HTC Vive Pro Headset Review: A High Bar for Premium VR

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More Than a Resolution Upgrade

The most prominent update to the Vive Pro headset is the new display resolution. The original Vive rocks two 2.5-inch 1,080x1,200 AMOLED Samsung displays (total resolution: 2,160x1,200), which gets the job done but is far from perfect. The original Vive screens suffer from a fairly prominent screen -door effect, and the panels are somewhat dim. The Vive Pro features much better displays. Inside the visor, HTC installed two 3.5” QHD (1,440x1,600) AMOLED panels (also sourced from Samsung). The new headset’s 2,880x1,600 resolution is a vast improvement over the old Vive, and the new panels offer vivid, much brighter color reproduction.

Sadly, the visual experience is somewhat marred by HTC’s continued use of the Fresnel lenses that it developed for the original Vive. The lenses feature prominent stepping, which you can see with the naked eye from a distance. These concentric stepping lines refract light at certain angles, which results in a phenomenon called "God rays"; they appear when you’re looking at bright features. The rays are most prominent in menus with dark backgrounds and white text. These artifacts aren’t as bad with the Vive Pro—perhaps because the image is less aliased—but they are still visible.

The screen door effect (SDE) is much less visible with the new displays, though. If we look hard for it, we can see the gaps between the sub-pixel array, but even when we looked for it, the SDE in the Vive Pro didn’t distract us. We always found that the SDE of first-generation headsets would fade away into the background when our minds were distracted by compelling content. Now, the content doesn’t need to be compelling to make these image imperfections fade away. The SDE is so subtle with the Vive Pro that we were usually not conscious of it.

The Vive Pro’s display panels aren’t new to us. Samsung’s Odyssey Windows Mixed Reality headset, which we reviewed in March, features the same panels for about $500 (including all the requisite controllers and other hardware). This is one of the reasons that people are upset about the Vive Pro’s price tag. However, once you get your hands on both devices side by side, it becomes quite clear why HTC’s headset carries a much bigger price.

Easier to Put On

The new head strap isn’t just more comfortable to wear; it’s significantly easier to put on correctly. Fitment is one of the biggest problems with the original HTC Vive. The problem isn’t the head strap per se, but more so the way people use it. HTC had a terrible time communicating the correct way to put the original Vive HMD on, which resulted in poor fitment and poor image quality. The Fresnel lenses in the Vive have a small sweet spot, and if you don’t line your eyes up correctly with the lenses, the visual experience is marred significantly. Also, if you don’t put the strap on correctly, it throws off the balance and makes the headset feel heavier than it should.

The Vive Pro’s head strap, in comparison, makes it difficult to put the headset on wrong. The shape of the cushions and head band here encourage you to push the back of the head band low on the back of your head to balance the device, which in turn informs the proper forward alignment of the HMD. We found the simplest way to put the Vive Pro on is to lift the rear of the strap and place the headset against your face, then pull the strap down over your head. The Vive Pro’s visor does not flip up while it’s on your head; its function is to simplify correct fitting of the headset.

The Vive Pro also features an improved relief system to accommodate the wearing of eyeglasses. The relief adjustment on the original Vive required you turn two dials evenly, which was somewhat awkward and not conducive to regular adjustments. The new headset features a button that unlocks that relief slider for manual adjustment. It works just like the relief system on Sony’s PlayStation VR visor. The Vive Pro’s visor is also slightly larger than the original Vive's, which better accommodates wider glasses.

Cushions Everywhere

The Vive Pro also features a whole lot more padding than we’re used to seeing on VR headsets. But we are more than a little bit disappointed that HTC didn’t revise its material choice here.

HTC advertises the Vive Pro as a solution for enterprise users and demanding VR enthusiasts. In other words, the company expects people to use the Vive Pro for extended periods and likely share it with others. Unfortunately, the face cushion is made of the same soft-touch foam material as the original Vive, which soaks up moisture like a wash cloth in a sink. Few things are less appealing than putting on a VR headset with someone else’s sweat soaking through, and these cushions are prone to that.

We would have much preferred to see some sort of washable or moisture-resistant cushions installed. If you decide to upgrade to the Vive Pro, you should plan to buy aftermarket cushions for the device, but we’ll have to wait for those to hit the market. The new face cushion is a little larger than the original Vive’s cushion, because the Vive Pro’s lens opening is slightly larger, which means that existing Vive VR Covers won’t fit correctly. We managed to get our thin moisture-resistant VR Cover to fit, but it negatively affected the fit and comfort of the headset.

The Vive Pro also features two prominent cushions on the back of the strap. The first one is attached with Velcro to the inner side of the tightening dial. We’ve racked our brains trying to figure out what the first cushion’s purpose is, but we’re coming up blank. HTC said it's there to facilitate fitment for each idividual, but we can't help be imagine there would be a better way. The second cushion, which attaches via a plastic hinge, covers the first cushion, so your head never even touches it. The hinged cushion is triangular, with a slight curvature at the bottom, which somewhat envelops your neck for a secure, comfortable fit. The rear cushions are made of a slightly different--but equally soft--material as the face cushions.

The Vive Pro head strap also includes padding on the sides to prevent irritation from the rigid plastic. These cushions also hide the screws that secure the headphones in place. The side cushions are made of a thin padding, which is like the padding on the Deluxe Audio Head Strap for the older Vive headset.

Excellent Weight Distribution

The rear section of the Vive Pro adds ballast that helps distribute the weight evenly front-to-back. The new device weighs a little bit less than the original Vive with a Deluxe Audio Head Strap installed. HTC's new headset tipped our scale at 1017g, and our Vive weighs 1060g. With the cable removed, the Vive Pro weighs in at 769g, which is 20g more than our original Vive weighs without the cable.

Despite the similar weight of the two headsets, the Vive Pro is magnitudes more comfortable for long periods of use. Balance makes a huge difference in comfort for VR HMDs, and HTC nailed that aspect of the Vive Pro.

 Kevin Carbotte is a contributing writer for Tom's Hardware who primarily covers VR and AR hardware. He has been writing for us for more than four years. 

  • ingtar33
    well glad the screen door effect is discussed, somehow that's left out of many of these VR display discussions, as anyone who's actually used one for 5 minutes will tell you it's the biggest problem you'll face in VR for the most part.

    Good news on the design improvements and resolution improvement. Shame that god rays are still an issue. Seems like we're still a generation or two on this tech before it becomes something viable for the mainstream.
  • jfkeenan
    There are several VR solutions available at a variety of price points. I wish people would stop complaining that HTC is offering a premium product. When I learned the news of the pre-order I was like, "Shut up and take my money!" I just got my tax return so this was a no brainer for me. Like Kevin said, if you can't afford a Mercedes don't be mad at them for making luxury cars.
  • kcarbotte
    20852498 said:
    well glad the screen door effect is discussed, somehow that's left out of many of these VR display discussions, as anyone who's actually used one for 5 minutes will tell you it's the biggest problem you'll face in VR for the most part.

    Good news on the design improvements and resolution improvement. Shame that god rays are still an issue. Seems like we're still a generation or two on this tech before it becomes something viable for the mainstream.

    It's really not a big problem unless you're trying to do things that require reading text.
    As someone who's put hundreds of hours in with the Vive, I can honestly say that screen door effect is not a real problem. It's just something that people like to complain about to give them justification not to adopt VR.

    I won't deny that it exists. But I don't buy for a second that it's a real hindrance.

    That said, if that's the biggest problem that you perceive, then VR is doing pretty good, I'd say.
  • FreyjasChosen
    I'm with you, JFKEENAN. I pre-ordered the day it was available. I even bought the original HTC Vive because I needed the base stations and controllers (before the bundle was announced).

    I see a lot of complaints about the price tag of the Vive Pro, but no one's forcing anyone to buy it. I'm happy to pay for the best available product on the market.
  • Giroro
    If HTC wants to charge a premium, then the device has to BE premium. There is a definite difference between "legitimately expensive" and "overpriced".

    At the end of the day, the Vive pro is still a tethered plastic headset that uses an inferior Samsung pentile display (forcing your system to waste 30% of its resources rendering subpixels that don't actually exists). Is the design a little better thought-out? sure.. that's how product iteration works. You change the design over time to improve quality and to decrease cost. What has HTC actually done here to justify the fact that they've more than doubled their asking price?
    At the end of the day, nobody is going to pay "Lamborghini" prices for a Nissan Leaf E; not even one with particularly nice paint comfortable seats.
    Of course, that's not a perfect analogy, because a used Nissan leaf is probably less expensive than a Vive Pro if you add in a computer powerful enough to deliver 90fps to such an impractical display.
  • uglyduckling81
    Kcarbotte can I ask which titles you have put the most time into?
    I've had a vive since launch but have used it less than 30 hours. I haven't found a game to put a lot of hours into.
  • rhysiam
    The issue with your luxury car analogy is that in the case of VR, the product needs a vibrant software market to really succeed long term. When you buy a luxury car you're able to use a well-established road system that's developed over many years. That's not the case with VR. We have a classic chicken-and-egg situation where software developers are understandably nervous about investing heavily in VR experiences because the price of entry for VR results in a tiny potential market for their VR game/experience, while on the flip side, sales of headsets are being impacted by the limited games and experiences on offer. Lower headset sales means poorer economies of scale and higher per-headset prices to recoup the huge R&D investments, which just exacerbates the issue.

    Those of us (myself included) who really want VR to thrive long term do IMHO have some cause for concern with products like the Vive Pro that reinforce the fringe nature of VR and don't do a lot to entice the all-important software developers into the ecosystem.

    Another threat to VR, and perhaps a bigger threat at that, is race-to-the-bottom headsets which compromise the experience. I know several people who have tried cheap, flawed VR experiences and written off VR as a whole. At least Vive is clearly marketing - and making strides to provide - a genuinely good VR experience.

    I'm genuinely hoping for the day when I can pop on a wireless headset with 4K (or more) per eye and well-implemented foveated rendering and explore foreign worlds with interesting characters and complex stories. That's a platform that I would be more than willing to pay a lot of money to get access to. But getting there will require significant investment both on the hardware and software side. The Vive Pro headset is absolutely a step in the right direction from a technical hardware perspective, but is an (effectively) $1100 product right for the VR industry as a whole in the long term? I'm not so sure.
  • uglyduckling81
    I would say yes.
    Like you said a bad VR experience is horrendous and immediately turns you away.
    When I got the Vive I only had a GTX 970 and it made me very sick every time I tried to use it. I was on the verge of selling it and putting VR into the non compatible with me section.
    I took a different approach and upgraded to a GTX 1080 and haven't gotten sick since.
    Turns out my hopeless travel sickness body is extremely susceptible to any frame time issues and the extra GPU horsepower did the trick.
  • Ionlydothis
    The problem isn't that about offering a premium product. It's just that the Vive Pro IS NOT premium. It's exploitative. Minor improvements for a huge mark up but still the same critical flaws? Yeah, no thanks!
  • svx94
    You can position yourself like Rolex or Mercedes of luxury market, they are built for "EXCLUSIVENESS"... that magic word won't do you any good in gaming market.