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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

HTC Vive Pro Review: Hands-on

HTC Vive Pro Review: Hands-on
HTC claims that the new Vive Pro headset is “elevated in every way” - offering a higher resolution display, redesigned headstrap, integrated audio, and optional wireless support.

The original Vive was already the best VR headset on the market - and the most expensive - so the Pro has a high bar to clear. We went hands-on with it at CES 2018 to find out how it stacks up and see if this really is the best VR has ever been.

Following the announcement of the high-end VR headset, HTC announced in March that the HTC Vive Pro will set consumers back £799/$799 and that it'd be released worldwide on 5 April 2018. Those in the UK that want to pre-order the headset can do so right now from OverClockers UK, although there's extremely limited stock.

There’s good news for early adopters though, as HTC has confirmed that in addition to the main Vive Pro bundle, it will sell the headset on its own for a lower price for people who just want to upgrade their existing Vive set up.

The company will also release a wireless adapter so that owners of the original Vive and Vive Pro can clear away their cables - but again, we don’t yet know when that will come out, or how much it will cost. There is already a third-party wireless adapter for the Vive from TPCast, but this will be the first manufactured by HTC itself.

The first thing you notice about the Vive Pro is the colourful new design, which brings a bright blue sheen to the headset and headphones, while leaving the strap in black.

We can’t say we love the new colouring, but it’s encouraging at least that HTC is willing to play around with the design. Still, boring as it may be, we wouldn’t mind seeing an all-black version of the Pro go on sale too.

The redesign is more than just aesthetic though. HTC says it’s completely reworked the ergonomics of the headstrap to reduce neck strain and block out more light, with the aim of making the Vive both more comfortable and more immersive.

The result is that the Vive Pro is significantly more comfortable than the original headset. The weight is more evenly distributed across your head, which makes the whole headset feel substantially lighter.
Any change that makes VR headsets more comfortable - and thus making easier to forget you’re even wearing one - is welcome, and we suspect that for heavy VR users this will be a more important upgrade than the resolution bump.

Beyond that, the headset now boasts built-in headphones, two front-facing cameras, and dual microphones.

The headline upgrade here is to the display, which offers 1440 x 1600 pixels per eye (for 2880 x 1600 overall), a sizeable step up from the 1080 x 1200 pixels per eye (2160 x 1200 pixels combined) of the original Vive. In total it's a 78 percent increase in pixels, which is not to be sniffed at.

The difference isn’t quite revelatory, but it is noticeable when switching from one headset to the other, and when reading any text, which has always been a little fuzzy in VR up to now. It won’t transform your VR experience, but at the same time we’re never likely to complain about a screen packing more pixels.

Beyond that, the Vive Pro includes built-in headphones and support for 3D audio. The design and set up will be pretty familiar to anyone the Vive Deluxe Audio Strap, but now it’s built right into the headset.
Tracking will also see an improvement, as the Vive Pro will support Valve’s newly announced SteamVR Tracking 2.0, which includes support for up to four base stations (up from two) and with it support for much larger tracking areas. The new max is 10x10m (so 100m2), which is comfortably larger than any room in any of our homes, so should be more than enough for you too.

The wand controllers will apparently be getting a slight update to make the most of the new tracking (though we didn't get to test those), but it's worth noting that the Vive Pro isn't coming with the long-awaited Valve knuckle controllers.

The Viveport store is also getting an update, allowing you to browse the Vive app and game library entirely within VR, and jump directly into brief demos of many apps before you commit to buying them. That update should hit regular Vives long before the Vive Pro arrives in stores though.

Wireless Adapter
The other major change - and arguably the more exciting one - is the introduction of wireless support through the new Vive Wireless Adapter. Most VR headsets boast an infuriating clutter of cables, which not only look messy, but also tether you to the spot and offer a major trip hazard - not ideal for the room-scale VR that Vive is pushing.

It’s not totally cable-free - you still have a wire running down from the headset to the battery pack, which you can keep in a pocket. But it does save you from cables around your feet, leaving you with one less thing to worry about - making immersion into the VR world easier than ever.

HTC won’t comment yet on the battery life you can expect from the Wireless Adapter, as it may change before launch. Luckily it’s easy to swap batteries in and out, so you can always pick up a spare and keep one charging while you play.

It’s also worth noting that the Vive Pro doesn’t come with the Wireless Adapter as standard, so you’ll have to buy it separately. As we said above, it works with original Vive headset too.

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