In 2016, HTC and Oculus VR released their virtual reality headsets, driving innovation in the medium not seen since the 90’s. In the past couple years, VR has taken off like a rocket with HTC being what I believe the frontrunner in the VR headset market — at least, based on the hardware and performance.
With the original HTC Vive’s two-year anniversary coming up and its updated model — the HTC Vive Pro’s — launch slowly creeping onto our calendars, I was fortunate enough to get my hands on the upcoming model. That being said, after spending some intimate time with the latest head mount display, I can wholeheartedly say that the HTC has solidified its place in the market as the top dog of VR hardware and the HTC Vive Pro is the most potent headset available to date.
At first glance, the most notable feature, which separates the original HTC Vive from the HTC Vive Pro is the color scheme. Unlike the original’s all-black design, the Vive Pro is sporting a deep blue color. Now, I own an original HTC Vive, so when I unboxed the HTC Vive Pro one of the first things I did was compare both models. Although both models are the same size, the HTC Vive Pro is significantly lighter to the original model and arguably lighter than Sony’s PlayStation VR headset.
Circling back to other differences between the original model and the HTC Vive Pro is the new head strap, which was heavily influenced by the Vive’s Deluxe Audio accessory released last year by the manufacturer. Visually, the head strap can look intimidating to some, but it is incredibly simplistic (in a positive way). It allows gamers to place the headset on their face, rest the back strap against their head and adjust accordingly, while the other band (to moderate the precise fitting) is located on the top instead of on the sides like the original Vive.
I love my HTC Vive, but one of the most significant issues I had was the head strap system (which featured three separate straps located on various parts of the headset) on the first model, essentially making the process of adjusting the HMD nearly a two-man job. Thankfully, HTC learned from its mistakes to ensure a smoother experience for the consumers.
Putting the headset on for the first time was vastly different from the original, primarily because it felt more secure than the original. Thanks to its lighter weight design, I also did not feel like the front of my head was being weighed down.
Another prominent feature consumers will quickly notice is the built-in headphones. When I first saw this feature back in January, I was a bit skeptical. To me, the integrated headphones looked cheap in design — fundamentally a bare minimum accessory onto the headset. However, I am glad that I was wrong about my first impressions because the headphones themselves are incredibly comfortable. Not to mention there is room to adjust the headphones so that it can accommodate any head size.
Now, I know what you are probably thinking: the headphones are probably overstuffing the HTC Vive Pro. However, that is just not true. In fact, while I can concur that the design looks overstuffed, the headphones are still the best choice for audio and more convenient for gamers (unlike the earbuds). The original Vive had enough wires, so the need to plug in earbuds was another obstacle in your path.
That being said, I would expect in the future that all updated virtual reality models, regardless of manufacturer, will add built-in headphones to their headsets. Not only is it convenient for the consumer, but it is also a natural feature that should have been added from the start.
Speaking of cushioning, the faceplate on the Vive Pro surprisingly offers more cushioning around it; although sweating while gaming is inevitable, the additional comfort on the front and back of my head made long VR gaming sessions less cramped in the long run. While cleaning the headset is a less-frustrating process as well, the padding is replaceable and easier to maintain compared to the original model. Although this might seem insignificant to some, techies such as myself appreciate this feature as it makes managing our gear much more manageable.
Now its time for the technical features, which are the most impressive thing in my opinion. The Vive Pro’s OLED displays run as a consistent 1,440 x 1,600 pixels per eye; a 78% increase from the original Vive. Sadly, while the new resolution is impressive, the field of view is still 110-degrees. Of course, this is no surprise considering all high-end headsets use it, but weighing all the other ambitious risks, HTC took it would have been nice to see a change in the field of view.
When used in gameplay, the HTC Vive Pro makes every look so much better than other VR headsets on the market. From racing on the whacky race tracks in Sprint Vector to fending off the inhabitants of hell in DOOM VFR to exploring the Bostonian wasteland in Fallout 4 VR, I was able to immerse myself in a new way entirely then I could have ever imagined. While it certainly helps that my rig is mighty, the sizeable graphical update is not only a technical achievement on its own, but it pushes the envelope and redefines the term “immersion.” While the new graphics will leave you awestruck, its technical specs are still not enough to justify its current purchase price, especially when you consider what the package contains.
Currently, the HTC Vive Pro is being sold as a standalone product, meaning the HTC sensors as well as its controllers, are sold separately — effectively bringing up the cost to just over $1,100. This can be a significant setback in sales at the start for two reasons; the first being that it alienates customers who do not already own an HTC Vive and also makes this extremely inconvenient to current Vive owners who will be unable to sell their old Vive should they choose to upgrade. HTC is offering all the essential accessories for $299, but considering the HTC Vive Pro’s launch price is already pretty hefty, this will undoubtedly discourage newcomers into buying the HTC Vive Pro at launch.
When we compare the HTC Vive Pro to other competitors such as the Oculus Rift, which is just $399 and comes with better controllers, and the Windows Mixed Reality headsets which do not require sensors, the Vive Pro is up against some good competition. Especially when you can grab PS VR (with all the pack-ins) for a third of the price.
Additionally, depending on what type of PC parts you have in your rig, you might not be able to see the HTC Vive Pro at its full potential. The minimum system requirements for the HTC Vive Pro includes at least an Intel Core i5-4590 processor, and at least an NVIDIA GTX 1060 or an AMD Radeon RX 480 as your minimum graphics card. Not to mention HTC has stated that faster hardware is essential to taking full advantage of what the Vive Pro has to offer. While this is not surprising, especially considering that most people with PC VR headsets have at least a basic knowledge on PC parts, those looking to get this but lack the proper PC equipment need to take these things into account if they are interested in the HTC Vive Pro.
If you follow my work carefully, you’ll know that I own both a gaming laptop as well as a desktop. My laptop and desktop are powered by a 7th Gen Intel Core i7 processor, while my laptop features an NVIDIA 1070, and my desktop includes a 1080Ti. While both computers ran the HTC Vive Pro smooth like butter, the desktop’s performance on the HTC Vive Pro was (predictably) much better than the laptop. That isn’t to say my laptop experienced hiccups, but it is to be expected to see a faster performance from the desktop when you factor the video card is better.
Since DualShockers did not review the original HTC Vive when it first launched, I want to touch on the controllers a bit: the original Vive controllers feel outdated with the HTC Vive Pro. Now, I own both an HTC Vive and a PlayStation VR, and the Vive controllers are leagues ahead of the PS Move controllers regarding quality. However, I have had my fair share of awkward moments with the Vive controllers, especially when compared to Oculus’ Touch Controllers.
HTC may be the best of the best in head mount displays right now, but Oculus clearly has the better controllers. Now, Valve has its own updated VR controllers coming for SteamVR later this year, but the fact that HTC has yet to make an update to the controllers after two years is slightly disappointing.
Is the HTC Vive Pro terrible? Well, of course, it isn’t — the new features added to the HTC Vive Pro ups the ante on what we should expect from this particular side of the gaming industry concerning performance and visuals. While I cannot deny that it is an essential piece of hardware released this year, I cannot help but feel that HTC made one step forward, but two steps back when it came to executing the HTC Vive Pro.
The HTC Vive Pro’s significant performance update is a plus, and it’s overall more comfortable than its predecessor. However, the $799 price tag with no sensors or controllers is a major turnoff for many outside of extreme VR enthusiasts. At its current state, I can only recommend this headset to those who currently own an HTC Vive and have a high-end PC capable of flaunting the HTC Vive Pro’s power. However, if you are looking to enter the VR scene, I would suggest either waiting for the HTC Vive Pro for a bit until the packaging is retooled or, if you cannot wait, then research other VR options.
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