HTC kicked off its Vivecon 2021 virtual event with a big announcement. During the opening keynote today, the company revealed a pair of near-5K resolution VR headsets, the HTC Vive Pro 2, which connects to a PC, and a standalone product called the HTC Vive Focus 3. HTC said these upcoming devices are primarily for businesses, but the specs and features, including a data compression technique not yet seen among the best VR headsets, will also interest gamers with a penchant for a high-end headset upgrade.
HTC Vive Pro 2
HTC new PC VR headset, the Vive Pro 2 is, more of an evolutionary change than a revolutionary change from the original HTC Vive Pro. HTC poured its attention into improving the visual experience you get from the new headset rather than redesigning the entire structure of the product.
The HMD maker worked with AMD and Nvidia to implement Display Stream Compression (DSC) on the Vive Pro 2 – a first for a VR headset – enabling lossless transmission of high-resolution data. The Vive Pro 2 includes dual fast-switching RGB subpixel displays, giving the headset a total resolution of 4898 x 2448. These displays also operate at a speeder 120 Hz refresh rate to reduce motion blur. Faster refresh rates also improve user comfort, as we learned with Valve's Index.
DSC, which is standardized by VESA, helps the high-bandwidth display signal stay within the constraints of DisplayPort 1.2. It even allows HTC's Vive Wireless Adapter accessory to carry the Vive Pro 2's high-bandwidth signal, which upon release will make it the highest resolution wireless PC VR solution.
The Vive Pro 2 shares the same shape and design as the original Vive Pro, including a rigid, mechanical headstrap and built-in adjustable headphones. This time, however, the headphones feature 3D spatial audio and Hi-res-certified speakers. The new headset also retains compatibility with all SteamVR and Vive Pro accessories, such as the Vive Trackers, Vive Facial Tracker and Valve Index controllers. The screens and the lenses are the significant changes.
HTC said you would need an Nvidia GeForce RTX graphics card or an AMD Radeon 5000-series or better to get the full potential out of the Vive Pro 2. However, you can set the screens to run at 90 Hz if necessary, which should allow you to use the new headset on lower-end graphics cards while you wait out the GPU shortage.
Beyond increasing the resolution and refresh rate, HTC also expanded the field of view (FOV) by a slight margin compared to the original Vive Pro from 110 degrees to 120 degrees. The improvement closes the FOV gap between the Vive Pro and the Valve Index (adjustable up to 130 degrees), but it's still a far cry from ultrawide Pimax headsets.
HTC developed new dual-element lenses to achieve the FOV improvements within the existing Vive Pro form factor by enabling the displays to sit closer to the lenses and retain focus.
HTC is approaching the market with the Vive Pro 2 the same way it did with the original Vive Pro headset. The headset will initially hit the market as an upgrade kit for people with an existing SteamVR-based VR system. It works with both the 1.0 and 2.0 versions of Valve's base stations.
The headset alone will sell for $749 (£659 / €739), with pre-orders open today and hardware shipping before the end of the month. A complete Vive Pro 2 kit, with base stations and controllers, will be available on June 4 for $1,399 (£1,299 / €1,399).
HTC Vive Focus 3: A Standalone Vive
The Vive Pro 2 is HTC's top PC VR offering, but that's not the only incoming Vive headset. The Vive Focus 3, which doesn’t require tethering to a system, shares a handful of the new features introduced on the Vive Pro 2.
HTC's new standalone includes the same dual-element lenses found in the Vive Pro 2, giving it the same 120-degree FOV as the PC VR headset. The Vive Focus 3 also has dual 2448 x 2448 RGB panels, but they’re limited to 90Hz. HTC’s new headset also features adjustable IPD (interpupillary distance, the amount of space between your pupils), with a granular range of 57-72mm.
Unlike the Vive Pro 2, which borrows its exterior design from its predecessor, the Vive Focus 3 features an entirely new industrial design. HTC reduced the weight by 20% compared by building it from magnesium alloy instead of plastic. HTC said the metal housing is also 500% stronger than plastic.
To help balance the weight evenly, HTC installed the battery pack under the rear cushion of the headstrap. The battery gives the headset roughly 2 hours of run time, with a charge time of approximately 30 minutes. The battery is also removable, so you can always keep a spare ready to go. The headset doesn't have a backup power source, so you can't hot-swap the batteries while it’s running.
The Vive Focus 3 has a pair of speakers embedded in the rigid head strap, plus a headphone jack so that you can use your favorite headphones with it. Four onboard cameras embedded in the front of the visor handle inside-out tracking and provide tracking for the two wand controllers that ship with the headset.
In this era of working in a pandemic, no one wants to share something like a VR headset. That's why HTC looked to make the Vive Focus 3 simple to keep hygienic. The front and rear cushions are easy to remove for cleaning, thanks to a magnetic mounting mechanism.
A Qualcomm Snapdragon XR2 SoC does all the heavy lifting to power the Vive Focus 3. HTC installed a copper heatpipe and an active cooling fan to extract the most performance possible out of the XR2 platform. By contrast, Facebook throttled the XR2 in the Oculus Quest 2 standalone headset to keep it within certain temperature constraints.
Not Really for Gamers
On paper, the Vive Focus 3 looks like a worthy competitor to the Oculus Quest 2. Unfortunately, it's not priced for consumers and doesn't include a game library to back it up. However, HTC said the new headset will support streaming PC VR content wirelessly over WiF, so maybe we'll see support for PC VR gaming.
The Vive Focus 3 will be available on June 27. Buying one will set you back $1,300 (£1,060 / / €1,180). For this price, you get the headset with controllers and a business warranty.
A Business Ecosystem
HTC is offering more than just a pair of new VR headsets. The company has put together an entire ecosystem for using VR in business announced today. Vive Business provides a handful of business-focused VR solutions, such as the Vive Business Device Management System, which gives IT departments the tools necessary for keeping track of a fleet of devices.
The Vive Business platform also includes an Android-based progress monitoring system for instructors called Vive Business Training and a VR meeting place called Vive Sync.
Meanwhile, the Vive Business AppStore offers a curated collection of off-the-shelf business-related VR software for the Focus 3 headset. HTC said it would launch with roughly 20 titles, with more content in development from various ISV partners.
With all of these tools, HTC hopes to accelerate the adoption of VR in the workplace. The company believes that as more people encounter VR for the first time at work, it will drive more adoption in the home. So don’t think we’ve seen the last gaming-centric Vive headset quite yet.