Almost two years since it launched, the HTC Vive has taken a step forward. We've seen minor updates in the form of an improved headstrap, the Vive Trackers, and even a wireless adapter, but at CES 2018 HTC announced it was bumping up the resolution with a whole new headset: the HTC Vive Pro.
The Pro takes the resolution of the dual-OLED displays up from 2,160 x 1,200 to 2,880 x 1,600 (1,400 x 1,600 per eye), so 3K. And yeah, you're definitely going to notice the difference.
You might know of, or have heard us talk about, VR's screendoor effect, which is where the lines between pixels on the display are visible. It's something that bugs us on the original Vive but the improved fidelity diminishes this effect on the Vive Pro, making for a smoother image.
We should also talk about the design of the headset, which has come a long way since 2016. The Pro comes with a tweaked version of the Deluxe Audiostrap, which HTC made available as an accessory for the original Vive. It distributes the weight better across the head, so you don't feel the headset weighing your face down. HTC says the Vive Pro is also lighter, though I can't say I could tell that during my short time with it.
You might also have noticed there are now two cameras on the front, one more than the Vive regular, which will be opened up for developers. I asked HTC what this might entail, and whether it could be used as a passthrough for AR, but it wouldn't say just yet.
So who is the Vive Pro for? VR newbies? Vive owners who want to upgrade? HTC itself says this is for "VR enthusiasts" so it's probably more the latter camp. The Pro makes the Vive more appealing than ever, but I can't see it pulling in a stream of new users like the Oculus Go might. A lot will of course come down to price, which HTC is staying schtum about for now.
What's important is that HTC is being careful not to fragment its user base, and that means the new wireless adapter will work on both the Vive and Vive Pro. The Pro will also work with the updated tracking basestations, launching later this yeah, that will let you add four stations to increase the play space to 10 square feet. And of course, you'll be able to use the existing Vive wand controllers with the Pro too.
Speaking of the wireless adapter, this was the second part of HTC's big CES announcement. The adapter is made by Vive using Intel's WiGig technology, which we tried back at GDC (where it was a box of wires crudely held together by tape). This will be available in the summer, and again there's no price yet, but it's real freedom without compromise to the VR experience.
This is something I expect many existing Vive owners will pounce on, and understandably so. I can't tell you how freeing it felt. On a scale of 1 to Shawshank Redemption, I was Andy Dufresne.
Is this the Vive 2.0? Not really. Think of it more as a Vive for the VR obsessives. It's not going to leave existing Vive owners in the dust, and HTC says it will continue to sell the original headset, which hints that the Pro will be priced higher (or the same, and the Vive will drop). There will be plenty of people who won't care about the visual difference – and that's okay! – but let me tell you, once you go wireless, you don't want to go back.