The HTC Vive Pro is the VR headset successor to the first Vive. The Oculus Rift rival launched almost two years ago and since then the focus has been on making minor upgrades to enhance that VR experience. We've had an improved head strap with built-in headphones, the introduction of the Wareable Tech Awards-winning Vive Trackers and even a wireless adaptor to let users ditch the cables (well, some of them). The Pro rolls some of these improvements into a single package and adds a few other notable extras too.
The major difference between the Vive and the Pro is the dual-OLED displays you'll be peering through, which have been given a pretty significant visual bump-up, moving from a resolution of 2,160 x 1,200 to a significantly sharper 2,880 x 1,600. The result? Everything should look clearer and crisper than before. As for those integrated headphones, it means one less cable to worry about, and there's even a splash of colour to help you differentiate between the Vive and the Pro.
Essential reading: HTC Vive Pro v HTC Vive
Priced at £799, the Vive Pro costs the same as the original did at launch, but unlike the Vive, that doesn't get you the controllers or the base stations (more on that later), which raises the question of just who the Vive Pro is aimed at. As the name suggests, think more professionals than gamers looking for their next headset.
We've been putting the new Vive through its paces, playing games, watching videos, trying out a bunch of experiences and comparing it to the original to see whether a resolution upgrade and some design changes is enough to make this one of the best VR headsets to own.
HTC Vive Pro: Getting set up
For this part, I could just direct you to read our first HTC Vive review, but things have changed a little. It's mostly the same setup process, but there's a few things you need to be aware of. The first is that this still takes painfully long to set up if you're using a Vive VR headset for the first time or you haven't set one up for a while. Plug-and-play this most certainly is not.
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It took me well over an hour, though that included getting a PC and monitor set up in the process, so hopefully it won't take you quite as long. The online setup guide is very straightforward to use at least, and it'll take you no time if you already have a Vive and you're simply upgrading. It uses a similar link box as the first Vive, though the HDMI port has gone and there's now a button that establishes connection between PC and the headset when pressed.
Again, if you already own a Vive, you are at a serious advantage on the basis that you probably already own, and have set up, the necessary base stations to use the room-scale tracking technology. You'll probably also own the two controllers as well, which are essential unless you want a super limited VR experience.
Vives compared: HTC Vive Pro (left) and HTC Vive (right)
With the current Vive Pro setup, neither the controllers or the base stations are included. So if you want them, you'll need to pay an additional $134.99 each for the base stations and $129.99 each for the controllers. It's all starting to add up, isn't it? Even the new cable-killing Vive Wireless Adapter isn't thrown into the mix, so you'll have to contend with those wires as well. It's further reason to believe that this hardware upgrade is aimed squarely at professionals and/or existing Vive owners who have the extras to make the investment worthwhile.
With Steam and Vive accounts set up, along with the relevant other software installed on your PC, you are just a room scale setup process away from opening up your library and getting some VR action on the go.
HTC Vive Pro: Design and comfort
Over the last couple of years HTC has tried its best to make the Vive experience a less clunky one, from offering a head strap with built-in headphones to a way to go wireless, and even shedding some of the weight over time. The Vive Pro embodies many improvements, but it's still far from the headset I want.
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Before we get into all of that, I should give a mention to that new blue shell. In the grand scheme of things, it's not going to improve your VR experience, but it's nice to have a headset that's not another black box. I'd like to see more colours on offer in the future too.
The shell itself has many of the same hallmarks of the first with that honeycomb-effect front plate that's still all plastic and fantastic. There's now an additional camera as well that will be opened up to developers, although it's not clear how or what it will be used for just yet. At the base of the plate you'll now find an additional button that can be used to shift the position of the lenses (back and forth) to improve the comfort levels and to ensure that you are getting the optimal VR effect.
Look beyond the plate and you'll find more changes, like a tweaked version of the Deluxe Audiostrap, which replaces the stretchy, adjustable head strap. These built-in cans might not look so special, but they make for one less thing to think about when it's time to jump into VR. There are volume controls on one ear cup as well, which prove handy, and then flick up when you need to take the headset off. The ear cushions sit snug as well and do a decent job of isolating the audio to emphasise that immersive feeling. The comfort factor extends to the band that sits against the back of the head, with a twisting wheel that can adjust how tight the headset sits on the head.
HTC says that the Pro is lighter than the Vive, yet at first glance you wouldn't think it. There's more plastic overall and elements like the extra cushioning make it feel like it has a bigger frame. But I've noticed it sits more comfortably, particularly over longer periods of use when you'd expect issues to creep in. Without the wireless adaptor, you do still have to contend with those trailing cables (which are the same length) and it's something I will forever have issues with. If you've got the room, then fine, but when space is restricted those trailing cables are more problematic, with a constant worry you're going to trip over them.
Our US editor Hugh has written about the effects of being in VR with the Vive and I'd echo a lot of the same sentiments. I didn't get any of the motion sickness, nausea or even that tired eyes feeling I sometimes get using VR headsets. This may well be down to the high resolution displays providing more comfortable surroundings and offering less strain on the eyes in comparison to lower resolution setups. The Vive has always been ahead in this respect but the upgrade no doubt helps.
HTC Vive Pro: Performance
So let's get into it. What the Vive Pro is really like to use. The two screens now deliver 1440 x 1600 pixels per eye, up from the 1080 x 1200 pixels per-eye resolution on the Vive. It still has that 90Hz refresh rate and 110-degree field of view. The resolution was superb on the original and the Vive Pro really does take things up a notch to further enhance that immersive feeling.
To put it to the test I ran a few games on both headsets. A game like Job Simulator is a good example of showcasing that improvement in resolution. Colours are richer, and everything feels and looks crisper and more vibrant. I also tried out some of the Ready Player One experiences and it's the same visually superior result – you will see the difference. It's probably the best resolution I've seen on a headset so far. Your move, Oculus.
The audio aids the immersion of course, and those integrated headphones do their job admirably. Whether that sound is being used in a really dynamic way or it's simply providing some clarity and detail for dialogue or commentary, the presence of the built-in headphones goes beyond convenience. No, they're certainly not best in class, but they are not just a pair of mid-range headphones that have been tagged on.
Aspects like room tracking largely still work well, although I did encounter a couple of issues initially. These were rectified once I'd gone through the tedious process of updating the firmware on the individual base stations. It was a similar story for hand tracking. Job Simulator is a great way to emphasis how well this works. Essentially, the things that made us love the Vive still deliver on the Vive Pro.
HTC Vive Pro: Games and experiences
There's no point having an immensely powerful piece of hardware if there's not a lot available to put it to good use. There are two options to get access to something to play on your Vive Pro. That's Steam and HTC's new Viveport subscription service.
Over on Steam in the Virtual Reality section it's still very much a place dominated by the indie developers. There is now a small but decent selection of games from big name publishers with the likes of Skyrim VR, Fallout 4 VR and Star Trek: Bridge Crew among the standout titles. But if we're being honest, games that are now almost two years old still feel like the most enjoyable to play. We're talking the likes of Arizona Sunshine, Rec Room, The Lab and Job Simulator.
Away from gaming it feels again like we are talking in similar terms about the catalogue of compelling stuff that is available here. Things like Virtual Desktop, Masterpiece VR and Google Earth VR certainly showcase that there is more to VR than gaming. But we still want to see more.
HTC's Viveport subscription service wants to make it easier to discover what's actually worth trying out on the Vive, whether that's games that embrace its Vive trackers or experiences from its Vive Arts program. You pay £8.99 a month and pick five games or experiences from a curated list that you can swap for new stuff. Giving Vive essentially its own dedicated storefront makes a lot of sense, shining a light on the good stuff that is happening in the Vive space right now.
HTC Vive Pro: In the landscape of VR
When we recently spoke to HTC Vive's general manager Dan O'Brien, he explained that HTC was thinking primarily about the enterprise and professional market with the Pro, which explains why it doesn't come with the controllers or base stations; the Pro is being made for people who already own the first Vive. In industries where higher levels of detail are more important – the medical world, car design – the higher resolution of the Pro becomes more essential. "Pro is designed for professionals", O'Brien told us.
The VR competition
For those of us who use VR primarily for gaming and entertainment, the Pro is less the Vive 2.0 and more the Vive 1.5, and the decision not to bundle controllers or base stations feels like an admission from HTC that it agrees. Is it an essential upgrade? That depends on how much of a VR enthusiast you consider yourself. For developers, professionals and VR die-hards the Vive Pro is an easier sell, but for everyone else the Vive will continue to serve you just fine, ticking most the boxes for first-time VR buyers.
If you do go Pro, I can tell you that you'll be getting the best-looking VR experience out there, but if this is your first major VR system I'd advise waiting until HTC offers a bundle with everything included – hold tight for something later in the year. Oculus Santa Cruz can't be far off, and promises to beat the Rift's resolution in a totally standalone headset, one that could bring the fight to the Vive and Vive Pro.
But for now, the Vive Pro has the best looking VR and the best room tracking technology money can buy. For now.
Additional words by Hugh Langley
- Slightly easier to setup
- Great addition of integrated headphones
- Improved resolution
- Doesn't include controllers/wireless adaptor
- Also lacks new base stations
- Still mighty expensive