HTC Vive Pro – an afternoon with the iterative upgrade that changes everything
On paper, the HTC Vive Pro is a completely unremarkable upgrade to the company’s existing VR headset. Its screens are slightly higher resolution than its predecessor, it has a pair of headphones built in rather than relying on a separate accessory, and the size and shape of the headset has also received a few tweaks.
Nothing about the headset screamed “revolution” when I first tried it on at a recent preview event. It felt like a VR headset – big deal.
However, after a while it became apparent that I wasn’t actually stressing about the things that VR headsets usually cause me to stress out about. Finally, this felt like a piece of consumer-ready technology, rather than an early adopter’s fever dream. Finally, it felt ready for the big leagues.
Before we get into the details of what it’s like to use, here are the essentials.
The HTC Vive Pro will be released in the UK on April 5, with pre-orders open now on HTC’s website.
Unfortunately, the company has already sold out of its pre-order stock. However, we expect more headsets to become available soon after its release.
HTC Vive Pro price
When it goes on sale, the HTC Vive Pro will retail for £799 – but there are few things regarding this price of which you should be aware.
The most important is to note that this price is for just the headset and the hardware that connects it to a PC. Crucially, this means that the motion controllers and base stations – essential for actually using the headset – aren’t included.
HTC’s reason for not including these items in the package makes some sense. First, the Vive Pro is meant as an upgrade for existing Vive owners. More important is the fact that upgraded base stations and controllers are on their way soon, meaning it would be a terrible time to encourage people to buy new base stations.
Although new motion controllers haven’t officially been confirmed by the company too, new ‘knuckle’ controllers have also been spotted in the wild, suggesting that upgraded motion controllers are also on the way.
The Vive Pro is an iterative piece of hardware, but when you consider that the original Vive launched in a far more complete state than its major competitors, this is no bad thing.
In fact, when I hopped in and started playing through a few games, I pretty much forgot that I was using the new Pro version of the headset.
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I shot through hordes of demons in Doom VFR, played a round or two of Smash (a new arcade game based around movie Ready Player One), and defeated a few waves of enemies in Battle for the Oasis (another Ready Player One experience).
The tracking was as accurate as ever, room-scale still feels like an essential part of the VR experience, and the controllers felt just as comfortable in my hands – although in my opinion just a shade less accomplished than Oculus’ competing Touch controllers.
Over time, however, the subtle improvements made to the design of the Vive Pro started to make themselves apparent.
The biggest of these from a technical perspective is the resolution of the screen. It wasn’t something I noticed straight away – not because the new 2880 x 1600 resolution isn’t a massive jump over the previous model’s 2160 x 1200, but because it looks exactly how I’d expect VR to look.
In addition to the picture looking plain-sharper, the ‘screen door effect’ – where the gaps between pixels made it look like you were viewing the world through a black sieve – has more or less gone. Squint and it becomes apparent that you’re looking at a virtual world constructed of pixels, but the result is good enough that you’re unlikely to bother.
It’s the kind of improvement that’s sure to make the original Vive appear dated by comparison. However, it’s such a natural improvement that, ironically enough, it isn’t something that jumps out at you.
All those extra pixels means that you’ll want a more powerful PC to get the most out of the Vive Pro. Interestingly, though, the minimum specs (a GTX 970) haven’t actually changed.
But for a decent experience you’ll want to play on something a little more powerful. A GTX 1060 or Radeon RX480 is recommended; we were playing on a GTX 1080 for our session.
Despite the excess of power, we still found that the experience stuttered at one or two points when the action got particularly intense. It wasn’t a problem that reoccured enough to be annoying, but it definitely underscored the point that a powerful PC is a must for a premium piece of hardware such as the HTC Vive Pro.
The benefits of the other improvements made to the headset have been more subtle – but, if anything, even more significant. A slightly redesigned nose notch means that far less light bleeds in from the outside world. I personally appreciated the inclusion of volume controls on the rear of the left earcup, even if the earcups didn’t come down low enough to comfortably sit over my ears.
It’s much easier to pull the headset in and out to accommodate glasses as well, and the headset will now automatically calculate the distance between your pupils – rather than relying on you manually twiddling a small dial and inevitably getting it wrong.
Most impressive of all, however, is that the headset just isn’t as tiring to use over long periods. In total, I spent just over an hour wearing the headset, and at no point did I feel the need to take it off to get some air. Better still, at the end of the session there was no sign of the neck ache experience when using a VR headset for long periods of time.
This is in part down to the front of the headset being much lighter than the previous model (the headset is technically heavier overall because of the weightier strap). But in the main it’s a result of the weight distribution of the device being at the centre of your head, rather than hanging off the front of it.
It’s a subtle difference, but one whose effect really adds up over the course of a medium-length play session.
Other than that, the HTC Vive Pro offers a very similar experience to the standard Vive – which is to say that it’s pretty much the most seamless, premium VR experience available right now.
HTC Vive Pro first impressions
VR still has its issues, those that don’t seem likely to disappear anytime soon. The lack of lengthy games to play on these expensive headsets remains, while the space required in order to play mean you’re unlikely to see a VR headset in every home just yet.
But within these constraints, HTC has done a great job of tweaking its headset so that it feels like a premium consumer experience, rather than a piece of tech for early adopters.
Yes, the screen is now more crisp and clear, but we’re far more impressed by just how comfortable the headset is to wear, and how much more convenient it feels to use.
The Vive Pro’s price is likely to see it remain a piece of hardware for hardcore VR fans, but with HTC’s commitment to continually reducing the cost of its existing headset, we can’t see this being the case for much longer.