In our time with the HTC Vive Pro – the powerful VR headset from HTC that offers a marginal upgrade in terms of visual fidelity to the original HTC Vive – we couldn’t help but draw some parallels to Microsoft’s Xbox One X.
Putting the PC vs console argument to the side for a moment, if you think about it long enough, the similarities between the two bits of hardware become apparent.
Both offer new-and-improved experiences over existing hardware: enhanced visuals and more pixels pushed to the screen. However, despite some upscaling capabilities, neither the Xbox One X nor the HTC Vive Pro bring with them completely new or separate libraries of games, or use new peripherals (a boon for those of us who have heavily invested in our game libraries).
They both offer the most powerful hardware in their respective categories, and they're both significantly more expensive than the standard hardware editions on their respective platforms.
For the HTC Vive Pro, you’re talking about $800, £800 or around AU$1,045 – and that’s just for the headset itself, with no base station sensors or controllers. If you don’t own them already, you’ll have to buy them as part of a SteamVR 1.0 tracking bundle for $299 (around £200/AU$400).
Tack on the price of the recommended GPUs – either the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070/Quadro P500 or AMD Radeon Vega 56 graphics cards – and you could easily be looking at two grand to have the latest and greatest in VR. That's a lot of money on a platform that's still in its infancy.
But, don’t get us wrong, the HTC Vive Pro is indeed the latest and greatest. When it’s firing on all cylinders on high-end PC hardware, the HTC Vive Pro offers the most beautiful, visually rich games we’ve yet to see in virtual reality.
If you’re lucky enough to have both the HTC Vive and HTC Vive Pro in the same room like we were while writing this review, it can be difficult to go back to the lower-resolution display once you’ve had a taste of what the Pro can do.
And yet, despite being objectively a better headset than the original HTC Vive (which has been the best VR headset in our opinion for the last two years), that sticker price keeps nagging: Sure, the HTC Vive Pro is good, but does it warrant its astronomically high price tag? Unless you’re a diehard, financially well-off VR enthusiast or an owner of a burgeoning VR arcade, the answer is probably no. It doesn’t.
But it’s still one of the best damn VR headsets we’ve ever tested.
HTC Vive Pro: release date and price
The HTC Vive Pro became available on its own – without Lighthouse sensors and controllers – on April 5, 2018. A complete package has been promised for later this year, with pricing to be announced, but we're still waiting for it.
If April 5 rings a bell, by the way, that’s because the original HTC Vive launched on April 5, 2016. On its own, the HTC Vive Pro costs $799 or £799 (around AU$1,045).
HTC Vive Pro: design
While HTC and other VR evangelists will likely focus their attention on the Pro’s uptick in visual fidelity – a native resolution of 2880 x 1600 (615 dpi) versus 2160 x 1200 on the original Vive – the Vive Pro has a number of design changes that are just as valuable as the Dual AMOLED display.
First off, the HTC Vive Pro now comes with built-in headphones that sit directly on top of your ears. They’re adjustable in height, and include volume controls which means you’ll no longer have to take off the headset to re-adjust the volume between game sessions.
There’s also the new harness that holds the headset more firmly than the velcro straps did on the original HTC Vive. The harness keeps the headset from moving during particularly intense moments in games like DOOM VFR or Arizona Sunshine, and wards off the infamous head strain that could occur after wearing the original HTC Vive for an extended period of time.
Spin the headset around to the back and you’ll find the new turn knob – a carry-over from the Vive Deluxe Audio Strap that HTC released last year. You can use it to tighten up the headset for a better fit, or loosen it to take the headset off without undoing the top strap.
There’s also the new and improved cable that slims the triple-wire cord on the original Vive to a manageable single wire. If you don't want to shell out for the new $299 / £299 wireless adapter, it's perfectly fine.
In the headset itself, you’ll find new rubber nose guards that prevent light from filtering in the crack between your nose and the headset, while a more durable, plushy foam pad cushions your face for more comfortable extended play sessions.
On the front of the headset you’ll now find a second front-facing camera which will offer improved tracking for developers looking to make AR experiences.
If there’s any downside to the HTC Vive Pro’s design it’s that the headset uses the same peripherals as the original HTC Vive, and that means no new controllers or base stations.
In some ways, this is a potential cost-savings strategy for HTC and a boon for those of us who’ve already invested in the original Vive, as we can just carry over the hardware from the original headset.
That said, at the same time using the HTC Vive Pro with the first-gen trackers and controllers can make the headset seem like a half-step upgrade rather than a fully-featured step-up from the original Vive. It’s a minor issue, obviously, and one that HTC will likely remedy sooner rather than later.