The absolute best VR experience today, with great industry support.
The HTC VIVE Pro has landed and brings significant improvements in key areas such as display resolution and general ergonomic improvements, two hot items in the wish list of any VR enthusiast. In this review, we will go over the new features, and assess their quality, and value, for different user profiles. Is the HTC VIVE Pro right for you? Read this before getting one.
The industrial design of the HTC VIVE Pro has much improved since the first HTC Vivecame out a couple of years ago. The most visible (superficial) difference is the Blue color of the Pro, versus the black tint of the VIVE.
The second most visible change is how the earphones are integrated, along with a new strapping system. Previously, most VR headsets used a few velcro straps as a retaining mechanism. They were “OK”, but not the best in hindsight, because the material was too elastic and kept things a bit too loose, leading to a “front-heavy” feel. The HTC VIVE Pro weighs 1.22Lbs and most comparable headsets over within spitting distance.
Very comfortable, not front-loaded
The new design is much more comfortable because it has three different surface areas all designed to provide upwards support. People can carry very heavy loads on their heads if the weight is going directly downwards, because the spine can support the counter-action. The same ergonomic principle is at play here, and the HTC VIVE Pro feels much more comfortable because of this design tweak.
The industry understands this, and recent VR Headsets have evolved with better, more comfortable, retention systems with a dial at the back. The horizontal strap is tweakable, but not elastic at all and this is the real game-changer in VR headset design. At the top there is an adjustable velcro strap, which is elastic.
The HTC VIVE Pro has enough space for many types of glasses, if you wear some. Your luck may vary, and I don’t wear glasses, but for the sake of this review, I tried the headset with the RAY-BAN
RB3530 sunglasses, which are quite large — they fit within that space.
The headset is still made of a very strong, high-quality plastic and everywhere you skin your skin touches the headset, there is a thick padding (~16mm) to maximize the comfort. It also allows for things to get pretty tight, without feeling too tight.
Once the headset is firmly on your head, you can adjust the Pupillary Distance, using the small knob on the lower-right side of the headset. This will move the lenses to match the horizontal distance between your two eyes. This way, the lenses are placed properly, and the 3D rendering can better match your eyes.
The HTC VIVE Pro also has minimum light leakage, which means that outside light does not come into the headset, thus watering down colors and black levels. How much leakage will depend on your head shape, btu the thick padding and nose cover do an excellent job of blocking light, and I felt that a couple millimeters more padding would have yielded a light-sealed headset.
Integrated Headphones are highly convenient
The integrated headphones are extremely convenient, and remove a lot of friction when dealing with VR and audio. If you prefer using your own headphones, you can remove them, but The fact that you can just push away the headphones when you need to hear what’s going on is super convenient. Also, it is one less wire dangling around when you are trying to set up.
The headphones don’t look super-fancy, but they are quite powerful and get the job done very well. I played with a 30% volume, because it was getting a bit too loud beyond that (for me). They don’t really apply pressure to the ears, and you would probably won’t really feel them as you play.
Can you get better headphones? Sure you can, but these are very decent and the level of convenience is just too high to ignore. People should be able to use VR within a minute or two, and many details contribute greatly to reduce friction in the user experience. For professionals who put the headset on and off many times per hour, it’s ideal.
In my view, the high-resolution display is a fundamental asset of the VIVE Pro and of VR in general. We are still at a point where VR users can see a screen door effect, which is due to the fact that lenses magnify the pixel size of the screen so much that we can see the sub-pixel structure. This screen door effect negatively affects the immersive experience, which is the end-game for VR.
HTC VIVE Pro has 1440×1600 pixels per eye, or 2880×1600 total pixels (4.608M pixels). Previously, both the HTC VIVE and the Oculus Rift had 1080×1200 per eye, or 2160×1200 total (2.592M pixels). That is an astonishing ~78% increase in the number of pixels in the HTC VIVE Pro, and obviously, it shows.
"THE EXTRA RESOLUTION IS IMMEDIATELY NOTICEABLE"
Upon launching the VR apps, the extra resolution is immediately noticeable, and the quality of the immersion jumps instantly, with more defined textures, more legible text and a reduced screen door effect. It will probably take many more years for this effect to go away, but this will be a slow evolution.
The lenses and display still offer a 110 degrees field of view (FOV), which is mostly the standard today. It would have been nice to go wider, but it tends to require larger (or multiple) screens and headsets, so HTC didn’t go for this at the moment. Perhaps flexible spherical OLED displays will solve this at some point, but not today.
There are two OLED displays inside. As you might know, OLED displays have a very fast refresh rates, along with excellent black levels and color saturation. Within this size and pixel density, OLED is absolutely the best option for VR applications, and users are getting the best the market has to offer right now.
Note that the Samsung Odyssey Windows Mixed Reality Headset also has the exact same Resolution (because the OLED panels come from the same place… ?), so it could be a viable alternative if resolution is what matters most to you.
Setup: just follow the guide
The HTC VIVE setup program has evolve over time and the latest version is eve easier than the original one we tested. I spend most of the time unpacking and setting up the motion trackers (~20mn to do that?). Depending on your VR room layout, you may or may not have a difficult time to find a proper location.
Mounting the trackers on the wall or ceiling would provide a better coverage, but I did not want to have a permanent installation, so I went for high tripods with the trackers attached on top of them. Shelves or furniture are common locations as well.
The headset, USB and DisplayPort connections just take seconds, and everything was detected the first time. It was really plug and play. Previously, there were times when the headset would not be found right away, but the VIVE Pro setup was flawless and very easy. Just follow the on-screen directions, and you should be up and running 15mn after setting up the tackers.
The HTC VIVE Pro has the same minimum specs as the original HTC VIVE, that’s an Intel Core i5-4590 CPU and a GTX 1060 GPU or Radeon 480 graphics card. These are relatively old specifications that even gaming laptops can match without sweating too much.
For some applications, it will work nicely because many VR apps are about discovery, or use simply cartoon-like graphics that aren’t too power-hungry. Even these will benefit from the boost in resolution, and other things that VIVE Pro brings to the table.
However, for hardcore games that are rendering-intensive, you should really opt for a more modern setup with a 1080 GTX graphics card and a more recent Intel or AMD processor.
Value and user profiles
The value of the product largely depends on your user profile, which is a combination of how you are using something, if it’s for work (or not) and how much money you have. The two targets for this products are professionals and enthusiasts who are willing to spend to get “the best”.
Professionals and Creatives
Since it’s named HTC VIVE Pro, it makes total sense that it has many features designed for pros. What does it mean? Developers and content creators will love this headset because of two primary reasons.
First, they can obtain the absolute best VR image quality at this price range, and with a hardware platform (HTC VIVE) that is a de-facto standard. Secondly, VIVE Pro is extremely convenient and easy to put on and remove, many, many, many times a day. That is what developers do, and it can be very frustrating to deal with the straps — it depends on your workflow.
And given how much developers cost, I don’t think that a few hundreds dollars more will matter if there is any comfort or productivity gain, it’s just a no brainer. Finally, since most developers were already on HTC Vive, they can just upgrade the headset and leave the motion sensors and controllers as-is since they are essentially the same.
The same is true for any business-related installation, whether it is museums, art schools, architecture studio, etc…
VR Gaming Enthusiasts
At ~$1100 for the “Pro” complete set (headset [$799] + controllers + trackers) a first jump into VR is costly, much more so than the $580 it would take to get the original VIVE complete set to get the experience we described in our original HTC VIVE Review.
How much should one pay 100% more money for 78% more pixels and a vastly improved ergonomy? Only you can tell, but if money is not an issue, go for it, you will love the experience.
If you are building a new VR gaming rig as well, maybe you should consider whether or not it is worth balancing your CPU/SSD/Chassis budget into VR. Many people overspend on CPU and it is easy to save hundreds dollars that can go towards VR equipment.
Another way to look at it is: does it look twice as good? Well, not exactly. It “perceptively” looks 30-35% better to me, and the ergonomics are 40-45% better than the original VIVE. This leave a premium to pay for getting the best, but that is hardly surprising.
The HTC VIVE Pro turns out to be everything it should be. Today, it provides the overall best VR user experience you can find, which is why it is a no-brainer buy for Professionals.
For non-professionals, it is less obvious since the VIVE Pro has not been designed to provide the “best value”. Depending on your budget, the $399 Oculus Rift and many Windows Mixed Reality headsets provide options with a better “bang for your buck”. You also have to figure out if you want a seated VR experience or a full motion experience as well. In any case, if you are willing to compromise the VR experience, you can get a much better deal, that is certain.
Since various headsets have access to the same Steam VR Library, it is easy to get the same apps on different VR platforms. The market is really becoming competitive.
The good news is that VR is now getting into all sorts of price segments. The HTC VIVE Pro sits comfortably at the top, and as we review more headsets, we will be able to guide you, no matter your usage model.