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TL;DR review: HTC’s Vive Pro VR headset gives you a sharper and more immersive view of virtual worlds, but the hefty price tag means it’s only for the most hardcore VR fans.
Cool Factor: 😎😎😎 (3 out of 5)
Learning Curve: 📘📘📘 (3 out of 5)
Performance: 💪💪💪💪 (4 out of 5)
Bang for the Buck: 💸💸 (2 out of 5)
⚡⚡⚡ (3 out of 5)
The Vive Pro’s name and $800 price (headset only) tells you exactly who this VR headset is for.
It’s not for newbies looking to dip their toes into the expansive world of VR. It’s not for anyone who doesn’t have a gaming PC with at least an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1060 or AMD Radeon RX480 graphics card. It’s also not really for anyone who doesn’t already own the regular Vive headset because the $799 kit doesn’t include any controllers or the necessary Lighthouse boxes for room-scale tracking.
HTC’s also selling a Vive Pro Starter Kit, which includes the Vive Pro headset, two 1.0 controllers, and a pair of 1.0 Lighthouse boxes. But this bundle will set you back $1,100. And that still doesn’t include any VR-ready computer. So, again, it’s not exactly affordable for anyone but serious VR users who are willing to pay top dollar to have the best virtual rig.
Pricing aside, the HTC Vive Pro is a pretty sweet headset with improvements that further advance VR’s realism, from both a visual and aural standpoint.
New color and new fit
The Vive Pro has an awesome new colorway.Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLEThough they’re still bulky hunks of plastic strapped to your face, VR headsets are getting comfier to wear and keep on for longer virtual sessions.
The first thing that caught my eye after unboxing the Vive Pro was its new colorway (and the two front-facing cameras, which don’t do anything at the moment). Black is out and navy is in, and I’m a fan of the change. Something about blue that just makes it more approachable and less like a device pulled from government R&D lab.
The Vive Pro has an awesome navy colorway and a more balanced fit on the head.Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLEHTC’s streamlined the headset’s ergonomics inside and out for an even comfier fit. The headset comes with a new adjustable crown-like design that distributes much its front-loaded weight from your face to the rest of your head. The padding around the lenses is thicker and didn’t leave visible marks on my face after I took the Vive Pro off. And you can now adjust the distance of the lenses from your face by pulling out and pushing in the front of the headset.
Twist the dial on the back to adjust the headset. Also notice how there’s only a single cable coming out of the headset.Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLEAnother nice change: the cable. Whereas the Vive has three cables coming out of the top of the headset, the Vive Pro has just one and it snakes neatly around the left side towards the back. HTC’s also going to release a wireless adapter that eliminates this single cord, but I didn’t get to try it.
If you already own a Vive and just need to hook up the Vive Pro to your existing computer and Lighthouse base stations and controllers, setting the headset up should be a breeze. You basically just unplug your old headset and connect the new one (note: the Vive Pro connects with DisplayPort whereas the Vive connects through HDMI).
However, if it’s your first time setting up a Vive headset, you might find yourself running into potential issues like I did even though it’s mostly a plug-and-play affair. I had to jump through a bunch of hoops before I successfully configured the Vive Pro on both a Dell Alienware gaming tower and an Acer Predator Triton 700 gaming laptop.
You’ll need a pretty powerful gaming PC or laptop like this Acer Predator Triton 700 with Nvidia GTX 1080 graphics chip.Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLEWhile setting up, some issues I ran into included corrupt Steam VR installation and errors, USB port connection problems, outdated graphic card drivers, and Windows 10 updates. I almost gave up after several hours, but after updating everything, doing clean installs for Steam, Steam VR, and VivePort, everything finally worked.
It’s possible you won’t have any problems at all, but just keep in mind you might have to spend some time Googling fixes because your computer keeps saying the headset’s not plugged in even when it is.
Putting the reality in virtual reality
The Vive Pro makes everything in VR look sharper.Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLEAside from the improved fit and finish, the headset delivers sharper visuals courtesy of the OLED display with higher 2,880 x 1,600 resolution (1,440 x 1,600 per eye). That’s a 78 percent jump up in resolution compared to the Vive, which has 2,160 x 1,200 resolution (1,080 x 1,200 per eye) and I could definitely see the difference between the two.
Everything in VR looks less pixelated and text is crisper and easier to read. The Vive Pro hasn’t quite eliminated the screen door effect, the visible and distractive spacing between the pixels that resemble a screen door, but we’re getting closer. It’s only a matter of time before 4K or even 11K screens with ridiculously high pixel densities make their way to high-end VR headsets and this shortcoming is a thing of the past.
I wish the field of view was wider (it’s still 110 degrees like the Vive and Oculus Rift) and the refresh rate was faster (it’s also still 90Hz like the Vive and Rift). Though I didn’t notice any serious performance issues on my Acer gaming laptop equipped with an Nvidia GTX 1080 graphics chip, you’ll likely notice dropped framerates and jankiness on a PC with a weaker GPU. The Alienware, which has an Nvidia GTX 980 (below the minimum Vive Pro recommended GPU specs), could barely handle the Vive Pro.
The controllers only come with the $1,100 bundle.Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLEA faster refresh rate would have made some VR games and experiences smoother. For example, The Elders Scrolls V: Skyrim VR and Fallout 4 made me feel a little nauseous. That said, the majority of VR experiences I tested didn’t make me feel sick at all. I played fast-paced action games like the Wild West shooter Guns ‘n’ Stories and music rhythm game Audioshield for over 45 minutes each could have continued for longer if I really wanted to.
One thing I like about the Vive Pro headset is its breathability. My eyes usually dry up after about 30 minutes in the Oculus Rift or original Vive, but they didn’t in the Vive Pro. It’s gonna be different for everyone, though. I’m not promising you won’t sweat any less if you’re the type to fill buckets.
It’s impossible for me to convey the sharper visuals in words or photos. To really appreciate the visual boost you need to try it for yourself. It’s similar to listening to music through a cheap speaker versus nicer ones — it’s hard to go back to anything of lesser quality after you’ve tried the good stuff.
The built-in headphones flip right out.Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLEAnother good feature HTC included on the Vive Pro: built-in headphones. On the regular Vive, you have to plug in your own headphones. I like that they’re now incorporated into the headset, though sound quality isn’t the best. The headphones are on-ear style so there’s some audio leakage if you have the volume up.
For hardcore VR fans only.Image: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLETwo years after the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive launched, high-end VR is still mostly an enthusiast’s world.
The Vive Pro is a kick-ass consumer VR headset if you want the absolute best the tech has to offer and don’t mind paying a premium for either the headset or the starter kit.
My hope was for high-end VR headsets to continue to output better visuals and sound, and come with more advanced and accurate tracking, while dropping in price with every new generation. But it looks like we’ll have to keep waiting longer.
As it stands, the Vive Pro is too expensive to recommend for anyone but VR evangelists. If you’re just starting out with VR and want something that runs the best VR experiences, you still can’t go wrong with the regular Vive ($500) or the Oculus Rift ($400), both of which include the necessary sensors and hand controllers.