vive Pro will launch on 5 April for $799, the cost of the original Vive when it first launched. However that price won't get you the controllers or base stations - HTC clearly expects a big chunk of sales to go to upgraders who already own those other parts.
The headset is up for pre-order now and if you bag one before 3 June, HTC will throw in a a six-month subscription to Viveport. Meanwhile the original Vive headset will get a price cut to bring it down to $499.
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